God rest her soul.
Dr. Zycher made reference below to Jewish tradition and law, which militates against doing any act to speed the death of a person. Although a death-preventing device may be removed in certain extreme cases involving BOTH extreme pain and a medical prognosis that recovery is impossible, even this may only be done when a person is in the PROCESS of dying, which Terri Schiavo was not. Thank you to Dr. Zycher for that valuable contribution, one which has not been heard publicly from too many Jews, prompting yesterday’s very interesting article by David Klinghoffer at National Review Online.
And once we are in that territory, may I point out two very valuable insights from Jewish law that could well have been applied in this case by Judge Greer but were sadly not considered.
1) A karov, i.e. a blood relative, even as far distant as a second cousin, may never testify in a case that affects their relative, whether or not that testimony seems to be beneficial to the relative.
2) A nogayah, i.e. a person with a financial interest in the outcome, may never testify in a way that is beneficial to his or her own interest.
These are two rules of Jewish courtroom procedure. Between them, they would have eliminated all of the testimony presented to the Court concerning Terri’s statements of intent.
If only we had credible evidence on this young lady’s wishes, both past and present if possible. At the same time, we must confront the situation as it confronts us; in my humble view, the origin of this problem lies with Judge Greer, who—based upon my understanding of the facts—never should have issued a factual finding to the effect that Mrs. Schiavo did not want to be fed through a tube over the long term were she to find herself in a persistent vegetative state. Even the latter premise is not clear, in that—again, as I understand things—she has not had an MRI or PET scan in many years, if ever. Perhaps that ruling was due to bad lawyering on behalf of the woman’s parents at the outset; and perhaps Judge Greer should have noted the potential conflict of interest on the part of the husband, particularly after the conclusion of the malpractice lawsuit, and therefore should have appointed another independent guardian ad litem. In any event, the factual finding is what it is, and we have a system in which it is appropriately difficult for appellate jurists to revisit factual issues in the absence of serious procedural error on the part of the finder of fact. Now, given this basic problem with Judge Greer’s initial finding, I have heard no persuasive argument to the effect that the Florida courts have ruled inappropriately.
The turn toward the federal courts must hinge upon an argument to the effect that a federal law or right has been violated. And here I have a real problem with those invoking the Americans With Disabilities Act, and other such monstrosities. Do we want to have the courts use unconstitutional laws so as to achieve outcomes that we prefer? I think not. As I understand it, the emergency legislation passed by Congress in a midnight session directed a federal court to undertake a de novo review of the case not in its entirety, but in the context of Mrs. Schiavo’s federal rights. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) It seems to me that the federal judge acted far too hastily—the feeding tube should have been reinserted while a serious review proceeded—and that is another source of anguish: Too many of the judges are morons and worse.
Jewish tradition is clear on the distinction between preserving life and delaying death. At a moral level, Mrs. Schiavo is not dying, she is not on life support, she has not received the therapy that she needs and that was promised by her husband during the course of the malpractice lawsuit. Until further medical tests are done, we do not know the precise nature of her condition—even with such tests, there still might prevail continuing disagreement among the physicians—and we certainly do not know her wishes. What we do know is that our civilization depends upon not only the pursuit of outcomes preserving our relationship with the Almighty, but also those preserving our relationship with ourselves. For the same reason that the possibility that some innocents might be executed in a system of capital punishment does not present a powerful argument against it, we simply cannot allow the anguish of such difficult cases to engender rationales for eroding our legal system, regardless of the degree to which the leftists, the death-with-dignity crowd, and the abortion lobby do so as a matter of course. The hypocrisy of the Left in the Schiavo matter is breathtaking; remember Elian Gonzalez? We cannot descend into that pit with them.
I wish we knew Mrs. Schiavo’s wishes. I wish that we knew her condition. I wish that we could have greater confidence in her husband’s assertions. I wish that Judge Greer had given more thought to his factual findings. I pray that others not find themselves in her situation. But I also wish that our legal system were not so thoroughly corrupted and policitized.
Off to a conference the rest of the week.
At the outset of Operation Barbarossa—the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union—Harry Truman observed that if the Germans were winning we should help the Russians, and if the Russians were winning we should help the Germans. Well, we now have animal-loving human-hating totalitarians at PETA attacking the ineffable Jennifer Lopez for her fur collection. Please help me: For whom should I cheer?
A friend (left-wing type) at the university read my American Spectator piece and said it was the most polemical/propagandistic thing he’s ever seen me write. I disagree, of course. I think what I’ve done is render a highly accurate prediction of the direction of euthanasia as a response to the hard facts of Terri Schiavo’s case.
Those who read this weblog know that we are divided on the question of what should be happening in Terri’s case. Ben Zycher remains undeclared, but the rest of us have offered several opinions and bits of analysis.
Leaving aside the slippery slope, the bottom line is that I am not convinced there is no “Terri” inside the body now being dehydrated/starved. I am not in favor of preserving life no matter what. Part of the reason I am so uncertain is because of Terri’s parents and other relatives. They strongly believe she is responsive, no matter how minimally. If that is the case, I don’t know how we dare choose death for her.
