~ 24 March 2005 ~

Court-Appointed Murder

I haven’t weighed in on the Terri Schiavo matter on this blog, due largely to the fact I’ve been preoccupied with things other than the blog. I think, however, that an issue like this deserves to commented on—even if my position echoes countless others. Sadly, the media focus has confused many into thinking that Terri Schiavo is terminally ill, as evidenced by this post, where I left a comment.

Terri Schiavo is not terminally ill. She is not on life support. This is not the stereotypical “when should we pull the plug?” situation that we all dread the thought of.

Terri Schiavo is brain-damaged. Like every single one of us, Terri Schiavo does require food for sustenance. Her condition renders her unable to eat, thus the need for the feeding tube.

Terri’s husband, who only remains her husband by letter of the law (he is an adulterer who currently lives with the woman with whom he has fathered two children outside of his marriage—oh the consequences if she were to recover!), will inevitably get his wish—that Terri will be starved to death.

John Rabe says it best:

There is one Christian position on this issue. Period. If you have trouble wondering what the hubub is all about, or if you sympathize with Michael Schiavo’s position, you’ve got some serious homework to do if you profess to be a Christian.

Denying food to the weak has no place in Christian practice.

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10 Comments:

  1. Neil Uchitel » 24 March 2005:

    Jared,

    I don’t believe there is one Christian position on this, and that is my problem with the issue in the first place. In any other time, in any other society besides America in the 21st century, Terri would almost assuredly have been allowed to die. It would have been impossible to feed her and the necessity created by that condition would have caused her caregivers to allow her to die peacefully. The hand-wringing that’s going on now is caused by a moral thinking that in my opinion, is more humanist than specifically and historically Christian.

    Cheers,

  2. Jared Bridges » 24 March 2005:

    Neil,

    I understand where you’re coming from, and I may even agree with you to some extent that it is a humanist position, if this situation is about Terri Schiavo being “allowed to die.”

    The problem is that since she is not terminally ill in any sense, this is more of an issue of her being allowed to live.

    Think of it this way: imagine Christopher Reeve, as a parapalegic, being denied food from his wife because she wanted to let him die. What’s the difference? At no time in history has the inability to feed oneself been considered a terminal illness–especially when there are means to obtain food available.

    The point about the historical absence of measures such as a feeding tubes is moot, as Christians have always used available medical technologies. Antibiotics weren’t available five hundred years ago either, yet we would both agree that it would be a crime to withold them from someone with a deadly infection.

    It’s a matter of perspective–if the need of food and water is a terminal illness, your point may be valid, if it is not (which is my contention), then the only right thing to do would be to not subject her to death by starvation.

  3. Neil Uchitel » 24 March 2005:

    I know we understand each other, so I’m just commenting to keep the discussion going…

    To be sure, keeping her alive with food and water isn’t necessarily “extraordinary” in a medical sense, but the manner in which she must be kept alive is non-normative. Food must be given to her via a tube. She can’t willfully process it. In fact, years of close observation (by almost everyone except her parents) has shown she can’t willfully do anything. Thus, my main issue is one of consciousness, not necessarily of the measures taken to give her life. Christopher Reeve could say to his wife: “Feed me!”. To not do so in the face of a conscious request would of course, be murder. But Terri doesn’t have that. In fact, it is extremely dubious whether or not Terri Schiavo even knows (or will ever know) she is being fed. She is not “un”-conscious, she is by all accounts a-conscious. To me, that is the qualitative difference. If she had even “minimal consciousness” then I would wholeheartedly agree: keep her alive. If she will never regain any measurable form of consciousness, then, what do we do when we sustain a body with no discernable mind? I liked what Doug Wilson had to say about this:

    “Human life does not provide the standard. We must recognize God as God, and honor His law as the standard. This is the trap that many pro-lifers have fallen into, talking about the sanctity of human life. We ought to have been talking about the sanctity of God’s law, and the consequent dignity of human life. If human life is sacred, then human life is the standard. But if God’s law is the standard, then we must give ourselves to the study of it.”

    I don’t think either the Old or the New Testament puts such a pricier value on the life of the body over the life of the spirit, in redeption. We are intellectually content that when the body goes, the mind must follow though it is unwilling, and death ensues. Why in this case, the reverse seems so hard is puzzling to me.

    Her parents say that because she is a Catholic she would never say “Don’t feed me.” To me, if she were a true religious Catholic, she would say “Let me go, because then I can be with the Lord.” That would by my request at least. I have no interest in lingering. For a believer, this life is transient, so being forced to remain here is, for me “cruel and unusual punishment” when I could otherwise be in the presence of God, enjoying a redeemed body.

  4. John R. » 24 March 2005:

    Neil,

    You are incorrect. She is not “by all accounts” a-conscious. That’s precisely what’s at issue here. There are many doctors who say she exhibits some level of consciousness. That much seems clear just watching the woman.

