Terri Schiavo

Almost everyone has an opinion about the Terri Schiavo case. I’m delayed commenting for a long time, but here are some observations and things to consider.

  1. I know no one who wants to be fed by a feeding tube. Yet many people are fed this way and do recover.
  2. From the Christian perspective death is an enemy, but not to be feared. In his death and resurrection Jesus has defeated the powers of sin, death and hell.
  3. A great tragedy in this particular case is the lack of family unity. Though family unity can achieve both great good and great evil, mutual support and love is part of God’s goal for families. One of the long-standing purposes of the modern Nation-State has been the usurpation of familiy duties. (See A.J. Conyers’ The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit for a good discussion of how this works.) The thought is that families – and other traditional institutions – repress the individual. The State is to use its power to free the individual so the individual’s freedom can be maximized. We see this same force at work in the current push toward same-sex marriage. Regarding Terri Schiavo, family duty sometimes requires allowing someone to die.
  4. Given the state of medical technology, it is easier than ever to keep a body going – to keep a person “alive.”
  5. Our culture abhors suffering. We think it is a great evil and seek to do all we can to avoid it. We see no value in suffering. For Christians in our culture it becomes very difficult to understand Jesus’ call to take up our crosses and follow him. The willing submission to suffering is alien (think little green men for the emphasis of difference) to our way of thinking.
  6. Because we hate (are afraid of?) suffering so much, when we speak of “putting peopel out of their misery,” we too commonly mean to “put them out of our misery.” Seeing their suffering offends us. This is the modern world – we’re experts at science and technology. Suffering has no place in our world. Since suffering is an abstraction, the next best thing we can do is shut it up where we can’t see it (nursing homes?) or remove the sufferers whose very existence offends our sensibilities.
  7. In reports I have read many disabled Americans sense the devaluation of their way of life by those who seek to end Terri Schiavo’s life.
  8. There is disagreement as to Terri’s true medical status. Is she aware of anything? Can she respond to and interact with her environment? Does she feel the pain of dehydration and starvation? Finding conclusive answers to these questions (in her case and any others like hers) seems nearly impossible.
  9. Although many commentators have tried to make the divisions over Terri Schiavo mirror our political culture, their efforts end in failure. Liberals, Conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, etc., are found on both sides. This can be a good thing. Perhaps we’ll finally learn that realiy doesn’t map well on our current dichotomy.
  10. It is a difficult and painful thing for a parent to outlive a child. It seems natural for parents to fight for their child’s life to the very end.
  11. Caring for someone who is completely incapacitated for 15 years is tremendously draining. While the strong Christian ought not give up hope, giving up hope for a cure in this body is compatible with the Chrisian teaching on resurrection.
  12. Michael Schiavo and Terri’s parents are all worthy of our prayers. God’s grace and mercy will be a benefit to them all.
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