What about her husband’s statement that she didn’t want to live this way? It is highly unlikely such a discussion reached an adequate level of detail to reach dehydration/starvation, particularly among ordinary people. I imagine they watched some 20/20 feature story or a movie of the week about a person on life support and Terri said (if she indeed said anything), “I wouldn’t want to go on that way.” We could safely say that means no ventilator, but no food/water is a bit of a stretch from an off-handed statement by a 20-something in casual conversation.
Alan takes issue with my mention of the Netherlands as a land that has lost its way thanks to its embrace of euthanasia. I think its safe to say they have. Abraham Kuyper’s once proud land has given up on a high view of the person’s dignity on just about every front, whether that be drugs, sex, reproduction, pre-born life, superannuated life, etc.. As far as Virginia goes, www.euthanasia.com says they have no law permitting assisted suicide. Oregon does, but I’m not sure that’s a sign that their moral sensibilities are improving. For more about Switzerland and the Netherlands, follow this link to a worthwhile NRO article by Wesley J. Smith.
The Terri Schiavo case is nearing its end, it appears, although a federal court has agreed to hear another appeal. It seems unlikely that she will survive the week.
Tempers have run high as the nation has discussed the issue, and the authors of this blog have disagreed (politely, as always) about the meaning of the case. A measure of this passion is the fact that many individuals have repeatedly and disgracefully mischaracterized the positions and statements of those on the other side.
As in the overall national debate, however, it appears to me that the disagreement in the Reform Club has arisen largely over the facts in the case rather than the principles of the situation. One side truly believes that Terri would not have wanted to live this way, that she expressed this clearly to her husband and two other people, and that her husband is simply insisting that her wishes be granted. The other side does not believe that Terri expressed a clear directive that covers the present case. The arguments stem from disagreement over those simple facts.
As a result, I have argued that we need this debate because clarity in the law is essential, and clarity in one’s personal directives likewise necessary.
However, it also appears to me that our varying willingness to believe Michael Schiavo’s claims is perhaps traceable to differences over certain principles we apply to life in general. The issue has brought out furious debates over what life is for, and how we value human lives. Put simply, some are absolutists in the matter, and some are not. Most are unsure, and rely on intuitive responses.
Personally, I am among the latter, the uncertain ones. That is why I have argued for clarity in the law and in individuals’ personal directives regarding these matters.
In the present case, I do not see such clarity. I think both sides have a reasonable case to make. Upon my judgment of the facts, I would greatly prefer to see Terri’s care handed over to her parents, for I strongly doubt that the present case covers what she may have meant when speaking to her husband about some TV movies many years ago.
Yes, the Florida and federal courts have spoken on the matter, but this is the outcome I personally would have wished to see.
The only reason I mentioned my mother in “Death is Rarely Easy” was to demonstrate that death by dehydration is not unique to Terri Schiavo but is, in fact, a common end to many wasting diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS and AIDS, etc. The end result from removing a feeding tube, after all, is the same as from refusing to insert such a tube in the first place.
Geriatric specialists June Lunney and Joanne Lynn, writing in The Washington Post, March 27, noted that Terri Schiavo’s plight is “not unique” but “a common situation.” We don’t know precisely how common, because the cause of death is recorded according to the underlying disease rather than by the refusal to use life support technologies.
I have had living wills in five states which always left the decisions to my spouse rather than my parents (I would have never upset my parents by confiding my views about their own end of life, much less mine).
My latest Advanced Medical Directive empowers my wife to refuse on my behalf “the use of mechanical or other procedures that affect any bodily function, including, but not limited to, artificial respiration, artificially administered nutrition and hydration, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This authorization specifically includes the power to consent to the administration of dosages of pain relieving medication in excess of standard dosages . . . even if such medication . . . inadvertently hastens my death.” The last provision is perfectly legal in Virginia.
Hunter Baker singled out euthanasia law in the Netherlands as symptomatic of collective sin, but he did observe such a slippery slope among the citizens of Virginia, Oregon or Switzerland (where assisted death has been legal since 1937).
I am not arguing that the laws of 44 states against lethal injection are right or wrong. I leave that to the states. I am merely making the factual point that such laws leave many dying persons with no choice but to die slowly though not necessarily painfully (anesthetics are generally effective against pain, as shown during surgery).
My previous entry was about living wills, not euthanasia. I speculated that the reason so many people have been motivated by the Schiavo case to fill out living wills is not because they wish to insist on being kept alive by any means possible under any conceivable circumstance. Nobody has yet questioned that premise, so what does it imply about “what the patient would have wanted for herself” in Terry Schiavo’s case? If Mrs. Schiavo had filled out a living will, what are the odds that her medical directives would have been the exact opposite of most other living wills?
Many people gratuitously accuse her husband (and the Florida courts) of lying about what Terri Schiavo would have wanted, even though many of these same people are openly horrified by the prospect of spending countless decades bedridden, immobile and unable to communicate. In the March 23 The Washington Times Charles Krauthammer wrote that “If I were in Terry Schiavo’s condition I would not want a feeding tube.” On March 26, Tom Sowell wrote in the same paper that he would not “want to be kept alive in Terri’s condition.” He added that he would also not “want to be killed so slowly and painfully.” Yet in all but six U.S. states, however, only the first choice could be part of his living will. In most states anyone who does not want a permanent feeding tube, such as Mr. Sowell and Mr. Krauthammer, has no choice left but to die slowly from dehydration. Those who support laws against physician-assisted death cannot have it both ways – first arguing for criminalizing a “humane way to end life” yet subsequently feigning indignation whenever life does not end humanely.
