(Remember Your Servants, O Lord)
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Which may seem to sound a note of hopelessness and surrender, but, as I write, the full bench of the federal appeals court in Atlanta has declined to order the re-insertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, leaving her parents one final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in the past has shown no inclination to let itself be bothered by an impending murder. While the judicial death machine grinds away, Terri's life ebbs, our legal system now the Via Dolorossa of her soul's journey to life's end. Following it all in the media, particularly on television, as hope after hope is wrenched away, has been an emotionally and spiritually debilitating experience. Before I have not energy to say anymore, I'll have one last word on the parade of stupidity, ignorance, and arrogance that I have seen in the public treatment of this case - her case, Terri's, who was and is a woman, and a human being.
This fact is not apparent to all. On MSNBC I watched the obnoxious, arrogant, and interruptive Chris Matthews bark at a Republican guest that Terri's cerebrum is missing, that that part of her that constitutes her, and which houses her personality, is gone. To which the guest had not the wit to ask: then where is she? Nor to wonder how a Catholic comes by such a gnostic notion of the bifurcation of body and soul.
On ABC's Nightline I had the pleasure of watching Michael Schiavo's eyes tear up and his lip tremble as he articulated his outrage at being called a murderer. Normally one might feel sympathy for such evident pain, but, if we would increase its piquancy, it needs to be said one more time: he is a murderer, with accomplices in black robes sitting on the most prestigious courts of our land, and, less noticed, in suits and ties in the legislature of the state I live in.
Over at National Review, William Buckley pens an article offering evidence of the onset of senile incoherence, but none of the intellectual and moral acuity with which he has often been credited these past 50 years, nor of the Catholic sensibility which has usually informed it. If anyone can make sense of his piece, I'd be grateful.
At the same venue, one of John Derbyshire's repulsive contributions is to find death by starvation morally acceptable, but a bullet to the head not so. Perhaps he finds the latter too messy, though the end is the same. Like many, he seems to find the removal of the tube a means of "letting die", a way of disguising from himself that the end is to kill. As to Derbyshire in general, Ramesh Ponnuru dispatches him handily, and Andrew McCarthy has been logically and rhetorically heroic.
At the American Spectator, Doug Bandow mentions that "Although euthanasia proponents and opponents have lined up on the predictable sides, virtually no one disputes Terri's right to choose whether to live or die. The problem is, she left no "living will" or other instructions. So we really don't know what she would decide."
Well, I may be no one, but I dispute it. In this particular instance, we are talking not about her right to discontinue an extraordinary means of prolonging life in the face of impending death, but her "right" to be murdered by means of forcible starvation in the face of severe mental disability. A permanent vegetative state is not a terminal disease. It does not threaten one with death. It is simply a condition of her life, the life she happens to be living, and which some think she should not. It's not as though she could have left behind a will stating that, under certain conditions, it was all right to starve her because she said so, thus lifting the moral burden from the rest of us. Even though Florida law permits it, killing someone by means of starvation is now, and always has been, murder.
From somewhere in America, probably Texas, George Bush took a moment out from pitching other matters like Social Security reform to remind us that we should always "err on the side of life." Why? Because this "is a complex case." No it isn't, Mr. President. And your use of that word lets you off the hook. It tells us you're not sure a murder is taking place. In it we can read the future. It tells us you already know that the courts will rule against you, but you have made a gesture. Much like your brother in Florida, who petitioned the same court that is allowing this execution for permission to take Terri into protective state custody via the DCF, and who likewise knew what the decision would be - but he had made a gesture. Do you really want to make a gesture, Mr. President, Mr. Governor? Send in the federal marshals to take custody. Clinton did it, with the intention of returning a boy to his father and to reinternment in the prison camp known as Cuba. But you, Mr. President, have the opportunity to literally set someone free, to save her not merely from prison but from death. You can use the justification that Martin Luther King used in his breaking of the law (acquired via St. Augustine): that an unjust law is no law at all; that the State cannot lawfully participate in murder; and that the Florida law that got this ball rolling is unconstitutional, thereby rendering null and void all judicial decisions pursuant to it.
Will you, Mr. President, lay down your political life for this one innocent friend, this woman, this human being? No, you will not.
I am sorry for the following self-reference, but it leads me to an important point. When Touchstone made my article in the March issue available online the other day, Amy Welborn (God bless her), linked to it. A couple of her commenters were not convinced by one of its central contentions, and that is that there is a difference between a ventilator that breathes for you and a drip tube that feeds you. Without claiming infallible powers of persuasion, I really do believe the article is at great pains to make that difference clear, and that those who don't see it don't want to see it. So let me be of further assistance. We might recall the case of Karen Quinlan, whose parents petitioned the court for, and received from it, permission to disconnect her ventilator, which request I had no difficulty with in light of a reasonably certain medical judgement that without it she would die, that it was in fact interfering with her dying and therefore constituted an extraordinary means of prolonging the inevitable. When it turned out that she could breathe on her own, and lived for nine more years sustained by a feeding tube, what difference did her parents see between the ventilator and the feeding tube that our current commentators cannot? They saw the difference between murder and its absence; the difference between a machine that literally breathes for you, and a tube that merely allows the digestive system to do its own work; the difference between an act that allowed for the hope that she might go on breathing, and another that would leave no hope that she might go on living; between an act that might allow her to die, and another that could have no purpose but to kill.
