This morning, I'm looking at the situation surrounding Terri Schiavo from several angles of vision. Maybe you are as well. Feel free to tell me what you're thinking, using the Comment button below.
First, I'm looking at it as a person who strives to be compassionate. I would describe myself as pro-life. I think that government and more importantly, societies and individuals, should be committed to preserving, nurturing, celebrating, and adding quality to human life.
When I ran for the Ohio House of Representatives last year, I did so with the endorsement of all the pro-life groups.
But I also believe that there are times when it's appropriate to let a person die.
Years ago, I was pastor to a man whose cancer had been in remission for many years and then came back with a vengeance. His hospital stay came to an end when doctors and family decided to let him go home to die, where he would be treated by family and people from hospice.
Several times after that, he had nearly died. But each time, he had been "brought back" by his sister, a person proficient in several emergency procedures. Each time, his condition worsened and it was clear that he would die soon.
An entire community prayed for this man. We wanted a miracle. But we also submitted to God's will.
One day, I visited him, although he was no longer able to communicate with us, and with his family. While I was there, all his vitals plunged and it was clear that barring more heroics, he would die. As we all stood around his bed, there came a decision-point. The sister asked the wife, "Should I do anything?"
Later, the sister told me that, from the corner of her eye, she saw me slightly shake my head, "No," to that question. Although I was completely unaware of it at the time and I'm thankful that no one else noticed me at that moment, that involuntary gesture reflected my inner feelings. This man had suffered much for years. By all the usual definitions of life, he had died some days before. Numerous past heroics had not changed either his condition or his prognosis. Faithful people had prayed for him. It seemed time to let him pass away.
I relate all this by way of saying, I appreciate the agony of Terri Schiavo's husband. I think that we all should.
One of the commandments God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai says, "You shall not bear false witness." Martin Luther, the founder of the Christian movement of which I am a part, says that commandment isn't just God telling us to avoid telling outright untruths about others. It's also about putting "the most charitable construction" on the actions of others. I believe that we owe that to Michael Schiavo.
I don't believe that Mr. Schiavo is a monster. He needs our prayers as much as Terri Schiavo or her parents and other family members do. And I'm not talking about sanctimonious prayers in which we instruct God to smite him or instruct him, but prayers that reflect true compassion for all that he's been through for the past ten years. (Truth is, I'm as worthy of smiting and instruction as any other member of the human race!)
This leads me to the second angle of vision from which I view this situation, as a person of faith who strives to look at and live life according to God's will.
This viewpoint tells me: There is a marked difference between letting someone die and causing someone to die.
When my family made the decision some twenty-nine years ago to let my grandfather, who had suffered from a massive cerebral hemorrhage nineteen days earlier, die, nothing was done to engineer his passing. He was kept comfortable, including being nourished intravenously. But no "heroics" were undertaken and he ultimately died quietly, still in a comatose state.
In my mind at the time, letting him die meant doing nothing to artificially prolong my grandfather's life. There was a recognition that absent certain machinery, medication, and procedures, he would not be breathing and his heart would not be beating. Our decision was to allow his body to shut down in as comfortable a manner as possible.
Since then, I've come to believe that, while I wouldn't change the decision we made, the distinctions I made then between artificial and normal prolongation of life may not be so easily drawn.
After all, every medical procedure or prescription can be seen as an artificial prolongment of life, health, or well-being. An aspirin administered at the outset of a heart attack, as the Bayer people like to remind us, can mitigate the effects of the attack and perhaps save a life. This has really always been the goal of medical science, to extend the quantity and the quality of life for those who absent medical intervention would die.
Yet, it seems to me that what has been proposed for Terri Schiavo is not to let her die, but to cause her to die. Proponents of her death would withhold nutrients from her. In effect, they want to starve her to death, whether that's their intent or not.
In an appearance on Saturday's edition of Good Morning, America, which I caught as I was preparing for a weekend meeting, Michael Schiavo's attorney said that those who objected to denying Terri Schiavo of nutrients needed to know that her death would not be painful. To me, that's irrelevant. Whether a person is kept comfortable as they die or not, they're just as dead when the killing is done.
To me, it would be an act of unspeakable barbarism for Terri Schiavo to be disposed of in this way.
Finally, I'm looking at this matter from the perspective of an American citizen and a student of politics.
Seen in this way, the legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President this morning confirms what has been increasingly obvious in the past four years: Conservatism, as the core philosophy of the Republican Party, is now, if not dead, completely moribund.
Conservatives have always believed in limited government, balanced budgets, foreign policy realism that took the interests of the nation as its basic principle, states' rights, federalism, and a government that avoids what has been called "social engineering" and "judicial activism."