Also in The Washington Times March 27, William Goldcamp speaks of Mrs. Schiavo’s “ignominious death, one worse than would be permitted a death-row prisoner or a dog.” Yet such ignominy is entirely because most state laws prohibit physicians from making death entirely painless, except for death-row prisoners or dogs. That is, most states hold physicians criminally and civilly liable for the administration of dosages of pain relieving medication in excess of standard dosages even if such medication inadvertently hastens death.
Feeding tubes are not inserted by divine intervention. “Letting nature take its course” does not mean letting physicians do whatever they want. Anyone’s “appointed time” depends on human decisions to resuscitate, to use mechanical methods of assisting breathing or circulation, and/or to rely on a feeding tube.
A “slippery slope” toward widespread euthanasia could be an unintended consequence of one faction’s gross exaggeration of the notion that the absence of a feeding tube toward the end of life is either unusual or terribly cruel. Even for people who are not brain-damaged (Alzheimer’s being a much milder form of brain damage than Mrs. Schiavo’s), the inability to eat or drink is not typically agonizing (the body and consciousness just shut down) and medication would be available if it were. If many people actually come to believe the recent hyperbole about the alleged horrors of ending life without a feeding tube, then they are far more likely to demand their living wills permit potentially fatal dosages of pain relieving medication. If their state does not allow that, they may well be prompted to agitate for more permissive laws. Indeed, they may reasonably conclude from Congressional meddling in the Schiavo case that voters have now been encouraged to do such agitating at the federal level.
Although I get there by a very different route, I end up agreeing completely with Sam Karnick’s conclusion: “A broad federal law—or worse yet, an overarching Supreme Court decision based on emanations from the penumbra of the Constitution—would surely be a classic illustration of the adage that hard cases make bad law.”
The Powerline Blog, breaker of Dan Rather and one of the most read weblogs around, extensively cites Reform Clubber Ben Zycher in an analytical piece about state laws raising the minimum wage.
I was listening to the radio on the way to the university when I heard Jesse Jackson talking to the press outside of Terri Schiavo’s hospice facility.
He spoke of having acted in a ministerial capacity many times near the end of people’s lives. He talked about Demerol and removing life support and fairly rapid expirations. Then, the shocker:
“Terri Schiavo has been without food and water for twelve days. They are starving her to death.”
The Jesse Jackson who backed off his pro-life views to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination so many years ago has decided he is willing to draw a line.
Paul Krugman was once known as an economist of some substance. After bashing Bush’s economic policies with no regard to anything approaching clarity or truthfulness, the economist descended to simple polemicism. After taking on Christian conservatives today, Mr. Krugman shows he isn’t even very good at polemics. We’ll buy him a ticket to the Mencken/Twain school of bashing believers if he needs a second career.
I don’t normally pay much attention to “the Krug,” but my friend and colleague Al Beck sent me an email on the latest column in the NYT and gave me permission to post his thoughts here. Mr. Beck is charitable and holds out the hand of friendship even while he expresses his supreme dissatisfaction with the former economist:
If the intent of this piece (“What’s Going On?”) was to sharpen the divide between religious conservatives (okay, let’s be honest–Christian conservatives) and more moderate secularists, then Mr. Krugman has succeeded. By painting all religious conservatives with a broad brush, lumping Israeli terrorists, Muslim fanatics, praying evangelicals, and rosary-twirling grandmothers into the same camp, Krugman goes so far that he is, it seems, guilty of what he so often condemns. He has effectively objectified “the other,” in this case conservative Christians, just as Hitler objectified the Jews as “the other” and thus was able to ignore their plight and seek their destruction. Randall Terry may be a pompous windbag, but Krugman’s guilt-by-association turns him into something much more frightening, and, it seems, much less real.
Now, the above comparison may not seem fair–Krugman and Hitler as fellow travelers along the road to some sort of modern holocaust. I’m sure that Krugman would be horrified at such a mischaracterization of his beliefs and attitudes, but that’s the point. Terry Schiavo’s parents, those Christian believers praying in front of Schiavo’s nursing home, and the pharmacist or doctor who really believes that she cannot assist in the taking of a human life have about as much in common with Dutch Muslim fanatics and Israeli assassins as Krugman has with Hitler–i.e., nothing at all except a shared humanity that is often prone to evil (as are we all), yet ever hopeful for better things. But, as the head of the Christian Coalition once declared (and I’m speaking of Jesus and not Pat Robertson, of course)–”You hypocrite, first cast out the beam from your own eye; and then shall you see clearly so as to to cast out the mote out of your brother’s eye.” Let us not be too quick to do to others what we accuse them of doing to us. In seeking a humane and just society, Krugman would do much better to get to know the conservative believers who walk among us, who live next door to us, and share our fundamental values of peace, justice, and the dignity of human life.