Let us be clear as to where this country - my country, our country - stands right now. The case of Nancy Cruzan set a precedent, but it is the case of Terri Schiavo that will enshrine in our consciousness the unworthiness of lives similar to her own, and will likewise set in stone the standard for executive and congressional pusillanimity in their confrontations with the courts. It is a country in which (if the polls are to be believed) the overwhelming majority of my fellow citizens believe that removing Terri's tube was the right thing to do; in which the following lines in the body of a state's law (Florida's) arbitrarily consign an entire class of disabled people to the ranks of the "dying":
In the absence of a living will, the decision to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging procedures from a patient may be made by a health care surrogate...[if and only if]...The patient has an end-stage condition, the patient is in a persistent vegetative state, or the patient's physical condition is terminal.
In determining whether the patient has a terminal condition, has an end-stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state or may recover capacity...
For persons in a persistent vegetative state...life-prolonging procedures may be withheld or withdrawn under the following conditions...
And as we have seen with Michael Schiavo, those conditions are not hard to live up to. But the pertinent point is that those in a PVS have for some reason been lumped in with those who are actually dying. One gets the sense that this entire section of the Florida statutes was designed to target the persistent vegetative state, which amounts to nothing more than a condition of severe mental retardation, and one wonders why. The phrase "developmentally disabled" crops up with some frequency as well, and its use served to remind me of two visits made in my youth, one to a hospital for the mentally retarded here in Orlando and another, called Sunland Training Center, in Gainesville. Both had the appearance of warehouses for the disabled, though I think the care was as good as might be expected in a place where children have largely been abandoned to the solicitude of the state. I do remember a doctor at the hospital referring to his charges as "the children of God," and I also remember what I saw. In one room, a so-called recreation room, there wasn't much recreating going on, just a lot of bodies in diapers sprawled everywhere on the floor, and they weren't the bodies of babies. They ranged in age from childhood to old age. They made a bedlam of noise - mewling, groaning, roaring, bellowing - not necessarily in some kind of agony, but communicating as their limits allowed. In the laundry room at the training center I met what we might call the more "normal" retarded folk, those who could be trained to perform a task, and in another room, a sort of dormitory, I saw the more severe cases, those permanently confined to bed. They wore diapers. Their limbs were twisted into a bizarre variety of grotesque positions. Some never opened their eyes or made a sound, showing much less range of expression than even Terri Schiavo. They were just there, forever. And some had tubes running into their arms, others...into their stomachs. The thing about the mentally retarded is that, though they do not get better, neither do they get any worse. They just live a while, and then they die, like the rest of us. Well, not exactly like the rest of us. None that I saw will ever be judges on the federal courts of appeal, or nurses like Michael Schiavo, or readers of Shakespeare, or ethicists capable of judging the worthiness of other people's lives. What I saw inspired great pity - and horror - but it never occurred to me in the naivete of my years that any one of those unfortunates might be eligible for killing. But now I wonder, in the wake of what I expect will befall Terri Schiavo, if it might not be possible to start emptying out those hospitals.
* * * * *
It is now the next day, and I see that the U.S. Supreme Court, for yet a third time, will not disturb itself over the murder of an innocent. I wonder if the Catholic Scalia screamed a little. I doubt it. He concurred in the 1990 Cruzan case.
I have been perusing old posts. Back in September, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Terri's Law unconstitutional on the basis of separation of powers, protesting that we could not have judicial decisions overturned by popular clamor, and I wondered at the time:
Even if the judicial decision is manifestly unjust? Say, when a judge decides that a black man is better suited to slavery than to freedom? Justice Barbara Pariente expressed sympathy for the emotional plight of Terri's parents over these long years, but decreed that "our hearts are not the law. We must govern our decisions by the rule of law and not by our emotions." Unless the emotions involved happen to be judicial sympathy for a woman seeking abortion, or a democrat seeking the presidency.
Shortly thereafter, Terri's parents were interviewed by CNN's Larry King:
All in all, it was heartbreaking to watch their anguish, and be forced to admit that we now live in a world, and a country, which is no longer governed by even the most rudimentary of normal human affections, but by a rule of law that finds them irrelevant, even, in a way, repugnant. That parents would not be allowed to care for their daughter when no one else wants to, that in fact her death is a thing vastly to be preferred to her living, is a state of affairs that I think at one time would have horrified most Americans. But it doesn't anymore.
