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Tuesday, March 22, 2005


schiavo and religion

i've not heard the schindlers -- terri schiavo's parents, who fight so desperately to keep their daughter animate if not alive -- make any appeal to religious faith. and yet, clearly, they are delusional in their denial of the truth of their daughter's state of living death. what we are seeing from them is, i think, a profound sense of guilt (deserved or not, for it is natural to feel guilt even in a complete lack of culpability) manifesting itself in a perverse and sickly way. the schindlers are behaving extremely selfishly -- as any good postmodern westerner must, it seems -- and need psychiatric counseling very badly to come to grips with their daughter's death and the role they did (and did not) play in it.

i am not a great catholic, but the bible addresses this. david kills uriah to steal his wife bathsheba; he has sinned. god, in retribution, strikes ill the son david fathered of bathsheba. while the son is ill, david fasts and repents. but when he is dead, david washes, prays and eats.

He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
david then returns to bathsheba's bed and fathers solomon, the most beloved of god's kings.

there is a profound moral lesson in david's actions and both the punishment and blessing of god in this allegory. the schindlers, despite their feelings of guilt and responsibility for what has become of their child, can go on and live a good and loving and blessed life. she is dead, and they are not stained forever for it.

the support that stands behind them now from zealous right-to-lifers seems based partly on a fraud perpetrated upon them indicating some whisper of consciousness (which is apparently not manifest, according to a series of state-appointed medical opinions) or possibility of recovery (which is probably significantly less than 3 in 100,000).

but it's also partly based on a bizarre conception of "life" -- one that i am at pains to point out has no foundation in christian philosophy that i can see. my faith of heritage (and schiavo's) places importance on consciousness and consent, powers that schiavo does not have and holds no hope, after ten years in this state, of recovering. schiavo is not even non sui compos, as an infant. she is effectively without a brain, by the judgment of unbiased medical opinion. is she qualitatively different from an anencephalic newborn? can she have a soul?

i am not eager to see schiavo die, even if it was not her wish to continue on as this. i embrace the idea of a gospel of life as a moral and ethical paradigm. leaving to the individual the choice of their own manner of death is a moral concept i remain suspicious of because it is so easily abused and malpracticed by fallible humans against the individual will and the common good both. even if one accepts the morality of the "right to die", schiavo has -- devastatingly -- left no written testament to her intention. (in a society so narcissistic and legalistic as ours, get a living will not for your sake but your relatives'.) what can be said of what she wanted or what she believed? and who can say that it or any opinion should matter for so long as she can breathe?

but it must be said that terri schiavo has not been a person for some years now -- that death, in a way in which any conscious person would understand it, came to her then. her death is not a future certainty, but a past event. and the realization of that truth is not symptomatic of a weakness in our morality but a sign of strength, of confidence in moral law and the existence of our reality as persons.

I like your angle. The tragedy of this whole thing is that the parents have allowed politicians and media to high jack this situation. When I see Sean Hannity out in front of the hospital on Fox News it really makes you wonder how low can we go in this society.

I understand the husband and the parents position in this tragic case. Florida law reads that the husband has the right to make this decision. Yet in defense of the parents, what loving parent would ever want to see a child die before themselves.

I agree with the Florida law. As an adult I have not discussed with my parents many of my beliefs and wishes in a case of such a tragedy. It is not natural to discuss your own death with your parents. I have done so with my spouse.

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