Wednesday, March 23, 2005

On Terri Schiavo

I have mixed feelings about the Terri Schiavo case. On the one hand, I think the court system has failed Terri Schiavo. It allowed inadequate protections for her interests. On the other hand, when bad laws are made based on one extraordinary case, all of us are affected to one degree or another.

I am clear on a few points, though. First, I don't think a feeding tube is an extraordinary life-saving measure in the same way that a respirator is. My justification for this view is that we don't let infants starve because they can't feed themselves, therefore not being able to feed yourself is not on the same level as not being able to breathe for yourself. My own little nephew A---- spent quite a lot of time in the hospital on both a respirator and a feeding tube. He wasn't in a persistent vegetative state, thank God, but I am glad that my sister and her husband didn't take the view that he ought to starve or be allowed to quit breathing just because he couldn't do it on his own. Little A---- is a blessing and he has already started serving a purpose in this world. Even while he was at death's door, he was fulfilling the mission the Lord sent him here on earth to do. I saw it in his eyes on the day he was blessed, before the illness struck him. He had an old man's eyes, the eyes of one who was bracing himself for a large dose of suffering, but understood that it would turn out for the good. I was amazed when I saw that in his eyes-- I'd never seen it in a baby before, but there it was nonetheless. I'm still convinced, as I was at the time of his blessing, that he knew something like this was coming.

The second point I'm clear on is that human life has value far beyond its utility. I am reminded of the story of a man whose wife was in a nursing home, stricken with a debilitating disease that didn't permit her to interact with her surroundings or recognize her husband. Nurses asked him why he kept coming back to visit her every day, even though she didn't know who he was. He said, "She may not know who I am, but I know who she is," meaning that even if she didn't show any activity she was still his wife and was still due the respect that her office commanded. I know my family believes in this because we all castigated my grandfather for "moving on" with his life and new girlfriend while my grandmother, who could no longer respond to her environment, was in a nursing home. She wasn't in a persistent vegetative state either, but we all knew who she was and didn't abandon her even though she didn't know who we were. Michael Schiavo has repeatedly showed his disrespect for this principle and has behaved in exactly the opposite manner from the noble man in the story.

Last, I am clear that if there is doubt, we must always err on the side of life. If we go against the will of the Lord in letting someone live, the Lord has his own ways of correcting our mistake. But if we willfully end life against the will of the Lord, the mistake cannot be corrected and will be credited to our eternal account. Determining the Lord's will is a tricky business at best, and the death penalty is a debatable question for that very reason. But the Lord specifically made an exception for the deliberate killing of the clearly guilty, and has shown us examples of where, when a person or people were wicked beyond rehabilitation and doing great evil, they were dispatched "home" to where the needs of their soul could be dealt with in a manner not injurious to others. There is no such exception in scripture that would allow the deliberate killing of the innocent, who are doing no evil but whose lives have an undesirable effect on the lives of others.

Even a "vegetable" can still have an impact in the world-- witness the number of people who are now discussing end-of-life issues with their loved ones in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case. Terri Schiavo may or may not have any brain left. But that someone so disabled has managed to affect the life choices of millions is proof positive that she still has purpose, even if she is not conscious.