    And I’d be interested to know, under the criteria you’ve laid out here, how you would restrict someone from killing, say, a one-month-old baby.

    Witholding food and water from a person whose body continues to function for days or even weeks until they dehydrate to death is murder, plain and simple. Even when we remove a ventilator from someone, we don’t suck all the air out of the room and leave them in an airless vacuum as if to say ‘You will have NO AIR!” The machine stops breathing for them, but it doesn’t remove even the possibility of breathing.

    And it’s unfortunate that the church has bred so many moral midgets that many professing Christians can even cast about on all of this.

  5. Jared Bridges » 24 March 2005:

    Neil,

    On the surface, it seems our disagreement stems from whether or not Terri is conscious, but what really constitutes consciousness? Are the court’s definitions good enough to measure up to the standard of God’s law? The video and audio from terrisfight.org would seem to contradict the fact that she is unresponsive.

    Are we even capable as fallen humans to make the judgment for life or death in this case? There are enough unkowns here that we should avoid inflicting this possibly painful death upon her.

    Perhaps this would case would be much easier if Michael Schiavo’s character were not so dubious. Perhaps it would be easier if Terri’s injuries left her body unable to keep her alive. Perhaps it would be easier if there were a visibly good outcome to this on either end.

    I suppose the only comfort we can take is that all things are indeed God’s hands, and that his justice will prevail—even if our justice fails.

  6. Neil Uchitel » 24 March 2005:

    John,

    Well, so far I haven’t read anything in the dozens of articles i’ve read that state that she is in anything but a “persistent vegetative state”. There are very stringent criteria for a doctor to make this diagnosis, so it’s not somthing that’s bandied about lightly. It means that there is no response that can be considered evidence of consciousness in any meaningful way. The only doctors that have made a diagnosis other than PVS have not been her regular care physicians, just ones that have observed her from a distance. One neurologist from Harvard went so far as to say that no single credible neurologist would diagnose her in being in anything but a PVS. Bill Frist is a semi-retired cardiologist, and he believed that she had some consciousness, but he made that diagnosis from a video. You can’t make an accurate medical diagnosis of a person’s apparent consciousness from a video. Also, another neurologist recently stated that she might be in a state of “minimal consciousness”. In my eyes, this doctor, who did not visit Terri’s bedside, has to justify why s/he has made such a diagnosis against the one of their colleagues. If s/he can justify it and it’s true, then OK, that’s a different story. But, as far as I can tell from everything I’ve read (which admittedly isn’t first person, or necessarily accurate simply because it’s in print), Terri isn’t conscious at all, and hasn’t been for years. Just because she smiles or squeezes a hand, doesn’t mean she has anything remotely approaching consciousness that would justify in my mind a rethinking of the matter beyond what the courts, doctors, etc. have already done. Even if there were a modicum of reasoned division among the courts, I would say, hear the case out some more. But the courts are foursquare in their belief that she had made legimate statements about her unwillingness to live in such a state.

    In answer to your question about the 1-month old, I have repeatedly said and cannot overemphasize this enough that it is not the fact that she is incapacitated that puts her care into question, it is that she (for the sake of my argument) has no consciousness, and is not expected by almost all of those who have examined her to ever have consciousness. Severe MS patients (such as Stephen Hawking) who are almost totally physically incapacitated still retain consciousness. Someone who is PVS is presumed not to have any such consciousness. Therefore, the issue of the 1-month old is moot, because even though a 1-month old is largely incapable of doing anything, a 1-month old is a conscious being, and we know that it is because it communicates its intentions towards us, viz. by crying. As I stated in the comments in my blog, if the the same 1-month old had severe hydro-encephaly or anencephaly, however, that would be a different story. The child would have bodily function, but no consciousness, because it would have a no brain at all, or just a brain stem. That child could go on breathing and eating for a long time, but it is in effect, just a body, not a person. Bodily function alone does not make a person. So, the question remains, does Terri have consciousness. Most experts agree that she does not. The courts agree with those experts, hence their refusal to grant any more delays.

    Now, as to your example about the ventilator, when we removed an assisted breathing device from someone who needs it to survive, we do, in effect, remove the air from them. We don’t create a vacuum in the room itself, but we do in their lungs. Their systems gradually collapse because of lack of sufficient oxygen and eventually, they die. Removal of the device eventually results in the removal of the possibility of oxygenation. Air is much more necessary than food and water, as we can’t go without air for more than a couple of minutes, but by removing an assisted breathing device from an a-conscious person who would otherwise be able to exist using such a device, we also cause them to die. Is this also murder? I personally don’t believe it is, when they have no hope for recovery. My own grandfather had an assited breathing device in a completely unrecoverable a-conscious state after an intense illness, and when I, as his next of kin, took him off the device, which was done with a great amount of consideration and prayer, I necessarily removed from him the long-term possibility of continued life. He didn’t die immediately; it took him 3 days. In the end, he suffocated. That’s what it means to stop breathing. Did he suffer? No, he was on morphine. He felt nothing. Was this murder? If not, what is different about the removal a device that oxygenates vs. one that nourishes/hydrates?

