With the passing of Terri Schiavo today it seems that not only have her advocates lost a mighty battle, but that those who advocate a culture of life have lost an important battle. Yet, though a life has been lost and a cause has been lost, the cause itself is not lost.
To be sure, over these last few weeks as I have engaged the
issues I have seen that the issues surrounding the life and death saga are far
more complex than I originally thought.
There is the issue of defining exactly what we mean by the phrase “extraordinary measures.” Personally, I don’t buy the argument that a feeding tube is an “extraordinary measure.” Several times I have heard advocates for removal of the feeding tube say that, in times gone by, people in Terri’s condition would have died naturally, having no access to a feeding tube. Thus, we can “let nature take its course.” But that is a silly argument in my mind – none of us want to allow nature to take its course. This is why we immunize our kids and why we give them penicillin when they have an infection. Vaccines for polio and smallpox were invented for the purpose of interfering with the course of nature. In Terri’s case, a feeding tube was simply an alternative means of delivering nutrition to her. Since when is providing nutrition an “extraordinary measure?”
At the same time, I have read people who I consider friends
and others I don’t know but respect who have differing opinions. I have been asked time and again what I would
do if someone was in a persistent vegetative state and had written directives
instructing caregivers to withhold such nutrition. In such a case, though I might not like it, I
would respect the wishes of the one who gave such directives. The caveat I would offer is that great care
must be taken up front to have the individual make an informed decision, so
that they understood just what they meant by a persistent vegetative
state. And great care must be taken on
the back end to insure that a proper diagnosis was made. In this case, with all of the evidence
offered by Reverend
Robert Johansen and others, it seems that there was enough doubt about
whether Terri was in a persistent vegetative state that they should have erred
in favor of keeping Terri alive.
There are difficult legal matters involved. Not being a lawyer or a political scientist, I won’t begin to claim to understand all of the issues involved in matters of jurisdiction, federalism and other issues that have been raised. Jeb Bush claims that he has been acting in accordance with the law and he has done all that he can legally do. Others say that, as governor, he had the power to intervene and didn’t use it. I don’t know. I do know that, as Christians we believe in Lex Rex, law is king, the rule of law. This means that the law of God takes precedence over the law of man – the kings of the earth will be held accountable for their obedience to the laws of the King of Kings.
At the same time, some Christians will use such reasoning as
a justification for anarchy. The trouble
with such folks is that they forget that the law of God tells us to be
submissive to the law of man. Romans
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Let us not forget that this is the apostle Paul writing
under the reign of Nero. If any society
was riddled with unjust laws it was Roman society under Nero. Yet Paul did not advocate anarchy. This doesn’t mean that we are required to
tolerate unjust laws, but it does mean that we should work to change unjust
laws in a lawful manner. In this particular
case, there are laws which allowed an outcome that I, and many others, believe
is unjust. Any attempts we make to
change such laws must be done in a lawful manner.
I realize that courts have determined that Michael Schiavo is Terri’s legal representative and the parents were not, thus according to the courts he acted within his rights. Yet, here we have a set of parents who love their daughter, regardless of her condition, and who were willing to care for her. I realize I don’t know the ins and outs of the law, but I am mystified as to why the law can’t allow for custody to be granted to someone who not only wants the person to live but who will take it upon themselves to care for that person.
The most troubling thing about this situation is that our
courts have decreed that nourishment may be withheld from a person who is not
in the process of dying, in order to cause them to die, and this in the
presence of contrary medical opinion and in the absence of clear written
directives from the individual him/her self.
When I heard the news this morning of Terri’s death I pulled out my copy of George Grant’s book Lost Causes, where he reminds us, among other things, that:
Even when the hope of victory is at
best remote, some movements are worth staking our lives, our fortunes, and
sacred honor on.
. . . the verdict of the moment is
not always the verdict of time. Through
the centuries many causes that appeared to be defeated continued to live on in
the hearts of people, surviving defeat and ultimately outliving the forces that
appeared to conquer them.
History is replete with examples of
great lost causes, ill-fated designs, subjugated aspirations that somehow
continued to capture the imaginations, stir the passions, and tug at the sympathies
of men and nations long after they had supposedly been vanquished. They seem to be those perpetually defeated
things that nevertheless managed to survive their conquerors – instilling in
their adherents eternal hope, blazing idealism and irrepressible romanticism.
The fight to create and/or maintain a bias for life, or a culture of life, has taken a blow in this battle, but it is not a lost cause.