A very interesting article in today’s New York Times explores the new fervor among U.S. corporations for ethics standards. Companies are holding their employees to much higher standards of personal and business behavior, the article says, now that so many firms have been hit hard by scandalous personal conduct and incidents of corporate malfeasance.
Rather predictably, the Times article claims that firms are being driven solely by self-interest, “now that boards and chief executives have seen how public scandals can torpedo stock prices, alienate customers and end careers.” Several business analysts are quoted as objecting to what they call a New Puritanism among corporations, which they say is driven by panic and fear.
What is particularly interesting is that neither the author nor anyone quoted in the article suggested that the more rigorous standards for business ethics could have any ties whatever to broader social and cultural trends in the country.
However, it seems absurdly unlikely that there is no connection between the two. I have written in the past about the changes in moral and social standards that occurred in the United States in the half-century after World War II, and I believe that business ethics began to become more relaxed just as other standards did during that period. But whereas the general culture reached a tipping point, where the changes became undeniable, in the 1960s, in the business realm the difference did not become quite so noticeable until the 1980s—as the generation raised during the postwar era began to come to power in the business world.
Just as new, more latitudinarian cultural assumptions filtered into the business world during the half-century after WWII, it appears that the new, more restrictive social and moral standards of our time are starting to have their effect on U.S. businesses now. If the Times article is correct, and the “new puritanism” is merely a response to recent scandals, then we can expect a return to more lax standards of behavior as soon as the heat is off. If I am right and the changes in business ethics are part of a long-term cultural trend, we should expect to see the standards continue to tighten.
Visitors to this venue will recall that I periodically return to a personal bugaboo: the importance of not allowing your child to accelerate too rapidly through the school system, to the point where social alienation becomes fairly inevitable.
Today I explore this theme for the readers of The American Spectator.
The repercussions from the Terri Schiavo case have just begun. That is so, of course, because the main issue remains undecided: what the state should do when a person’s guardians and loved ones are in dispute over what should be done in dire medical situations if the individual has left no clear, written instructions.
The question, of course, will be whether the issues are best handled at the state or federal level. I am inclined to favor state autonomy in the matter, even though the Florida courts and legislature seem to have dropped the ball on this one, the latter in creating laws too ambiguous to handle the sorts of difficult cases they were evidently meant to deal with, and the former in refusing to consider many issues brought up in the appeal.
The worst job, however, clearly was done by the lawyers engaged by Terri Schiavo’s parents, in failing to bring up important matters during the original court proceedings, which allowed the appeals court to ignore the arguments later. (It is important to note, however, that the Florida courts did not have to ignore these arguments but chose to do so, albeit with perfectly good legal justification).
The role of government in these matters ought to be quite clear: to adjudicate conflicts between competing interests. In all such cases, clarity in the laws is essential.
My preference is that such decisions be made as close to the source as possible. (I should note here that I was not one of the writers who called for congressional action in the Schiavo case.) First, there is the choice to be made by the individual. In this case, that means a well-written living will or similar document. Failing that, the decision should be made by the person’s guardian, if any, and immediate family. The problem in the Schiavo case, of course, was that there was no agreement among the family on what Terri’s wishes would have been, nor on what was best for her.
If no consensus can be reached among the family, then of course the government must intervene. The medical community, in my view, should not be the actual decision maker, and should follow two rules: first, do no harm (which precludes any active participation in euthanasia in any form); and second, execute the wishes of the individual or family. If the family’s wishes conflict with the first rule, the person should be removed from medical care and the agreed-upon treatment should be administered.
To do otherwise would risk corrupting the medical profession severely.
Of course, given the publicity surrounding the Schiavo case, the press is on for federal legislation.
An article in today’s New York Times noted, “some Democrats, prodded by advocates for the disabled, say Congress should consider whether [a law allowing the federal courts to review disputed cases like that of Terri Schiavo] is needed.”
On the ABC-TV program This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Massachusetts representative Barney Frank (D) said, “I think we should look into this and very possibly legislate it,” although he had opposed the more narrowly targeted law Congress passed regarding the Schiavo case. Frank said, “I think Congress needs to do more. Because I’ve spoken with a lot of disability groups who are concerned that, even where a choice is made to terminate life, it might be coerced by circumstances.”
The Times article noted that the two groups pressing for legislative action on the matter— Christian conservatives and advocates for the disabled—have not gotten along very well in the past, and are taking conflicting approaches: “it is unclear whether Christian conservatives and disability rights advocates can agree on what action Congress should take. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative group, said on Sunday that his organization was working with states to urge them to pass measures that would prevent the withdrawal of nutrition from patients like Ms. Schiavo.
“Mr. Perkins said state action was ‘the preferred route,’ adding, ‘In certain circumstances there may need to be some federal action, but I would not advocate a broad brush stroke of the federal government to try to prevent this from happening again.’
The approach that Perkins suggests is the right one, in my view. A broad federal law—or worse yet, an overarching Supreme Court decision based on emanations from the penumbra of the Constitution—would surely be a classic illustration of the adage that hard cases make bad law. And this was a very hard case indeed.