    By your defintion, the removal of anything necessary for life could be constituted as murder. Why do people think that if a person cannot breathe on their own, its OK to let them go, when in Terri’s case she cannot eat on her own. She cannot chew or swallow. She is not intravenously nourished (artificial nourishment), but her nourishment is “assisted” in the same manner as assited breathing.

    Like I said, and so it’s clear, my argument is based upon the idea that she is not and cannot be recovered to consciousness. If she is “minimally conscious” as one recent doctor stated, then that would change the circumstances, in my opinion.

  7. Jared Bridges » 24 March 2005:

    Neil,

    First of all, let me thank you for wonderful decorum amidst disagreement. I love debating issues with competent, thoughtful persons like yourself. I will, however, fault you for not writing on your blog more often. 🙂 Perhaps after your wedding?

    You’ve made a strong point that’s centered around conciousness being the criteria for withdrawing the feeding tube. My question is on what basis can we make consciousness the criteria? Is there biblical warrant for elevating consciousness to the deciding factor of whether we live or die?

    I don’t ask this as a “gotcha” question—I just wonder whether or not we’re artificially placing consciousness on a pedestal. The only biblical evidence I can think of would be the concept of the nephesh chiya (not sure on the transliteration), or breath of life in Genesis 2:7 and elsewhere, but it would be a stretch to match it with our concepts of consciousness. After all, we’re considered unconscious when we sleep.

  8. Neil Uchitel » 24 March 2005:

    Jared, I was in the process of writing my long comment and missed your previous one. I took a look at terrisfight.org and indeed some of the video clips seems to show some rudimentary awareness. Of course, it’s difficult to tell, but there is enough of what seems to be an appearance of awarness that is present in some of the clips. However, is this all the evidence that exists in all of her years of medical treatment? Not being persnickety, just wondering aloud.

    What I do find terribly bothersome is that Michael Schiavo has apparently not used any of the money designated for Terri’s therapy to that end. THAT is unconscionable, if it is indeed true. Michael Schiavo’s seeming behavior does not help his cause at all, and I must wonder what her state would be if she had received the therapy she was supposed to have received.

    I must confess continual frustration at the main stream media for not delving deeper into this, and thank you for the information.

    The issue of consciousness I will have to come back to when I’ve got some more time. Thank you for your admonition to write more frequently. I didn’t think anyone visited anymore so this is a welcome encouragement! Thanks for the lively discussion!

  9. songstress7 » 25 March 2005:

    Actually, from the affidavit filed by Dr. Cheshire, who was asked to review her case by Florida’s DCF Adult Protective Services(http://www.nationalreview.com/pdf/Affidavit.pdf), he *did* personally visit Terri’s bedside and feels that she was misdiagnosed. He says in the affidavit that upon entering her room, it is obvious that she has some level of awareness, and that he could not in good conscience agree to withdraw food and water from her, even though he is on record as believing it is ethically permissible to remove nutrition and hydration from a patient in PVS. It is a very interesting affidavit indeed, and worth a read for those who are conflicted about this case.

    I continue to pray for Terri, for her family, and for Michael… and mostly, that the TRUTH will win out.

  10. ben cauble » 31 March 2005:

    I’m with you. One position here. John Rabe is right.

    Thou shalt not kill has with it a large number of implications, and attendant commands or prohibititions. The deprivation of the means neccessary for life is tantamount to (it is) ending life. My sister, who is not in a vegetative state (nor is Terri) but who has a feeding tube and cannot feed herself, ought to be killed by the same token.
    For that matter…the pope himself, under this line of thinking, ought to go. Existential utilitarianism and secular humanism drives this.
    If the SC were to hear the case, it would then have to render a verdict that it doesn’t want to render (whether that is consciense or not, I’m not sure) and so they will not rule on it. However, this is in direct contradiction with precedent set by Roe v. Wade, which is ultimately a right to die case just as schiavo’s is. In all honesty though, I must say both abortion and euthanasia are both right to kill issues, and our society is suppressing that truth in unrighteousness…
    If the SC were to rule in favor of Schiavo, and in accordance with right thinking, they would have to revisit Roe v. Wade…the movement toward euthanasia is built firmly on the assumption of Roe v. Wade, and to strike euthanasia is to call into question the very foundation of that movement: what is life, and who has the right to take it?

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