Granted, these values have not always been at home in the Republican Party. Historically, going back to Lincoln and the GOP's Whig roots, the party stood for the Union over against the states, advocating--in the spirit of Washington and Hamilton--a robust federal government that would forge and safeguard a single national unity, with uniform laws and an integrated economy. Theodore Roosevelt was also an advocate of this form of conservatism.
Generally speaking, the advocates of states' rights and judicial restraint have also been members of the party on the outside of power, employing these doctrines at least in part, as convenient tools for restraining the incumbents from doing what the party on the outs opposed.
During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age when the Republican Party dominated US politics, it was the Democrats who appealed to these ideas.
In the South, Democrats were the fiercest advocates of states' rights as a means of forestalling the advancement of civil rights for African-Americans.
It was during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, inclined to welcome African-Americans into the Democratic Party's coalition of dispossessed aspirants for inclusion in America's life and a party confident of its hold on the federal govenment, that the two parties began to flip-flop on states' rights and federalism.
Ultimately, it was the Democrats who took up the advocacy of federal ascendance as a means of advancing people's rights and the Republicans, tired of being on the outs, who, with Richard Nixon, forged a new majority that included Southerners, like Strom Thurmond, the one-time States' Rights Party nominee, in railing against big government.
During the current Bush Administration however, Republicans, as confident as the FDR Democrats once were, have departed from conservatism.
The President presents budget after budget that is in deficit and has yet to veto the pork-fattened appropriations the Republican Congress has sent for his signature.
Republicans, once advocates of "strict constructionism" in its judicial appointees and stewardship of the Justice Department, now seem accepting of more expansive and intrusive federal power when used for their ends.
Mr. Bush, owing in part to his commitment to an idealistic foreign policy, executed a war in Iraq that it is difficult to imagine his father or any other previous Republican president, with their foreign policy realism, pursuing.
Last night and this morning, the Republican executive and legislative branches emphatically and perhaps definitively, parted from their conservative past and decided to define the Republican Party in different terms than those used in previous generations.
In taking jurisdiction over Terri Schiavo's case from the state courts, where conservative Republicans would have previously said it belonged, and handing it to federal judges, the Republican Party arrogated to the federal government breathtaking new powers that would have made Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan wince.
I'm not saying that this is bad or good. An argument is to be made that states are vestiges of the past, the appendices of the American body politic, remnants of the Colonial Era with which the Constitutional framers were forced to compromise in order to "form a more perfect union." In a nation as socially and legally integrated as America is today and in light of the receding importance of geography and place in the American mind, states may make little sense. Perhaps it's appropriate for the Republicans to be advocates of preeminent federal power over against states' rights and all the other things the party faithful are now advocating.
Be that as it may, things are different now. The Republicans are not conservatives when it comes to politics, the courts, or foreign policy. Neither are the Democrats. In that sense, there is no conservative presence in American politics today. The conservatives voted themselves out of existence early this morning.
UPDATE: John Schroeder of Blogotional has linked to this piece and has a round-up of some other ideas about the Terri Schiavo case. Read what he has to offer here. Thanks for the link, John!
ANOTHER UPDATE: Aaron at Two or Three (.net) has also linked to this posting and shares some interesting (and, as he describes them, "conflicted") thoughts about the intervention of Congress and President Bush in Terri Schiavo's situation. Read his post here. Thanks so much for the link, Aaron!
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Via Rob Asghar, I've learned that Andrew Sullivan sees that American conservatism has now entered a moribund state during the Bush II years. As Sullivan sees it, the Democrats are the party advocating big, solvent government and Republicans are the ones wanting bigger, insolvent government. Whatever the case they may be, it is clear that the Republican Party of today bears almost no resemblance to the Republican Party of Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan. The exigencies of history may have demanded this change, but it's a bit of a fantasy to pretend otherwise.
AND ANOTHER UPDATE: Brad of 21st. Century Reformation has also linked to this piece and offered some other insights and ideas. You can read what Brad thinks here. Thanks for linking, Brad!
ANOTHER ONE: Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has linked to this article, evoking much response below. Thanks, Glenn! By the way, Glenn's MSNBC.com article, A Conservative Crackup? is interesting reading.
CLARIFICATION: From some of the comments coming in, it appears that I have created a misimpression of my views on this matter. I am pro-life. I want Terri Schiavo to live. In the third part of my reaction to the case, I was simply pointing out that the actions of a Republican Congress and President are part of a larger pattern of repudiating previous conservative orthodoxy. Is that legitimate? I didn't express an opinion on that. I reserve the right not to have an opinion sometimes.