Alan brought up the critique that conservative-libertarians usually prefer that decision-making be as localized as possible in order to restrain the growth of centralized power. It’s a good critique. We remain mindful of it. However, conservatives (and libertarians, I think) are also quite attached to slippery-slope arguments. I’ll go out on a limb and try to portray the angle of this one for our readers and writers.
1. America watches Terri Schiavo die over a prolonged period from dehydration/starvation.
2. More attention is paid by everyone to things like living wills and other legal instruments. More commonly, husbands and wives will be explicit with each other about detailed situations.
3. Many will stop and ask, why did Terri have to die of dehydration? Why couldn’t she have been well-cared for to the end and finally delivered via an overdose of morphine or some other quick, painless finisher?
4. The euthanasia movement will gain significant momentum.
5. Assisted suicide will either be legalized in a significant portion of the states or the Supreme Court will federalize the issue as they have abortion.
6. America attains the moral status of say, the Netherlands.
Whether this is a pretty picture or not depends on your own moral compass. I’m concerned about where the slope will lead us. I can easily envision euthanasia being actively urged for imperfect infants of all kinds. The Down Syndrome children who aren’t already killed in utero via programs to “reduce birth defects” will now be wiped out en masse in their first 10 days of life as parents take the easy way out. We’ll start hearing about post-euthanasia parents just like we hear about post-abortive women. Our moral fiber will continue to weaken as we dispose of our challenges instead of growing through them.
If folks will forgive me, I will ramble a bit on the Terri Schiavo case.
First of all, kudos to Ralph Nader for being on the right side of this one. His most cogent point is this: there is no law in the world that can allow a court to order that a person not be fed by hand. Even if a feeding tube is deemed to be “life support” (and, may I remind everyone that in the landmark case of Karen Ann Quinlan, after the family won the right to remove her from the respirator, she lived nine more years – i.e. it never occurred to anyone to remove her feeding tube), giving food and water by hand certainly is not. There is no power in the Constitution or elsewhere to allow a person to be denied food and water by hand.
Sadly, I don’t think that it ever occurred to the attorneys to make a separate filing to a federal judge to ask for permission to feed by hand since the state judge’s injunction is illegal on its face. If indeed she cannot take nourishment in this way, then she will die, but if she can, she will be saved.
Does any State have the right to execute a serial killer with a hundred dismembered victims by denying him food and water? Of course not. It would be cruel and inhuman punishment. (This point was made by attorney Jack Thompson in his memo to Governor Bush).
I have no strength to continue. This is a horror to me, and I feel betrayed by every concept and institution that I took to be a bulwark and a buttress.
Here is evidence the judge apparently found unconvincing as he ruled:
I can identify with Alan’s concerns. I’ve sat vigil in a hospital room with a loved one and counted the long spaces between extraordinarily labored breaths. I’ve whispered in my grandfather’s ear and told him to “Go to Jesus. You don’t have to wait for us. We’re okay. We love you.” I saw an old man die and felt great relief he didn’t choose to prolong his suffering by being hooked up to a ventilator.
I feel differently about Terri Schiavo, though. My grandfather was actively dying. Terri Schiavo was not. She continued to live, requiring food and water, but still breathing on her own. There is a great difference between dying naturally and having life’s sustenance withheld in order to bring death. What has been done to Terri Schiavo is indistinguishable in my mind from what would happen if a person taking care of a quadraplegic relative simply refused to provide food and water.
I am highly disturbed by the fact that we don’t see unanimity of medical opinion about Terri’s situation. Some say she’s in a vegetative state, others say not, still others don’t know. I fear the judicial determinations have depended more on an assessment of whether her life is worth living than on slam-dunk medical evidence.
Finally, it should mean something that Terri’s family so keenly desires her continued presence. If she were truly vegetative, then it would be hard to believe they would fight as they have. They feel she is alive and interactive, no matter how minimally. This woman seems to me to be profoundly disabled more than brain-dead or vegetative.
I tried to go to sleep two nights ago after helping my week-old daughter get back to sleep. For some reason, standing by the bed in the moonlight I thought about Terri Schiavo and felt as if God would have me pray. The whole world is watching and I think He is, too.
I sympathize with anyone in the position Alan Reynolds was in when faced with the loss of his mother and his great concern for her full and true welfare. However, I agree with John Hutchins’s thoughtful comments to Alan’s post.
Alan, I think the key element here is that the Terri Schiavo case does not fit the situation you describe, as I have noted in earlier postings on the matter. To wit and in particular, Terri Schiavo is not brain dead. She is not in an advanced, incurable stage of Alzheimer’s disease, nor is she suffering great pain, as far as anyone can discern, nor does she suffer from any of the other conditions typically given as reasons for mercy killing. She is by no means an obvious candidate for a killing by denial of food and water—except for the unsupported statements of her husband, a man who has become entirely estranged from her and her family. He won’t even allow them to visit her, lest they place an ice chip on her dehydrated lips.
Surely, Alan, your emotional ties to your mother were far stronger than the obvious emotional distance Michael Schiavo displays toward Terri!
