Friday, April 01, 2005

The Schiavo Legacy --The Crippled Soul of America

Bad Judgment
What have we come to in this nation when the President, a Governor, and our elected leadership could exert no power to intervene over faulty rulings made by judges? Was this yet another example of the dangerous powers judges have been given, powers that often overreach by making law rather than ruling on it?

Bad judgments "legitimize" immorality--what was once thought of as wrong comes to be seen as right, because the courts decide it is so. Over time, seeing evil happen over and over again, we become de-sensitized to it. Our conscience cannot live with these actions so we devise rationalizations to quell our collective guilt. Thus has the murder of the unborn become a "woman's right to choose"; some will now attempt to portray Terry Schiavo's case as "death with dignity".

But Why Did She Have to Die?
Now Schiavo's case involves an adulterous husband who decided he no longer wanted to abide by his marital vows (presumably, "till death do us part"). Certainly many people would have done the same in his shoes; i.e., have found someone else to live with. As a husband myself, I empathize--it's very difficult to contemplate the pain and suffering Mr. Schiavo underwent as he watched his once vital wife deteriorate. To be robbed of the opportunity of a normal married life was surely a deep personal tragedy, and certainly there would have been much temptation to find companionship elsewhere. Apparently even the Schindlers encouraged Michael Schiavo to date other women.

Yet at the same time, others have experienced what he has and handled it differently. Despite the fact that he could have moved on with his life by turning the reins of his wife's care over to her willing family, he (selfishly?) refused to do so. Was letting Terri die a way for him to drown out feelings of guilt over his failure to keep his promises to his wife? If he was just emotionally exhausted and no longer capable of dealing with her, why not just let her family do so? Why did she have to die? Some have speculated that Mr. Schiavo was motivated by desire for money coming from her death, but giving him the benefit of the doubt that money was not the motivation, why then?

Choosing Life or Death-Whose Perogative?
In commenting on the film "Million Dollar Baby", I mentioned the difference between turning off life support for a person who otherwise would have absolutely no hope of living, and killing a person (as that movie portrays) who could continue living because we (or they themselves) decide that their life is no longer "worth" living.

Beyond the Schiavo case, the question at the heart of the matter is this: who has the authority to determine when someone (not a criminal or an wartime enemy, but a civilian) dies? The court's decision to disconnect Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube was based on the premise that it had been her wish not to be kept alive by artificial means, and that such a wish therefore obligated her family and the court to comply with it. But is her family or the state morally compelled to obey this wish (if indeed this was her wish)? It seems they must follow her wishes if the premise is accepted that the individual has the right to determine if they should live or die, based on a subjective notion of quality of life.

Imagine a different scenario altogether. Suppose Mr. Schiavo, knowing that it was Terri's desire not to be kept alive by artifical means, nevertheless couldn't bring himself to become the agent of her death, out of love for her and because of a deep conviction about sanctity of life. Would it have been wrong then for him to keep her alive, despite her wishes? Apparently yes, according to prevalent belief; it seems the individual's desire is thought to be paramount in such decisions. But this raises many questions.

In the absence of the knowing the individual's choice regarding how they wish to die (e.g., a living will) does a husband/wife have authority to decide whether their spouse should live or die?

Was the court that decided Terri's case obligated, despite conflicting reports from experts about whether or not she was vegetative, and in light of the fact that she would otherwise have continued to live and be cared for by her family, to mandate that Ms. Schiavo must die, because supposedly this was her wish?

I agree that a husband should have authority over decisions regarding his wife in these types of scenarios. But this husband broke his marital vows, which would seem to nullify some of his rights. And in any case, I do not believe that a husband's authority extends to taking the life of his wife. I don't think the court has that right, nor do I think that even Terri Schiavo would have had that right. This perogative belongs to God alone.

"Whose life is it, anyway?"
This was the title of a popular play a few years ago. It is a key question here.
If extraordinary measures must be used to keep a person alive, who otherwise would die, then perhaps that person should be allowed to die. Not so much because it is the person's desire, but because it would seem that under such circumstances we would be fighting the will of God by keeping the person alive. But otherwise it seems to me that we must consider, as we make such serious decisions, the truth that life is valuable in and of itself; that it is a gift from God and we are accountable to him for it. The Bible says to the Christian particularly, "You are not your own, you were bought with a price", referring to the fact that the Christian's body has been purchased by Christ's death on the Cross. But even for the non-believer, the claim of God's ownership remains. For who creates the body? Who creates life?

Last week a group of us got together and prayed for Terri Schiavo, that perhaps God would do an incredible miracle and heal her, and that she would be able to speak for herself and give glory to God for her healing. Sadly, that did not happen, but perhaps the legacy of Terri Schiavo will be to have exposed the crippled soul of America.

Other recent and thoughtful takes on the topic:

C. Everett Koop on Euthanasia

"Always to Care, Never to Kill", A Talk with Robert P. George on NRO

Debra Saunder's piece "Why Terri Must Die"

Jeff Jacoby "Terri Schiavo: Less certainty, more prayer"

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