Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Law - is it dead yet?

While Terri's parents said one thing after their visit on Saturday - that "her lips were bleeding, her skin was peeling and that she appeared in discomfort..."; that, in fact, Terri "resembled an Auschwitz survivor, her cheeks sunken and her lips desiccated by dehydration..." - George Felos said something else:

"He disagreed with charges made by Schiavo's parents" "...he had been to see Terri earlier that day, and she was 'calm, peaceful, resting comfortably.' In fact, he said, she looked 'beautiful' and that in the eight years he has been working on the case, he had never seen her have such 'a look of peace and beauty'."

Disagree? I could see how he might flatly deny it, but disagree? I guess whether one resembles an Auschwitz survivor is one of those things, like beauty, that exists only in the eye of the beholder. But, more importantly, I am captured by (though not smitten with) Felos' use of language funereally resonant with a religious imagery that would make a mortician blush. "Comfortable, resting, peaceful, and beautiful." Almost beatific, isn't it? Soon and very soon, We are going to see the King... Next thing you know we'll see the Hemlock Society indulging a penchant for hagiography, issuing little holy cards with Terri's picture on them, halo round her head. I wonder which picture they'll use: one taken before her passage into PVS, or after? Since so much today relies on image, it would be a tough marketing call. On the back there will be some words about how her cause for secular canonization was put through with unusual alacrity for the reason that, like any martyr, she willingly embraced death in the face of a malicious and fanatical enemy, one that would have...kept her alive, protected her, nourished her in her weakness, embraced her in her helplessness, cherished her innocence, held sacrosanct her simplicity, and given voice to an apparently incomprehensible fact: that this is a living human being.

It was not Terri's destination that Felos was eulogizing. It was the process of getting there, the dying itself as an object of adoration, the deification of death. As far as one can tell, the beatitude of dying was the destination. I haven't heard Felos making pleas to the effect that it was time to "Let her go now to rest in the arms of her Eternal Father." Maybe he has; I just haven't heard them. Has anyone even bothered to ask him if he believes in God? I suppose he would respond that it's irrelevant, the only issue at hand one of "rights," the right to die naturally and with dignity. If there is a God, He would want this; if there is not, then it doesn't matter anyway. The law cannot read the mind of God, and should not be asked to. If it is, one notion of the Divine Will must be set against, and imposed upon, another. Some decisions we must be brave enough to make on our own, without recourse to a possibly transcendant but ultimately unknowable Truth. After all, as the question has been memorably put, and echoed down the ages: What is Truth?

This is precisely the question Justice Blackmun asked, and could not answer, in Roe v. Wade. Christians think they know the answer: that every human life from conception to death possesses an inviolable and God-given right to the integrity of its own being; that Terri's current condition is no more inherently "undignified" than George Felos'; that an unborn baby or a person in a persistent vegetative state has as much right to continue in existence as George Felos does in his minimally conscious one. This is the Truth that the philosophizing in Roe v. Wade will not admit, and which allows the state of Florida - following the path cleared by the U.S. Supreme Court in Cruzan - to include the PVS as a terminal stage of life. As with those who inhabit the womb, we cannot be sure that this is really a life.

But why, then - one might ask - wouldn't the law fall back on a current cliché and "err on the side of life?" Why, when confronted with uncertainty, wouldn't it counsel caution, that no evil be done?

Some would say that the Blackmuns and Feloses of this world are not truly in the grip of uncertainty, but of the conviction that an evil is being done: one which, in one case, forces a woman to live in a horribly debilitated condition, and in the other would force her to bear for nine months, and give birth to, a questionable entity that is, shall we say, crowding her space.

But it's really much worse than that. When the law of man unhinges itself from any dependence upon a notion of what might accord with the law of God, from any deference to the verities of a revered Tradition (revered for the very reason that we believe its founding principles to be divine in origin), what is left to it? (Wherewith will it be salted?) I'll tell you - in those areas where doubt prevails, one of two things is left to it : either totalitarianism (in which the state substitutes its own wisdom for the Tradtion's), or the moral anarchy of libertarian, individual autonomy and its consequent, revolutionary promulgation of human "rights" where none existed before. The result? A Terri Schiavo might leave behind instructions to have her tube pulled, or to have it left alone. Either is acceptable. One is not morally superior to the other (in spite of the preening disdain a Felos might cast upon you should you choose to treat your relative as Terri's parents treated her). What is of the essence is that the decision was yours. The only morality lies not in what you chose, but in the fact that you chose at all. You get to make it up as suits your individual tradition, whether that be Christian or nothing at all. In law, this concept must be endowed with the fanatical force of a sort of biblical secularism: judge not, lest ye be brought before the bar (or Congress, like Supreme Court nominees) and asked: What is Truth? You'd best not have an anwer, unless you're willing to reply that the only answer is a question.