As I mentioned earlier, the New York Times agrees that Terri Schiavo is not a conventional candidate for mercy killing, even if one accepts the premise that euthanasia can be acceptable. In Tuesday’s story by Abby Goodnough, the reporter noted, “She [Terri Schiavo] can breathe on her own and has periods of wakefulness, but Judge George Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, who presided over the case, accepted the testimony of doctors who said she was in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ and incapable of thought or emotion.”
The real issue here is not whether Terri Schiavo should die but who should decide the matter. The question of who is qualified to choose, who truly has Terri’s best interests at heart, is not only a legal question but also, and much more powerfully, a moral one. That, I think, is why passions have run so high over this matter.
In my view, although perhaps not others’, it could not be more obvious that Terri’s parents want what is best for her, in line with their religious beliefs, of course, but without any true conflicts of interest. Michael Schiavo, on the other hand, does have an explicit interest in seeing Terri die, if only to get on with his own life unencumbered by a very disabled wife.
This moral issue is extremely important to the body politic. Recent history, especially trends in Europe, makes it quite clear that there will be many more such attempts to stretch the definition of what it is acceptable for doctors and legal guardians to do in ending the lives of patients under their care. And not all of these will be cases in which the right choice is clear, as in the nevertheless agonizing case of Alan’s decision about his mother. In addition, as the huge Baby Boom generation reaches advanced age, these decisions will become even more common and increasingly vexing—and a great number of Boomers will be in Terri’s position instead of Michael’s.
Hence, the discussion of Terri’s sad plight is important and necessary. Only when the public presses for and receives clear legislation on these matters will the law have a chance of fully reflecting the needs of both parties in such cases, with a true respect for the rights of the helpless to live even when they pose a burden others do not wish to accept.
The Florida courts have decided that the law is clear on this matter as it applies to the case currently in question. Be that as it may, the court of public opinion is making it increasingly evident that not all of the public sees the answer in this case as quite so obvious. This a matter that should be discussed, and one on which passions should indeed be high. If life and death are not important, nothing is.
This brings us to Alan’s argument about the Christian valuation of life evidenced by those who have expressed a desire that Terri not be dehydrated and starved to death: “Many who profess belief in a glorious afterlife have nonetheless become curiously agitated on behalf of clinging to the faintest semblance of life by unnatural means. This makes no theological sense unless Mrs. Schiavo is assumed to be damned, which seems a very unChristian presumption.”
This is a serious question and merits a serious answer. I shall presume that a clear reference from Scripture will suffice to explain the ambivalence Alan has correctly identified. Here it is, from Paul’s letter to the church in Phillipi (Plilippians 1:21-24):
“21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
As Paul makes clear, to long to be with Christ, or to wish to have another person be with Christ, does not suggest that we yearn for a quick death. Christians believe that God Himself is in and with every believer, through the presence of His Holy Spirit in the believer’s body. We do not need to wait for that. The presence of God’s very Spirit in a person, or in the case of an unbeliever the possibility that this happy circumstance could come to pass, is in fact a compelling reason for Christians to seek the preservation of human lives. To desire that Terri Schiavo not be sent to the afterlife before her appointed time is therefore neither strange nor perverse—it is thoroughly Christian.
The Terri Schiavo case started a stampede to create living wills, which often include such instructions as, “I do not want artificial nutrition and hydration if that would be the main treatment keeping me alive.” That means no feeding tube, except as a temporary expedient.
My mother wrote such a living will a few years before she died of Alzheimer’s at 90. At the end she refused to open her mouth for food or water, consciously or not. Knowing her wishes, my sister and I were not about to force a tube down her throat.
Although death from Alzheimer’s was imminent and inevitable, the immediate cause of my mother’s death was probably dehydration (which precedes starvation). That is not uncommon at all. On the contrary, that is exactly how many if not most elderly people die if (1) they are not fortunate to die quickly and (2) they have left instructions that they do not wish to be kept alive by artificial means. Those present when my mother died said she did not appear to be in pain, though morphine would have been available if she had needed it. A morphine overdose might well have been more merciful, but laws against euthanasia leave no legal alternative to death by dehydration in many cases. Those who now bemoan death by dehydration usually admire laws against euthanasia, which is somewhat inconsistent when those are often the only two options for those who abhor prolonged artificial life support.
Many people believe themselves qualified to speak in the abstract about such matters, particularly concerning people they do not know. And they claim to view such tough choices as a clear and simple distinction between right and wrong.
I would first like to ask anyone blessed with such moral certitude if they object to living wills in principle (perhaps viewing such an Advance Medical Directive as akin to suicide). If not, I would ask if he or she could possibly imagine writing a living will for himself or herself that would instruct physicians to maintain the body by any means possible, even if the person in question was unable to move or communicate for 15 years (and potentially much longer). If they could honestly answer that question in the affirmative, I would ask how certain they are that such a fate is preferable to being buried alive with an oxygen tube and plenty of food and water.
Many who profess belief in a glorious afterlife have nonetheless become curiously agitated on behalf of clinging to the faintest semblance of life by unnatural means. This makes no theological sense unless Mrs. Schiavo is assumed to be damned, which seems a very unChristian presumption.
Yesterday, federal district court judge James D. Whittemore, in denying the appeal of Terry Schiavo’s parents that the state require that their daughter’s food and water be resumed, said, “the plain language of the 14th Amendment contemplates that a person can be deprived of life so long as due process of law is provided.”
