Today the starving of Theresa Marie Schiavo will begin. Upon the order of the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of Pinellas County, Florida, an innocent disabled woman will have all nutrition and hydration removed in order that she may be killed by the excruciating method of starvation.
Although Schiavo has been incapacitated for fifteen years, the circumstances of her death were forshadowed eight years before her collapse. In 1982, an infant, referred to as "Baby Doe", was born with Down Syndrome and esophageal atresia. A simple, relatively safe surgery could easily have rectified this child's esophagus problem, allowing the child to continue living. Both the parents and their physician, however, agreed that because of the potential "suffering" this child would endure, it would be better to forego surgery and allow the boy to die. Although the decision was challenged, it was upheld by the courts. Baby Doe suffered from starvation and thirst for six days before he finally died.
The Constitution forbids such criminals as child murderers from being subjected to such “cruel and unusual punishment.” Yet over the past twenty-five years, other children have been starved to death and today the inhumane action will be taken against a helpless young woman. The question Christians and all other people of conscience must ask themselves is why do we allow this to happen?
Such ethical questions often lead to the examination of hypothetical situations in which we ask what we would do under similar circumstances. For example, what would we do to prevent a handicapped Jewish child or woman from being starved by the Nazis? How far would we go to prevent such an injustice? Would we resist such evil? Would we stand up for those who do?
Carter's hyperbole aside, (Carter is making the assumption that there is a "Terri" there who feels pain), this calls into question what is life or death?
(I should add that as I write this, the US Congress has entered into the circus here:
In an extraordinary legislative maneuver that may pit Congress against the decisions by several courts over the last several years, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee and the Senate majority leader, issued a statement saying that the woman, Terri Schiavo, and her husband, Michael, were being invited to testify in a Congressional inquiry into the matter later this month.
Shokai has words in a post that are appropriate for this situation...
At a seminar today, I heard a professor from the University of Georgia who specializes in medicine and public health discuss what he called “The Ulysses Effect.” Basically, this effect refers to what happens to a person who is diagnosed, either correctly or not, as having a life-threatening disease. Ulysses, of course, went off one day to fight in the Trojan War and undertook a long voyage and had many great adventures, some painful and difficult, some pleasurable, but all life-altering. When he finally returned home, he found that both his world and he himself had changed.
It’s like that to the diagnosed. Their life is “normal,” at least to them, and then one day this diagnosis happens and suddenly they’re in a world of hospitals, clinics, tests and procedures, and when it’s all over, they’ve changed. After a battle with cancer, say, the patient suddenly spends less time in the office and more time with family and friends, at the golf course, or even at church. The old world is gone, and they are no longer the same.
What’s happened, in my opinion, is that they had this sudden epiphany of the impermanence of life, and they’ve examined their values, and found the old behaviors lacking. But why does one need to wait for a diagnosis for this kind of life-altering reaction?
The other side of this is that those around the seriously ill person also have such an experience, although, of course somewhat muted. This is what is happening now to the Mr. Schiavo and the Schindlers, and have reacted somewhat differently because the old world isn't really entirely gone: the participants bring their experience, their karma to the new world.
It is odd, to me, this greed for having non-living/living bodies around to claim you're "pro-life," to turn one's "daughter" (?) into a corpse with a heartbeat, when there may be no "daughter" there.
It is not enough to say, "err on the side of 'life'" as one commenter made on Carter's post.
Our lives are impermanent. It is hubris- playing god if you will- to assume that what "Terri" has is, in fact, life. She is, as far as we can tell, in a "hymen" in the sense of Derrida: not living, not dead, between life and death. She is likely , as Richard Bennett says, a vegatable.
The first precept is "Do not kill." But as to why we do not kill, that is simply because the killing referred to creates additional suffering. When the element of suffering is considered it is clear what to do. Human beings are not vegatables- quivering flesh without conciousness, without the ability to participate in existence is not human life, but an electro-mechanical process.
Are people so afraid of death that they will deny it and destroy their own lives? To cause others endless suffering in the name of some abstraction of human life? Is this not an unskillful evil that itself could lead to a "pro-life" abomination to rival the inhumanity of the Nazis?
not point to the impermanence and ultimate fragility of human life?
Background information on the case: