Saturday, March 19, 2005

Laginappe: The Terri Schiavo Dilemma - The whole debate about Terri Schiavo that is going on these days is not necessarily an issue of social justice, but it is an issue about the dignity of life versus the dignity of death. And this is, in some way, a justice issue. The official Catholic Church is against the removal of Terry Schiavo's feeding tube; and many so-called "pro-lifers" are staging poignant protests to keep this woman alive in a condition that no one can really claim is any kind of positive quality of life for anyone.

Personally, I am very torn by this whole ordeal. On the one hand, we have a woman who can’t speak for herself and who actually might have expressed a wish to not be kept alive by artificial means. I know that my wife has made that abundantly clear to me in our discussions, but I don’t think she has ever put this on paper. But, as a pro-life liberal, I am inclined to opt on the side of life when there is a clear question as to Terri Schiavo’s intent. I don’t think the husband and his transgressions, or the parents and their pleas, or Congress and its absurd and abusive use of its “subpoena” powers really matters at the core of this issue. What this really boils down to, in my mind, is the absolute sanctity of life versus an individual’s right to choose death.

Here we have a case where, if a living will existed, or if there were any clear indication that Terri Schiavo herself expressed her wishes not to be kept alive by artificial means, then it would somehow be morally acceptable to “pull the plug,” so to speak. Is that any way to defend the dignity of life? Why not then support assisted suicide?

Also, I read recently that there are many, many cases (in the thousands per year) where families are faced with this agonizing decision to “pull the plug” on their loved ones in “permanent vegetative states” - just like Terri Schiavo. And the fact is that many families come to the mutual consensus decision to terminate a life without knowing what is the will of the person subject to death regarding being kept alive artificially. Yet, I don’t see anyone protesting these arbitrary decisions to terminate a life.

Is a simple consensus of guardians who decide to terminate a life any morally different that a decision to terminate a life without a consensus of guardians? This is what troubles me about singling out this particular case and making it such a “pro-life” cause celebre. Where are the pro-lifers when the thousands of others in permanent vegetative states are starved to death because someone else (parents, spouses, children, legal guardians) says its o.k. to disconnect the feeding tube, but when no one else has the heart to challenge this decision?

Do we as a society respect the right to die with dignity via the whole "living will" process? Do we who are Catholic accept the right to die with dignity even if technology exists to artificially lengthen our lives? Does the "quality of life" matter in terms of respecting the "dignity of death"? I would appreciate your thoughts on this to help me sort through this isse.

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