That is certainly correct.
It is, however, a perverse society indeed that rules that every vicious murderer under the age of 18 merits constitutional protection and cannot be executed, but we must allow the killing of a disabled woman whose husband claims she was appalled by the conditions of characters in bad TV movies a couple of decades ago.
We set off down this path, of course, when it was decided that the Constitution required state governments to allow doctors to kill children in the womb.
We have been led all the way to this current Mount of Olives by the nation’s courts. The truly great shame, however, is that our legislators and executives have concurred in this judicial usurpation of their powers.
They are every bit as responsible as the courts. Therefore we, who elected them, are fully responsible for the present awful situation.
Florida governor Jeb Bush has tried to work with the courts to resolve the problem, but the Florida judges continue to insist that the state’s courts’ previous decisions in this matter have been unerring. A governor, however, has broad powers, and state statutes allow for the removal of a person who is under the care of another who has neglected them. The deliberate denial of food and water is worse than neglect. The only people who would be angry if Gov. Bush intervened to save Terri Schiavo’s life are his most implacable enemies.
If Jeb Bush does not intervene, George Bush should do so.
If neither of those men musters up the courage to save Terri Schiavo, then truly we, the citizens of this nation who elected the governors, legislators, judges, and presidents who brought us to this pass, are ultimately responsible.
On this day of all days, Terri Schiavo’s plight should be an arrow to the conscience of every American.
The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated Thursday evening and all day Friday. It has no work restrictions, just fun party aspects – eating, drinking, music, dancing and costumes. It commemorates the salvation of the Jews from the evil Haman, as recorded in the Book of Esther.
In my article at The American Spectator, I try to alert modern readers to the little-known aspects of the traditional view of Esther as more than just a beauty queen with a good heart.
Apparently a diner at a Wendy’s in San Jose purchased some of their chili made famous by the amazing ignorance of the ineffable Teresa Heinz-Kerry during the recent presidential campaign. This particular bowl sadly contained a special surprise, to wit, a human finger, which the hapless patron proceeded to bite and spit out. No word as yet from our honored pundits as to precisely which finger was involved, but we will allow the lawyers to sort out this saga. For me, however—forgive me, but I am weird—the larger philosophical question is quite different: Would the fair Teresa have recognized the alluring photo of the chili at that Wendy’s along the Kerry campaign trail had a finger been included, preferably standing tall? I report; you decide.
The Schiavo case is driving me batty, so herewith an insane proposal: One of the seven Catholic archbishops in the country should hold a press conference announcing that if Terri dies he will recommend to the Church that she be beatified since she was starved to death before the eyes of the world during Holy week.
Once the judges grasp that they are giving Catholicism a big fat present, they will suddenly find a loophole to let her live and return to obscurity.
Monday night’s episode of the gloomy British TV mystery drama Wire in the Blood, available in the United States on BBC America (Monday nights at 9:00-11:00 EST), had a very interesting religious angle. The murders seem to be the workings of a strange Christian cult that is the surviving remnants of a secret, 500-year-old sect centering on Joan of Arc. The anti-clerical imagery we have come to expect is all there: allusions to witch burnings, religious wars, pursuit of heretics, the Inquisition, obsessions about personal guilt, and the like. As the episode progresses, the activities of this religious cult force the investigators to “test not only their science and experience, but also their beliefs,” as the BBC’s episode description aptly puts it.
What is interesting is outcome of this test. One is braced for the typical media discussion of how religion is a major cause of wars in the world, and sure enough it comes along, explicitly, as the detectives discuss the implications of what this cult is doing.
Those who hold the view that religion is an illusion that does far more harm than good, however, are being set up for disappointment. It turns out [note: plot element revealed] that the murders are being commited by a lone fanatic, and the real motive force is not religion in itself but the fact that she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Religion is merely the substance to which her paranoia has attached itself. The events of the story make it quite clear that her disease is the killer, not religion.
In addition, there is a rather startling conclusion to the episode. The two main detectives are seen singing a hymn in the packed sanctuary of a lovely English church. In the wake of all the perverse imagery which made religion seem so foreign and dangerous, the scene presents quite a refreshing change. But that is not all: after the hymn, the female detective of the main pair goes to the front of the sanctuary to serve as a sponsor at the baptism of an infant. The film fades out with her repeating several lines from the baptismal liturgy, including those in which the sponsors and congregation renounce the devil and all his works.
As I have noted many different times on this site and elsewhere, the treatment of religion on American (and in this case, British) television has become much more sympathetic in recent years than most critics seem to realize.
Barry Bonds’ latest appearance before the press appears to have been a nasty affair (no pun intended). Reporters were unable to ask Bonds about his long term extramarital relationship with a woman who now says he admitted steroid use to her. Why couldn’t they ask? Bonds brought his son to the press conference. According to Dan Patrick of ESPN, Bonds explicitly told the ESPN camera man to make sure he got a shot of his son. By the way, Bonds apparently bought this woman a house or made a large down payment on one, so she may be legit.
