Monday, March 21, 2005

Considering the Terri Schiavo Case from Three Angles of Vision

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.

21 comments:

Alex said...

It seems to me that everyone involved seems to want to do what's best for Terri Schiavo. There are no villians. I'm wondering what God would do if he was in on the discussion with us.

John Schroeder said...

Not sure I entirely agree with you, but it is a good piece. Gave you a shout out here

Aaron said...

I'm glad to see someone is as conflicted about this as I am. Being extremely pro-life, it pains me to argue politically that what the Republicans did was wrong. I feel as if I am sacrificing Terri's life on the alter of consistency and principle.

There are many sides to this issue and it is not easily unraveled. Here are my thoughts. I will link to yours, as they so closely mirror my own thoughts and they were expressed very eloquently.

anomalocaris said...

Helpful links:

Understanding and misunderstanding persistent vegetative stateHistory of Schiavo case

Terri's Guardian's view

brad said...

I linked this post as well at 21st Century Reformation.

Deborah said...

I have taken plenty of criticism at my message boards at About.com for my views...or lack thereof...on the sad Schiavo situation. I can see all sides and feel good about none. There is no good solution when there exist emotional family disputes and public figures willing to take both painful sides. If only I had to decide, I would let her parents take her home and wish them Godspeed.

What deeply appalls me is the exploitative political aspect of it all. I'm not sure we now understand the full and multi-facted impacts of Congressional actions re: Terri Schiavo.

Anonymous said...

I'm sad that this legislation can't be looked upon as a last chance for saving a woman from certain death in a potentially unethical situation.

Sometimes, a law is just a law. It may have nothing to do with a power grab or a change in the construct of our government.

Conservatives are not at its best as you have noted. Government is getting bigger and messier, but I'm not sure it means the Democrats have truely turned the corner as the opposite. The Democrats actually gotten more leftist while the Republicans merely turned left.

Mike said...

I find myself in agreement with your first and third "views," but have some disagreement with the second. Is not a feeding tube--without which she would (apparently) perish as she is unable to consume nourishment in anything resembling a conscious "normal" fashion--constitute "artificial" means of life support? It is certainly one thing to be fed intravenously because illness prevents normal eating when one is recovering, or has reasonable hope to recover from injury or illness. It is quite another to be in Ms. Schiavo's condition (keeping in mind that the depth of my knowledge about the case is confined to what I've been able to view and read), being kept alive only by means of fluids pumped into my body on a daily basis. That would seem to me to be a reasonable definition of "artificial" life support. For all concerned, including now, unfortunately, our nation, I wish the public had never heard of this case.

Sydney Carton said...

Excuse me, but you need to wake up and smell the coffee. After reviewing the evidence of this case, I think that there is no other way to look at this other than the fact that the judiciary is engaged in murder. The evidentiary pitfalls of allowing hearsay testimony from a conflicted husband who has an interest in her death is so overwhelming, that the only reason one can conclude the state and federal judiciary aren't bending all words of reason LIKE THEY NORMALLY DO to get a decision they'd want, is because THEY WANT HER TO DIE.

Look, you might still actually believe that the courts determine cases on their merits. Do not be a fool. Reading any random Supreme Court decision should disabuse you of that notion. Judges routinely get what they want based on how they frame their decisions. Every law school student who's taken Con Law knows that. So let's not be naive here.

The Courts are killing Terri because to upset Greer's rulings would pull the charade off of the power of the judiciary, and above all they will never let that happen. To view actions to save her life as evidence of some blunder in conservative politics is disgusting and beyond human decency. Quite frankly, you should be glad that there aren't people storming the courthouses with their rifles trying to rescue this woman.

To clue you in, Jack, "states" have no "right" to MURDER innocent people, whether it's done by a judge or a governor. The law passed by Congress was a hope that the federal courts would do what they always do, and write a decision favorable to a desired outcome. They were wrong, because the Judiciary is corrupt and is wholly allied with Evil.

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced that Republicans are being inconsistent here, or even that consistency or inconsistency should necessarily be ends of themselves. Morality trumps legal philosophy every time in my book. With regard to legal philosophy, I'm not overly concerned with consistency if consistency leads to extreme scenarios in which the intent of the law is subverted.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, another "death of conservatism" rant. Almost always, I find that the authors of such pieces either weren't conservative in the first place, or are simply miffed that other reasonable conservatives disagree with them on policy issues.

Limited government? Social security privitization and school choice.

Balanced budgets? Conservatives believe primarily in low taxes, spending restraint, and economic growth; balanced budgets are a consequence of these.

Foreign policy realism? What does that even mean? In practice, that seems to be appeasement and inaction, coddling or ignoring the most brutal and most dangerous states and hoping that it will keep them in line for now. Perhaps some conservatives are being realistic by believing that appeasing brutal governments only turns their people against us and still does nothing to protect us. Sometimes action is necessary. Besides, I sleep better at night knowing that the the right people hate us. At least we stood up for something. Lincoln and Reagan did too.

Social engineering? State's rights? Federalism? I'll tell you one thing conservatives believe in: a right not to be deprived of life without due process. There's certain evidence to cast doubt on the Florida court's judgments to let a reasonable person believe that what is happening is a slow-motion, judicially-sanctioned murder in the name of "liberty" and "autonomy." What is someone who believes this and who has the power to do something about it supposed to do? Sorry old girl, but we have principles to uphold and Hypocrisy Police to please. Yes, you're being starved to death, but we're doing this for the greater good. Sacrifices must be made for the revolution. Better to let ten innocent men die than let one guilty man go free for just a few weeks. Sometimes, when you face off deference to state governments against the right without which no other rights matter, you can't be sure which will win. Do I disagree with Congress on this one? Maybe. I'm really not sure. Do I think it was wrong? No. Do I think the beginning of the end is one failed effort to save a defenseless woman from a horrible death? Good God, what is wrong with you?

This isn't even the main point. The main point is, what the hell is the alternative? Will the Democrats limit government more than the Republicans? Will "balanced budgets" to them mean lower spending and taxes instead of even more spending and much higher taxes? Does anyone honestly believe Kerry would have ordered the invasion of Afghanistan? Did Democrats in Congress abstain or oppose the Schiavo law because they have strong federalist principles, or because they think euthanasia is fine and dandy and should be freely available?

Are you kidding?

Anonymous said...

It's not a matter of state's rights versus federal encrochment, but rather a symptom of an out-of-control, activist judiciary inventing new "rights," discovering imaginary infractions of the constitution, and legislating from the bench. Any judicial system that mandates a person to die of thirst, cannot hide behind "due process." This is barbaric and disgusting beyong belief!

Patterico said...

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.

Really? Why is this any different from conferring jurisdiction on federal courts to hear habeas claims brought by capital defendants? We routinely accept that, although crime is a local government issue, because federal constitutional rights are at stake. As they are here. If Terri Schiavo didn't express the wish to die this way, her constitutional right to life is being violated. Why is federal view of that issue so striking?

Patterico said...

federal review, that is

Anonymous said...

Hey, Craig M. Klugman of the Program in Health Care Ethics, University of Nevada at Reno, has it right in the New York Times Op-Ed section today.

The important thing is not the right not to be deprived of life without due process. It's not liberty. Hell, it's not even autonomy or compassion. Nope, the real tragedy is that "what has been lost in the conversation is that her medical privacy has been violated."

Yep, medical privacy, that's what this is all about.

These are the people who won, Mark.

Tell me the story of Marjorie Nighbert, another Florida ex-citizen, is a hoax. At least tell me she was acceptable collateral damage.

Tell me, and I'll admit you're right. I also pray to God it is a hoax, and I don't pray much.

Anonymous said...

Terri's mother wants her to live.

Terri's father wants her to live.

Terri's brother wants her to live.

Terri's sister wants her to live.

