This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Terri Schiavo

As I write this the family has exhausted its appeals (yet again) and is trying one more time to assert their daughter is not in PVS. If you are reading this, you already know this, so let me go on to my impressions of this little drama which has captured our national psyche.

Evidence has come out recently that the Republican leadership in Congress has latched onto this issue as a way to rally its base. This is hardly a surprise. How can you tell that Tom Delay is pandering to his base? His lips are moving. The sad fact of the matter is that the law sending the measure to the federal courts was deliberately crafted not to work, leading to its inevitable failure and yet another chance for conservatives to claim that the courts are "out of control." As Thomas Frank has ably concluded in What's the Matter with Kansas? this leads to a call for more conservative judges, which then abandon social issues and instead rule on economic issues in a way that favor business at the expense of consumers and workers. If the foot soldiers on the right knew how they were being manipulated, they would think again about what their leadership is asking them to do.

The problem is, of course, that this movement works on a visceral rather than an intellectual level. The appeal to save Terri's life is largely an emotional one. The fact that Michael Schiavo has fathered two children with another woman has also touched a nerve with them. Demonizing the husband gives the issue added appeal, even though he has faithfully cared for her for these past years. The doctors who have examined her have concluded that her cerebral cortex has liquified. In effect, she is asleep and will never wake up. Michael has to be admired for sticking to his guns and honoring his wife's wishes. It would have been far easier to walk away and let her parents have their way.

As a father, I can understand the love they have for their daughter. However, as a husband I can understand Michael's position even more. The parents have been ill advised by the Church, who as usual is speaking about an area of medical ethics it does not seem to understand. While it is not obvious that medically provided nutrition and hydration is an extraordinary measure, using such to prolong the life of someone who has no higher brain, let alone higher brain function must be entirely appropriate. Until two years ago, the Church agreed. However, for whatever reason, Rome is seeking the extremes in search of a "consistent" pro-life ethic - as they have done so misguidedly with birth control. Historically, it was considered quite legitimate to withhold food from the dying. One would think that if someone cannot eat and cannot think that it is better to entrust them into God's hands. With the upcoming Easter season, one would hope that that the Church would remember that Terri will one day rise with Christ and that letting her die will hasten the time when her spirit can meet the Lord.

Some say that Terri should be kept alive to offer witness. In the Catholic tradition, when someone is suffering, they can offer witness to their faith through adversity. Terri Schiavo can offer no such witness, since she is not suffering. Offering witness is a conscious choice. She has no conciousness to make such a choice. She is an exhibit, rather than a witness, and what her case is exhibiting is how some in the Curia have gone to extemes. The Lord cannot allow such insanity for much longer in his Church.

In last night's Supreme Court filing, the Schindler's asserted a religious freedom right to restore her feeding tube. The body of Catholic doctrine, going back 400 years, does not support their assertion. More than that, had they succeeded on this motion, the effect would have been to use the state to impose their opinion of Catholic doctrine on their daughter and her husband, thus setting the idea of religious freedom on its ear. Earlier filings indicate that they are worried for Terri's soul. First, Terri's soul is not their problem and second when Terri expressed the desire not to be maintained against her will the Pope had not spoken about nutrition for patients in a persistent vegetative state. Note that no new doctrine has been promulgated since then. The parents are attempting to keep their daughter alive because of a speech, probably written by a young conservative priest, for a group of other pro-life priests. The deposit of the faith actually goes the other way on this issue. We do not make morality by sound-bite.

Let us all pray for Terri Schiavo. Rather than praying for the reconnecting of her feeding tube, however, let us pray for God's will for her rather than our own. If her parents and their supporters would only pray in this way, the nation would be spared a public airing of their family tragedy which has gone on for far too long.

When we were at St. Matthew's Cathedral for Mass on Palm Sunday, we encounted a protestor for Terri. This woman seemed quite distraught over Terri's circumstances. I doubt whether this woman had ever met Terri, yet her case seemed to be dominating her life. To her, and to all those committed people like her who have taken this personal tragedy on as their own, I have one thing to say in conclusion. GET A LIFE! As Jesus said to the weeping women on his way to crucifixion, do not weep for me, but for yourselves. There is plenty of calamity in our future (how can their not be with this administration in power). Let us worry about that, rather than Terri Schiavo.


Anonymous JWL said...

Yes, of course, you are right, Mr. Catholic leftist. The fake memo (check which you cite which PROVES that evil Republicans are out to get you? Yes, of course it's true. Even if the memo is fake, the story is true, right? Republicans just want to kill you.

Yes, you're quite the Catholic. When you disagree with the Vatican, that's just because the Vatican/Pope is stupid/ignorant, not enlightened like you are. Oh, if only the stupid Pope was smart like you. If only the religious right was smart like you.

Good grief. Get over yourself.

12:54 AM

Blogger Michael Bindner said...

First off, the Republicans don't want to kill me, they want to keep Terri alive against her will. There is a phrase for things like that, Big Brother.

As for disagreeing with the Pope, Romans says we must all follow our consciences. There has not been any formal document adopting a new stance on nutrition, only quotes from the Vatican press office, certain curial officials in bioethics (who are priests rather than doctors, which makes what they say suspect) and and old speech which was likely written for the Pope by one of the former - in other words, morality by press release.

2:59 PM

Blogger Michael Bindner said...

It is disquieting that a certain Italian Cardinal has been granting interviews saying nasty things about the Terri Schiavo case. His eminence is clearly ill advised on the medical issues involved and he is showing a deep disrespect for the local bishop, who denied the Schindler's attempts for intervention on this issue. The Florida Catholic conference is clear that, while the bias should be to provide nutrition, this bias should be tempered with the proportional benefit to the patient. Bishop Lynch determined that there would be none and agreed with Michael Schiavo. Any interference from Rome in light of this is offensive to the traditions of the Church and is an example of what must change and, if prophesy is any indicator, will change in the very near future.

4:37 PM


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