Saturday, March 26, 2005

Affidavit on Terri's Condition and Capabilities

Here is evidence the judge apparently found unconvincing as he ruled:

Affidavit from Heidi Law, nurse who take care of Terri

Terri's Plight and the End of Life

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.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Difficult Decisions

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.

Death is Rarely Easy

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.

Killing the Innocent, Sparing the Guilty—Who Is Responsible

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.

Happy Day Is Here Again

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.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Chili Fingers

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.

Church Vs. State

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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Culture Watch: Wire in the Blood

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.

Back to Barry Bonds

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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"You could call him a vegetable. I called him, Oliver, my brother."

Hat tip to The American Scene for linking to a compelling story of apparently "worthless" life that originally ran in the Wall Street Journal.

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.

The Schiavos' War, and Ours

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.

Fiction Dance

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.

ANNOUNCING A LITERARY INVENTION!!!!!

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.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The GOP, Federalism, and Terri Schiavo

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.

Yesssss!!!!!

Congress has acted and the President has signed. If the Federal Courts act like mensches, Terri will be saved.

We saw the words of the Talmud (Brachot 8a) come to life: "God does not disdain the prayer of the many."

So many people, simple, genuine people, people from all walks of life, people from everywhere, rich and poor, brought their voices together in prayer. This was the America we know and love.

America showed its greatness this weekend, as people put down their toys and picked up their cudgels. We started a ratatat pounding on the gates of Heaven that brought the good angels forth in song and sent the dark angels scurrying off in fear.

There was an amazing radio moment a week ago that convinced me that mercy would eclipse severity and that a saving grace would be bestowed from Above. Glenn Beck missed a day and Denny Schaefer sat in for him. Schaefer was interviewing Terri's sister and in a moment of inspiration he literally promised her that God would make a miracle to save her. It was a completely insane thing to say; it had to have been a sort of prophetic intuition.

I believed all along, and stated here twice in the last two months, that this was a key test for our nation, that this was a watershed moment in the moral life of our culture. It looks like we have passed. God bless America.