In this condition, the law has entered a state similar to that of George Felos, and which some of Terri's defenders would have attributed to her - that of minimal consciousness, or, better yet (to err on the side of optimism), a "locked-in" state, one in which the law is aware of the environment that gave it birth, but finds itself unable to respond in a way that its parents would recognize.

Thanks for the diagnosis, some will say, I've heard it before. Sounds like you want to get God back into the constitution, the Ten Commandments into the courthouse.

Awful to contemplate, isn't it? It reminds me of the film A Man For All Seasons, when, early on, Cardinal Wolsey asks cynically of More if he wouldn't like to see the kingdom governed by prayer. And More says, "I would." How admirably forthright, how quaintly reactionary, how pathetically and despicably in violation of everything our modern state stands for. More's vision is a horror.

More precisely, I'd like to see the sacredness of every life, no matter its state in that life, enshrined in American law. I'd like to see severely disabled people taken off the list of those eligible for murder. I'd like to see those helpless ones who have been cast into the legal outer darkness readmitted to the human family. I don't care about the Ten Commandments in the courthouse unless their presence presages that very thing. A religious gesture (like Howard Dean quoting scripture, or George Bush saying "complex", or George Felos describing the "beauty" of a dying woman) can be as empty as any other. But it seems to me we ought to be able to go about it without seating priests on the Supreme Court or making Ratzinger Secretary of State.

But how? Sorry, this is where I fade into ambiguity, and rest like the two George's on tired and trite observations, for I only know what I see: that, as in the larger war, the battle this past week was fought between the forces of darkness and light, of nihilism and belief, of hopelessness and hope; between those who believe in miracles and those who, if they do believe, consider them irrelevant; between those who believe in the Light of the World and those who would blow it out. There are indeed many Christians, an uncomfortable number, who willingly abandoned Terri Schiavo to her captors (I use the word with no sense of irony), but theirs is a Christianity cut off from its past, disinterred from the graveyard of its ancestors, from the tomb of its Tradition, which is the spiritual bloodline tracing back to Christ Himself. It is a Christianity that would serve two masters and, though doomed to perish, it is the variation that has carried the day. That it is a war cannot really be any plainer. Some would prefer to think of it as primarily a spiritual war - and it is, so far - but for Terri Schiavo it has had a tragically temporal consequence.

It is a war, and it would be well to keep in mind that "we" - you know who you are - are losing.

Happy Easter.

1 comment:

William Luse said...

Reader Comments:

Good post. The phrase that keeps coming to mind while watching TV coverage: "but she's NOT dying!" (at least until the courts (i.e. our rulers) removed the feeding tube).
Posted by TSO email at March 27, 2005 11:48 PM

What can we (or anyone) do to save her at this point? To sit by and watch someone die is intolerable. God, please give us a miracle.
There must be someone who has the power to act.

Posted by Lynn email at March 28, 2005 12:39 AM

You just named him. Excuse me..Him. Any others who might have it lack the courage to use it.

Posted by William Luse email at March 28, 2005 02:35 AM

Once she passes, Terri will be fine--THAT promise is always kept. Those of us still skittering upon this reeling orb, however, will not fair so well. The abandonment of this hapless sister to the spiritually nihilistic machinations of the modern judiciary made us a lesser people; and hurled us all one league closer to the abyss.

May Terri rest in peace; and the Lord forgive us once more.


Posted by J. S. Kern email at March 28, 2005 09:01 AM

From the Divine Mercy Novena:

"For the sake of His sorrowful passion,
have mercy on us and on the whole world..

Posted by Lynn email at March 28, 2005 02:56 PM

Monday, March 28, 2005 Posted: 2:38 PM EST (1938 GMT)

"PINELLAS PARK, Florida (CNN) -- Supporters of Terri Schiavo's parents planned last-chance efforts in Florida and Washington on Monday aimed at winning the life-and-death fight to have the brain-damaged woman's feeding tube reinserted."

Posted by Lynn email at March 28, 2005 03:04 PM

Thanks, Lynn. Don't want to bring you down, but I wouldn't put too much hope in this.

Posted by William Luse email at March 28, 2005 03:18 PM
Thanks for the reality check, William. I know she will almost certainly die soon. My sorrow is for her parents now; her father breaks my heart. It seems inpossible that there is not someone who has the power to save her and the courage to exercise it. May God give us a miracle.

Posted by Lynn email at March 28, 2005 04:35 PM
I'll second that.

Posted by William Luse email at March 28, 2005 05:03 PM
What I find interesting, now that Terri is almost past the point of no return, is that mainstream rags (the Boston Globe, for example) are starting to publish parts of the back story. Like the fact that Michael tried in 1994 to have Terri refused antibiotics for a UTI (in that case, her doctors were so horrified that they fought and he backed down). The courts are still under a congressional order to investigate the case 'de novo' - their recent decisions were simply to deny an emergency injunction to re-insert her feeding tube. Of course, once she is dead it becomes a moot point.....

