WHEN 'NO' MEANS 'NO'
Let me say right off that I’m going to get into a heap of trouble for this commentary. Secondly, I am not even sure I am correct. I may be altogether wrong, totally off-base, and, perhaps blasphemous, to boot.
But I’ve been talking with a lot of people (how could one help it?) these past few weeks concerning the Terri Schiavo case, and certain questions seem to cry out -- make that “scream out” -- for answers.
President George W. Bush, the Pope, and other luminaries all say that when in doubt, “it is better to err on the side of life.”
Okay. It’s hard to disagree with that. But then there’s the troublesome, and some might say, unwarranted, leap -- usually invoking God’s word -- that it is better to keep the “de facto” dead technically alive than to lay them to rest in peace. Reminds me of the adage about dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s.”
Until the last 25 years, the Terri Shiavo case would have been a non-issue, along with, as I understand it, tens of thousands of similar cases that exist in the United States alone, in which persons of various ages have left no “living will,” yet are completely incapable of communicating their wishes.
We are not talking about a man like the late actor, Christopher Reeves, who broke his neck in a horseback-riding incident years ago, and was, from then onward, paralyzed from then neck down, requiring a respirator. Yet, Mr. Reeves was still able to communicate. In fact, he contributed much to himself and society, even if you disagree with his politics and various positions on the issues of the day, which I did. He could still read a book, take nourishment, enjoy a movie, converse. Granted, it was a pretty awful existence, what was left of it, but life nevertheless. I saluted him for his bravery and perseverance.
There have been others who, like Reeves, have spent even longer lives in wheelchairs and on some kind of life support. Some went to college and became professionals, got married and even had babies! Others, like the late President, Ronald Reagan, of course, suffer terrible maladies like Alzheimer’s, and, that is where, I suspect, the sinking feeling of the proverbial slippery slope comes in when it comes to the idea of terminating life.
But -- and this is more a question than a comment --is there some point at which the mere capability of science to keep a human body alive does not give it the right to do so?
We are fast approaching an era in which persons who are unable to do more than, well, get bed sores are left to rot in their own private hell-on-earth. They cannot even tell doctors when or if they are in pain.
I have written extensively on the horrors of euthanasia and about individual physicians and other “experts” who would “weed out the unfit,” including the “mentally unfit.” Mental unfitness can be interpreted a lot of different ways, of course -- most of them utterly unprincipled. So I am certainly not going to turn around here and advocate a stance which I have spent years criticizing.
I guess the question I am asking could be expressed this way: Is it the will of God, or in any other way justifiable, to spend years torturing people to death in the name of saving their lives?
Terri Schiavo was in her current state for 15 years, before the feeding tube was removed. A feeding tube is not exactly a walk in the park -- ask anyone who has endured such a procedure following surgery, and they will tell you. We don’t know what Mrs. Schiavo thought, or even whether she thought at all. So, doctors sent her to a kind of no-man’s land because they didn’t know what else to do for her.
Certainly her parents have prayed over her. Maybe, initially at least, her husband did, too. No doubt her priest and the Pope himself prayed over her. And eventually thousands of individuals across the world did so as well. Nearly all of Christendom, and maybe other religions as well, prayed for her to rally, even if it wasn’t a “complete recovery.”
But here’s what bothers me: Did anyone ask God what He thought? If God is truly God, then He can do anything, any time.
And sometimes God says “no.”
As mere humans, we do not know the reasons why God says “no.” Or even “yes,” for that matter. I suspect we assign a whole lot of things to God that have nothing to do with Him at all. Aunt Gertrude prays that she won’t get a pimple on her wedding day, and presto! No pimples. And she calls it a miracle. Had she wound up with a big red dot on the end of her nose, no doubt she would have decided that God was angry with her for some perceived mistake.
But, the larger question remains: Why should God care about Aunt Gertrude’s pimple problem? Or, maybe He does care. Maybe Aunt Gertrude has been a people-serving, blesséd soul and the Lord has decided she deserves a break!
Well, let’s leave the minutia of Aunt Gertrude’s pimples for another day and move on to more important questions, such as why a nine-year-old child gets kidnapped from her bedroom by an AWOL sex-offender, to be brutally raped and murdered. Why didn’t the pervert just happen to trip over his front stoop that day and break his ankle? What “sin” could a nine-year-old possibly have committed to deserve such a thing? Not even evil parents, had there been any, could warrant such treatment of someone so young.
But mankind’s limited view is no match for the Mind of God. We have no answers for such awful things.
And we have no answers for Terri Shiavo’s 15-year ordeal, something no one in his or her 20’s could possibly contemplate happening.
Some sages say we bring on disaster and disease by our own negative thoughts; that thoughts, in fact, are “things.” Many Christians and Jews say suffering is sent for a good purpose, if only we can harness it. Still others maintain that evil is a character-building experience, if not for the persons affected, then for the human race, which learns to rise above calamity and to prevent its reoccurrence.
I can’t say I commend of Terri Schiavo’s husband living in a relationship with a woman, not his wife, and fathering two children. But I understand it. His exasperation with the entire situation is understandable. Why would he divorce a woman he once loved if he feels no anger toward her?
How many parents of children who are barfing their lungs out from chemotherapy treatments have, at some point, said aloud (or, more likely to themselves): “Why doesn’t the Lord just take him/her? Why doesn’t that child just die?” It take a rocket scientist to wonder why watching someone you love, or once loved, day by day sink deeper into the abyss -- a recovery-proof hell from which there is no escape for them or for yourself.
The Bible talks about “letting go and letting God” when all human options are exhausted. After 15 years, if Terri Schiavo had suddenly begun to communicate, her muscles, including those used to swallow, would have virtually atrophied. Taking nourishment and water by mouth is probably the most basic function the human body can perform. Not so very long ago, if that one function could not be performed several weeks, then friends and relatives would pray for the person’s soul, trusting that the dying patient was passing to a better place, where there is no sickness and no tears.
I can’t help wondering whether science has finally outstripped mankind’s capability for either real compassion or for knowledge of God’s will. I have trouble comprehending the vehemence of so many protesters to “save” Terri’s life, which was merely technical, at best.
Among those I have talked with, including evangelical, conservative Christians, most seem to be wondering the same thing, but are afraid to say so. Only two claimed they would prefer Terri Schiavo’s position over death for even 15 months, never mind 15 years.
has science, including medicine, become arrogant? Does our technical
know-how somehow justify thumbing our nose at God -- just because
Beverly Eakman is an Educator, 9 years: 1968-1974, 1979-1981. Specialties: English and Literature.
Science Editor, Technical Writer and Editor-in-Chief of official newspaper, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1974-1979. Technical piece, "David, the Bubble Baby," picked up by popular press and turned into a movie starring John Travolta.
Chief speech writer, National Council for Better Education, 1984-1986; for the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution, 1986-1987; for the Voice of America Director, 1987-1989; and for U.S. Department of Justice, Gerald R. Regier, 1991-1993.
Author: 3 books on education and data-trafficking
since 1991, including the internationally acclaimed Cloning
of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education. Executive
Director, National Education Consortium. Website: BeverlyE.com
I can’t help wondering whether science has finally outstripped mankind’s capability for either real compassion or for knowledge of God’s will.