Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Minority Report

Numbers 13:17-33 (New Living Translation)

17 “Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land: “Go northward through the Negev into the hill country. 18See what the land is like and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. 19What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls or are they unprotected? 20How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Enter the land boldly, and bring back samples of the crops you see.” (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.)

21So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22Going northward, they passed first through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai--all descendants of Anak--lived. (The ancient town of Hebron was founded seven years before the Egyptian city of Zoan.) 23When they came to what is now known as the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also took samples of the pomegranates and figs. 24At that time the Israelites renamed the valley Eshcol—“cluster”--because of the cluster of grapes they had cut there.

The Scouting Report

25After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26to Moses, Aaron, and the people of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27This was their report to Moses: “We arrived in the land you sent us to see, and it is indeed a magnificent country--a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is some of its fruit as proof. 28But the people living there are powerful, and their cities and towns are fortified and very large. We also saw the descendants of Anak who are living there! 29The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea[
a] and along the Jordan Valley.”

30But Caleb tried to encourage the people as they stood before Moses. "Let's go at once to take the land," he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”

31But the other men who had explored the land with him answered, “We can't go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” 32So they spread discouraging reports about the land among the Israelites: "The land we explored will swallow up any who go to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33We even saw giants[
b] there, the descendants of Anak. We felt like grasshoppers next to them, and that's what we looked like to them!”

It now appears that the majority will get their wishes. A Federal judge ruled against Bob and Mary Schindler’s appeal to have Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube re-inserted. The Schindler’s are now going to appeal their case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, but I believe at this point it’s a matter of grasping at judicial straws. As I sensed and said yesterday, this may have only been a stay of execution.

I’ve also made my feelings known about what Nancy and I want at the end of our journey in life. We want dignity and respect and the freedom to make decisions respecting our wishes at such an important point in our lives.

However, I am saddened by the result in this case. I cannot escape the feeling that we are now complicit in a judicially sanctioned murder.

Apparently I’m part of a sizeable minority in this regard. Based on an ABC News poll conducted in the last few days, sixty-three percent of the American public supports the removal of Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube and only twenty-eight percent support having it re-inserted. Seventy percent of those polled oppose the “legislative action” in this case. And, in terms of faith groups, even among evangelical Protestants, I’m in the minority. Forty-six percent of my fellow pilgrims support the removal, forty-four percent support action to have it re-inserted.

I’m clearly swimming against the tide of popular opinion.

Why am I holding on so stubbornly against the majority, even those with whom I share my Christian faith?

First, I refuse to see a vegetable, someone or some “thing” in a persistent vegetative state when I look at Terri Schiavo. I see a human being, a living, breathing human person. Last Friday Peggy Noonan expressed beautifully what I am feeling about this case. She pleaded for Federal intervention, calling on the humanity of those who govern us:

“At the heart of the case at this point is a question: Is Terri Schiavo brain-dead? That is, is remedy, healing, physiologically impossible?”

“No. Oddly enough anyone who sees the
film and tape of her can see that her brain tells her lungs to breathe, that she can open her eyes, that she seems to respond at times and to some degree to her family. She can laugh. (I heard it this morning on the news. It's a childlike chuckle.) In the language of computers she appears not to be a broken hard drive but a computer in deep hibernation. She looks like one of those coma cases that wind up in the news because the patient, for no clear reason, snaps to and returns to life and says, “Is it 1983? Is there still McDonald's? Can I have a burger?”

“Again, life is mysterious. Medicine is full of happenings and events that leave brilliant doctors scratching their heads.”

“But in the end, it comes down to this: Why kill her? What is gained? What is good about it? Ronald Reagan used to say, in the early days of the abortion debate, when people would argue that the fetus may not really be a person, he'd say, "Well, if you come across a paper bag in the gutter and it seems something's in it and you don't know if it's alive, you don't kick it, do you?" No, you don't.”

“So Congress: don't kick it. Let her live. Hard cases make bad law, but let her live. Precedents can begin to cascade, special pleas can become a flood, but let her live. Because she's human, and you're human.”


Ms. Noonan, I believe, was right. This is not the case of a vegetable to be discarded. It’s about a human being who deserves our compassion and care.

Many say that this is not a Federal case, that it’s really about states’ rights and an inter-family dispute. Yesterday I cited the Dred Scott decision, a case that went to the Supreme Court of the United States. Scott was rebuffed in his attempt to gain the freedom that God intended for him. In a seven to two decision, the Court decided that Dred Scott was indeed property to be disposed of however his owner saw fit. One of the bases of that decision was the fact that he had pleaded for his freedom in one state and that his plea had no basis because his “owner” was from a slave holding state. In other words, there was no Federal remedy. In his dissenting opinion, Justice McLean noted that:

“But there is another ground which I deem conclusive, and which I will re state.”

“The Supreme Court of Missouri refused to notice the act of Congress or the Constitution of Illinois, under which Dred Scott, his wife and children, claimed that they are entitled to freedom.”

“This being rejected by the Missouri court, there was no case before it, or least it was a case with only one side. And this is the case which, in the opinion of this court, we are bound to follow. The Missouri court disregards the express provisions of an act of Congress and the Constitution of a sovereign State, both of which laws for twenty eight years it had not only regarded, but carried into effect.”