Posted by alicia email at March 28, 2005 06:25 PM
Everything seems moot now, doesn't it? The value of human life, for example.

Posted by William Luse email at March 29, 2005 12:29 AM
Except that we know it's not. May God open the hearts of those who do not see its value.

Posted by Lynn email at March 29, 2005 12:39 AM
Heh-heh. You're a hard woman to keep down. Good. I like it.

Posted by William Luse email at March 29, 2005 01:42 AM
I wonder if part of the media interest in this case is they see it as a court-ordered snuff film. Because that's what it's turning out to be.

Posted by TSO email at March 29, 2005 09:16 AM
Except we don't get to see the film.

Posted by William Luse email at March 29, 2005 02:29 PM

that's right, mr. luse.
felos & co. are afraid to let us see her in her present condition of starvation and dehydration, claiming her "right to privacy." now that's a good one coming from him. it's comforting to know that even though i may not have a right to live -- dammit, they'll uphold my right to be murdered in private.

Posted by smockmomma email at March 29, 2005 02:58 PM

Bill, Felos is religious, but in a New Agey, pseudo-Buddhist sort of way:

He also apparently claims to have telepathic communication with incapacitated "right to die" clients that enables him to "know" that they want death.

Posted by Varenius email at March 29, 2005 04:08 PM

Micki, I don't understand why Michael isn't taking some home movies. Then he could prove to us how peaceful, natural, and sanitary this all was, how unlike Auschwitz.

Hey, looky there, Varenius! I knew he was out there somewhere. I'll read the link, my friend. I'm at work right now.

Posted by William Luse email at March 29, 2005 05:34 PM

I have a little info to share because of your question about Felos. "Has anyone even bothered to ask him if he believes in God?" He believes alright. god even talks to him. He has conversations with the souls of dying patients also. I don't want to know his god. He has a book. It is at

From what I can tell by reading the book reviews, if he were to say anything in trial court like he expresses in his book, he would be taken to the loony house. Several of the people were real mad that they wasted their money on a book that turned out to be akin to promoting a new age euthanasia movement. 2/3rds of the reviews have been removed at the time of this post but you might still glean something from it.

Before March 18 there were 7 customer reviews up. The customer reviews made quit an interesting look into the character of the man because the book is somewhat like a biography. All but one review was critical of the man. One seemed neutral. After March 18 the reviews rose to at least 12 when I checked. Of course the new reviews were very harsh and had more focus on current news. The most recent review was as large as a newspaper article. I checked again to get the link for this comment and found that eight of the reviews have been removed. There are now only four. Feb. 8, 2004 being the most recent.

Posted by ec email at March 29, 2005 08:30 PM

Hey, Foxnews is reporting that the 11th Circuit has agreed to have a hearing to reconsider whether Terri's feeding tube should be reinserted. I hope it's not too late....

Posted by Leslie Fain email at March 30, 2005 01:17 AM

Thanks for that surprising, but encouraging, news. I pray that it is not too late for Terri. May God protect her and give her parents strength for whatever the outcome will be.

Posted by Lynn email at March 30, 2005 01:24 AM

Thanks, ec (don't be so shy), for that fascinating info. I'd heard hints of some of it before, but wasn't sure of its reliability. But if he's got a book laying it all out, the Christian Judge Greer should have thrown him off the case.

I've heard the report, Leslie. My fear now is that Terri has begun to experience irreparable organ failure, in which case re-insertion of the tube really would be an extraordinary means of prolonging the inevitable. Still, it could be tried to determine its effect.

Posted by William Luse email at March 30, 2005 02:02 AM

Btw Bill, kudos to you for addressing the issue of respirator vs feeding tube in your article. That seems to be a problem for many - determining the difference and you didn't shrink from that in your Touchstone piece.

Posted by TSO email at March 30, 2005 03:33 PM

And many, even after reading it (though perhaps not re-reading it) still won't accept the difference. And I think the reason is not that my explanation was so poor, but that something else is clouding their judgement - an opinion on the worthiness of her mental life. If she were conscious, they wouldn't even raise the question.

Posted by William Luse email at March 30, 2005 05:10 PM

He also apparently claims to have telepathic communication with incapacitated "right to die" clients that enables him to "know" that they want death.

Hmm...I wonder if any of these clients told him they want to live? You would think at least ONE would have.

Posted by c matt email at March 30, 2005 07:07 PM

:~) Private revelations are notoriously unreliable.

Posted by William Luse email at March 30, 2005 07:14 PM

Rush Limbaugh read excerpts from Felos' book on his show today.

I'm willing to grant the possibility that he was in contact with _something_ when he visited Mrs. Browning . . . but if so, I'm quite certain it wasn't Mrs. Browning.

Posted by Matthew L. Martin email at March 31, 2005 09:17 PM