Break out the asterisks, baby. If Bonds becomes the new holder of the most prestigious record in all of sports, we’ll need a wheelbarrow full of them.
Here’s a bit:
The doctor said that he wanted to make it very clear to both my mother and father that there was absolutely nothing that could be done for Oliver. He didn’t want my parents to grasp at false hope. “You could place him in an institution,” he said. “But,” my parents replied, “he is our son. We will take Oliver home of course.” The good doctor answered, “Then take him home and love him.”
Oliver grew to the size of a 10-year-old. He had a big chest, a large head. His hands and feet were those of a five-year-old, small and soft. We’d wrap a box of baby cereal for him at Christmas and place it under the tree; pat his head with a damp cloth in the middle of a July heat wave. His baptismal certificate hung on the wall above his head. A bishop came to the house and confirmed him.
Even now, five years after his death from pneumonia on March 12, 1980, Oliver still remains the weakest, most helpless human being I ever met, and yet he was one of the most powerful human beings I ever met. He could do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat, and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight. When I was small my mother would say, “Isn’t it wonderful that you can see?” And once she said, “When you go to heaven, Oliver will run to you, embrace you, and the first thing he will say is ‘Thank you.”‘ I remember, too, my mother explaining to me that we were blessed with Oliver in ways that were not clear to her at first.
Judge James D. Whittemore, in deciding the Terri Schiavo case, did just as one might have expected, apparently deciding according to his personal beliefs and then finding ample legal justification for them. Legally, this one is not a slam dunk for either side. How could it be? There are too many conflicting rights and responsibilities in play.
In my view, Terri Schiavo’s protectors, led by her parents, have fought a valiant fight for her life, but have not gained sufficient ground for their case in the public consciousness. It is important to recognize that the PR war in such cases is the real battleground, and in that realm they appear to me to have some work remaining to do. They must insistently emphasize and continue to keep at the forefront the fact that Terri Schiavo is not brain dead. She is by no means a normal candidate for a denial of food and water.
The New York Times agrees. In today’s story by Abby Goodnough, the reporter noted, “She [Terri Schiavo] can breathe on her own and has periods of wakefulness, but Judge George Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, who presided over the case, accepted the testimony of doctors who said she was in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ and incapable of thought or emotion.”
That should have been the first and most persistent message of Terri’s friends in the PR war: that she is not brain dead. She is alive and has periods of wakefulness. That is to say, she is like the rest of us, only her periods of sleep are longer and deeper. We are all in a persistent vegetative state, in the sense that sleep persistently comes to us each day whether we wish it or not.
By the logic of Michael Schiavo and his lawyers, any human being that could not get its own food and water—such as any infant or frail elderly person—could be said to be in a persistent vegetative state and denied these essentials of life and put to a slow, horrible death.
This is an argument that should be at the forefront of the case, and would have great effect, I think, in that it would shift the ground away from the public thinking that they would hate to be in Terri Schiavo’s situation and would want someone there to protect their stated wishes (though not written in this case, and backed only by the party who is trying to have her killed) that they not be forced to live for many years though brain-dead. It would put the observer in Terri’s position instead of Michael’s.
The public would be encouraged to see the case as very different: of them being potentially forced to die because someone feels their presence too much of a burden.
The public must be made to feel as much sympathy for the disabled persons whose very lives are being debated as we now feel for those forced to make such agonizing decisions. Only when the public presses for legislative action will the law begin to reflect the needs of both parties in such cases, with a full respect for the rights of the helpless to live even when they pose a burden others do not wish to accept.
I will say it now: there is a word for what happens when a person puts another human being to death because the first person believes that the other stands in the way of his or her happiness.
It is murder.
Too excited to just let it go, so I wrote two more fessays, one concerning another aspect of Michael Schiavo’s insolence (he still seems to be getting away with it; please, dear God, stop him) and one relating to a different news item entirely. Please enjoy.
This is just exciting beyond description. I believe that I have invented a literary form that can quite possibly become a popular instrument in the American writer’s repertoire.
I am calling it the “fessay”, and I have created a separate blog of my own for the purpose of exploring and expanding this new concept.
Please go there and have a look. The very first fessay deals with the Terri Schiavo case. And if you like it, PLEASE TELL YOUR FRIENDS!!!!!! If it catches on, you will have witnessed history in the offing. Thanks, folks.
Democrats have rediscovered federalism not long after they rediscovered a love of the plain text of the Constitution when the GOP threatened to alter it to deal with marriage. Terri Schiavo is the issue now.
What the Democrats don’t understand is that federalism is scarcely in the DNA of the Republican party. The GOP fought against slavery and polygamy in the 19th century heedless of states’ rights in the process. The key issue for the GOP has traditionally been the dignity of the individual in a moral universe. Slavery and polygamy offended that principle because they involved lopsided relationships. The GOP fought the New Deal and socialism for the same reason. Statism tended to rob the individual of God-given dignity and introduce a new lopsided relationship – the individual before a monolith state.
The modern GOP has embraced federalism, but primarily as a method of keeping solutions as close to the individual as possible. States’ rights are a means, not an end in the GOP philosophy. It is the Democrats who made states’ rights the end-all-be-all during the era of slavery and later Jim Crow.