“If a State court may do this, on a question involving the liberty of a human being, what protection do the laws afford? So far from this being a Missouri question, it is a question, as it would seem, within the twenty fifth section of the judiciary act, where a right to freedom being set up under the act of Congress, and the decision being against such right, it may be brought for revision before this court, from the Supreme Court of Missouri.”

“I think the judgment of the court below should be reversed.”


Speaking now as one of the minority, I say that I believe that it was altogether proper for the United States Congress to intervene on behalf of Terri Schiavo.

In the debate leading up to the vote in Congress, Representative Mel Watt asked why so much attention was being given to just “one” person. At the risk of sounding cavalier at such a heavy moment, I’ll paraphrase for Mr. Watt – “It’s about morality, stupid!”

Bio-ethicist Robert George was recently interviewed by the National Review. When asked about the Schiavo case he had this to say:

NRO: “Back to the question of declining medical care” —

George: “We know of course that there are lots of legitimate reasons for declining medical care. Often it's burdensome in nature; often it interferes with other opportunities that one might have, the opportunity for example to spend the remaining time one has, even if it will be shorter, in the embrace of one's family in the home rather than in an institution; sometimes it's the daunting expense that is involved. These can be morally legitimate reasons for declining medical care even where treatment could extend life a bit. But at the same time, we know that our decision as a society to recognize a right to refuse treatment, though it is the morally and prudentially correct decision in my view, will open certain limited opportunities for abuse. There will be circumstances in which people who want to do away with themselves will be able to accomplish the goal by exercising the right to decline life-saving medical care. And there will, alas, be circumstances in which some people, exercising so-called substituted judgment, make unjustified “choices for death” — to use the language of euthanasia advocate Ronald Dworkin — of people for whom they are supposed to be caring.”


Further on in the interview he gets to the heart of what I believe is going on in the Terri Schiavo case:

NRO: “As you know, there's some question about what Terri Schiavo's wishes were or would be now. How much should turn on this question?”

George: “It is the wrong question. It is pointless to ask whether Terri Schiavo had somehow formed a conditional intention to have herself starved to death if eventually she found herself in a brain-damaged condition. What's really going on here — and I don't think we can afford to kid ourselves about this — is that Terri's husband has decided that hers is a life not worth having. In his opinion, her continued existence is nothing but a burden — a burden to herself, to him, to society. He has presumed to decide that his wife is better off dead.”

“Even if we were to credit Michael Schiavo's account of his conversation with Terri before her injury — which I am not inclined to do — it is a mistake to assume that people can make decisions in advance about whether to have themselves starved to death if they eventually find themselves disabled. That's why living wills have proven to be so often unreliable. One does not know how one will actually feel, or how one will feel about one's life and the prospect of death, or whether one will retain a desire to live despite a mental or physical disability, when one is not actually in that condition and when one is envisaging it from the perspective of more or less robust health.”


And he finally concludes by saying:

“In any event, it is clear that the only reason for Michael Schiavo's decision is that he considers Terri's quality of life to be so poor that he wants her to be dead. He claims that she would want that too, which I don't grant, but even if he's right about that, we should treat her like anyone else who wants to commit suicide. We rescue, we care. We affirm the inherent value of the life of every human being. Our governing principle should be always to care, never to kill.”

I recognize clearly that I’m in the minority here too. I really understand the agony and gravity of the situation. I understand its complexity. But I cannot, in good conscience, find myself feeling good about this. I cannot find myself saying that in killing Terri Schiavo, starving her to death, that we are doing her, and God, a favor.

May God have mercy on our souls.

2 comments:

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Jim Baxter said...

The Mathematics of Life ...say it again and again.

In ancient Israel, the pre-born human being was
considered to be a person and, at birth, one-year
old. The wisdom of Israel held that the value of
the single life defined the value of the Twelve
Tribes of Israel.

History records that when the individual person
is of expedient non-value, the value of the plural
unit, the whole society, becomes regressive and
expendable.

Today, there are those who say, "Abortion is
such a messy negative subject." The American
new age holocaust is what it is. Regardless of a
sophisticated rationale it is a form of cannibalism
- devouring one's own kind - and has no place in
a free humane society based on individual worth.

If the individual is worth zero what will our Nation
be worth? Isn't the whole the sum value of the
parts - the individuals who make it up?

Is there any other kind of human? After all, isn't
every "group" merely a verbal convenience about
individuals?

Ask any ten-year old, "If one equals zero what
does twelve equal?"

If each individual is worth zero what will society
be worth? The consequences accrue to each and
every individual in our Country.

Dear Reader: Don't you qualify as an individual?
Are YOU prepared to be weighed in the balances
of your own choosing? The perverse cause
produces the perverse effect. Obviously and
sadly it is happening.

Dear Trendy-One: Are there any questions about
our Nation? YOUR future? How about arithmetic?
The next step down? Assisted suicide. Murder +

"The fool foldeth his hands together and eateth
his own flesh." Ecclesiastes 4:5

"When 1 = 0 what does 150 million equal...?"