Michael loves her, you see, and "deeply", I should add. Therefore he must fulfill her wish to be rid of the indignity she now suffers. It's the last thing he can do for her, his final act of love. His love for her, which can now be consummated only in her death, outweighs that of her parents, which would find its crowning glory in merely caring for her, as they did when she was a baby. And the courts agree. And our state law agrees. He has the right, and perhaps the duty, to see it through.
And from one even further back, right after the tube was pulled in October 2003:
I think I will help the reader a little bit. I think they're going to kill her because she doesn't look like this anymore:
As with the humanity of the unborn, it must be hard for many to believe that the soul, the entire person, of that young woman is hiding out in the "vegetating" shell now before us. Of course, if you don't believe in the soul, you can't believe it. We may be a Christian nation, but we act like a people who can't believe without seeing. What's to be done?
We've heard much of the "culture of life" and the "culture of death" over the past week. Unless there is some kind of backlash I do not now foresee, the victory for the latter in the case (the passion) of Terri Schiavo is, in its legal and moral proportions, enormous and immeasurable.
God bless all the bloggers who have kept this on the front burner, who will not surrender until she has drawn her last breath and all hope of a miracle has passed. We'll know soon.
I am heartsick and am having trouble understanding why God is allowing this to happen.
You ain't the only one.
and for this, tears are not enough.
Thank you, Bill, for what you have written. Thank you for your unwavering support for "the least of these." Thank you for being a MAN, when one is so desperately needed. I am honored, sir, to know you.
The following is an excerpt from the American Crisis, No. 1, written by Thomas Paine in December of 1776. Washington had the pamphlet read to all the units in his army. The words in brackets make this writing applicable to the current America Crisis facing our country.
The burden that Habacuc the prophet saw.
I deserve none of that Terry, but thanks. And that there's a lot of reading, Liberty lady, or guy, but thanks to you as well.
William, you mentioned your dismay that a Catholic like Chris Matthews would promulgate the gnostic notion of the bifurcation of body and soul. As a convert to Catholicism from the Church of Christ, I have been depressed by how many of our priests have refused to fall in line with the Church's teachings on end of life issues. Just this morning, I saw two columns in Newsweek that dealt with Terri Schiavo's situation and whether or not to kill her. One column was by a Jewish rabbi, the other column by a Catholic priest and bioethicist. Guess which writer was on the side of life?
The Jew? Don't be depressed, Leslie. The same situation greeted me when I came in as well. For too many Catholic intellectuals, the Pope is just another guy with an opinion to which we ought to listen politely, then make up our own minds. Intellectual pride is a sin that can land one in hell as easily as any number of others. Just thank God for those Jews and Protestants who see it the way the Pope does.
Some time ago I realized that these lyrics, written by Thomas Moore (1759 - 1852) could be applied, not just by one spouse to another as they grow old, but by parents to a retarded or brain damaged child. May God keep His hand on Terri and the Schindlers. Why couldn't Michael let her family take her and care for her?
I remember that poem. Beautiful. If people could only love each other like that.
I pray that there is still hope for Terri. The Divine Mercy Novena seems especially fitting this year.
You're special too, Lynn, to give of yourself in that way. At the time I was a callow, agnostic, possibly atheistic young thing who had not the stomach for it. But at least I had pity and some degree of empathy (it's hard to clear God from your soul), qualities on the wane these days. I wonder what ever happened to the 'hopeless' cases, the ones whose situations were no different from Terri's except that they were born that way.
William, the "hopeless cases" have been sent to the Tacachale branch in Miami, where I am assured by a friend, they are lovingly cared for.
Back at you.
Thanks for signing my guestbook and linking to Terri's webpage.
Wiliam, am glad to see someone shares my view that Buckley's article was weirdly incoherent.
Eileen, I have seen similar misgivings about Buckley's piece at other sites.
Buckley's article was horribly weird. By the end of it I had the idea that he wanted her to die...and I was very disappointed: I had hoped he would write something better than that.
On this Easter morning we are reminded that "the cross of Christ has conquered death." No matter how bleak the world around us might seem, God has the last word.
On Blogsforterri this morning, that site stated that they will, along with the Schindlers, continue the fight against euthanasia and fight for those people who can't fight for themselves.
Thanks, William, for your blog. I hope everyone has a blessed Easter.
I will say a prayer for your husband, Leslie.
Thanks for your thoughts, Ard.
Thanks, William! I am sending this link to Erik, so he can read it.
What's not to miss! :~)
An excellent essay, William.
Goodbye, Terri, until we meet again in the Kingdom of Heaven. Be at peace in the arms of Jesus. May God forgive us and heal our society.