All of her blood kin see value in her life. The only one who wants her to die is her husband. Nobody can know the motivations of these people, but of all the people involved, the husband is the one most likely to be motivated by self-interest. We don't know what Terri would have wanted. To starve this woman to death under these circumstances is a gross injustice.

Apparently the judges have made the correct rulings on the law in this case. But if the law is unjust, the law can be changed. And Congress has the legitmate authority to do so.

malva said...

We have rapidly leaving the point of "Right to Die" and approaching the "Duty to Die". Government has always had the role of establishing and enforcing the values of society. That is why we have laws. Our society is currently grappling with our values concerning death. We currently deny life to a fetus based on dependeny on the mother's womb. In Oregon, a fully self aware person may legally allow a person to assist his suicide. In Florida, a husband defined only by legalities, may allow his fully disabled wife to die based on a uncertain claim that is what she would have wanted. Mr. Schiavo and his lawyer have made statement that Terri suffering will end and she will be at peace. However, according to their claims there is no awareness of pain or state of peacefulness. It does make one wonder. Across the nation, scarce organs are given to patients based on life style factors such as marriage, employment, friends. In Texas, hospitals may withdraw life supports based solely on the inability to pay for medical services and the likely that the medical condition will not improve. This can be done even if the patient is self aware and the patient and the family objects. The disabled and elderly do have much to fear. I for one am hoping that life and death values are not merely judicial issues.

malva said...

We have rapidly leaving the point of "Right to Die" and approaching the "Duty to Die". Government has always had the role of establishing and enforcing the values of society. Our society is currently grappling with our values concerning death. We currently deny life to a fetus based on dependeny on the mother's womb. In Oregon, a fully self aware person may legally allow a person to assist his suicide. In Florida, a husband defined only by legalities, may allow his fully disabled wife to die based on a uncertain claim that is what she would have wanted. Mr. Schiavo and his lawyer have made statements that Terri suffering will end and she will be at peace. However, according to their claims there is no awareness of pain or state of peacefulness. It does make one wonder. Across the nation, scarce organs are given to patients based on life style factors such as marriage, employment, and support of friends. In Texas, hospitals may withdraw life supports based solely on the inability to pay for medical services and the likely that the medical condition will not improve. This can be done even if the patient is self aware and the patient and the family objects. The disabled and elderly do have much to fear. I for one am hoping that life and death values are not merely judicial issues.

Duke of DeLand said...

Anonymous (above) said:

"Nobody can know the motivations of these people, but of all the people involved, the husband is the one most likely to be motivated by self-interest."

Totally wrong.....the question is whose self-interest! The parents and family members have a self-interest. They want to see Terri alive, communicating, etc. They want this in the face of mountains of testimony that she is not nor will she ever be able to communicate. Trick videos using involuntary eye motions are a lie.

Self-Interest indeed.

Terri is the primary person to be considered, and I see precious little of that.

Ask yourself if you'd want to live as she does...if you call it "living".

Duke

Anonymous said...

Ok, approaching this as someone who is not a lawyer, and who does not have a great undertanding of federal vs. state law and the powers shared therein - how is this any different from the Federal government using its powers or whatever to overturn certain state's late term abortion laws? The only thing that I can see that happened here is that a law was passed that allowed a federal court to review the facts, not the actions and/or errors in the law and/or judgement, but the facts, of a state case. The federal court reviewed those facts, and found the same way that the state court had. I don't see how this has done any harm whatsoever to the cause of federalism, conservatism, the pro-life movement, libertarians, or anything else. It simply allowed a review. The review was done. End of story.

submandave said...

Duke: "Terri is the primary person to be considered... Ask yourself if you'd want to live as she does"

Never have I seen such a succinct and prompt self-rebuttal. If you believe that Terri is the primary person to be considered, then any other person's assesment of "if [they'd] want to live as she does" is irrelevent. As I have said many times, one of the few uncontested facts in this matter is that noone can provide objective evidence that Terri does not or would not want to live in her current condition. In the absence of such evidence I fail to see the wisdom in choosing the only course of action that is irreversible.

More here.