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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Dying and Living Consistently

Terry Schiavo is dying. No matter whether you think this is premature or past due that fact remains. The further fact of the matter is that any shred of decency the woman once had has long been stripped away from her. The very process that sought to protect her – and both sides can legitimately claim that as their goal – has turned her into a mockery of herself and made a cause of a person.
In an ideal world, we would all die peacefully. We would be surrounded by family and friends and they would bear witness as the grace of saints descends upon us. The peace that passes all understanding would soften the lines in our faces and our eyes would be bright with hope as we passed away. A few tears would be shed by those who will miss us. Then everyone would embrace and agree that we are in a better place and go about celebrating the wonder of our life by gathering and rejoicing in our Savior’s promise.
This, of course, is not that world.
Terry Schiavo is not surrounded by family because her family is busy being dragged from one court room to another. Instead of spending their time loving her by remembering the joy of her life, they are locking themselves into a straightjacket fashioned by the manner of her death. Instead of turning to each other for comfort, they are turning on each other in blame.
These wounds will not heal quickly. They go much too deep and have ripped out far too much of the hope that forces us onward. No one around her will ever think of death as escaping from a cruel world into the arms of her Savior. No, they will see death as a battle to be fought and doomed to end in failure. There will be no hope in their view of death, only despair.
My personal belief is that it is the morally right thing to do to let her body die. It is also my personal belief that it is morally wrong to do so by simply removing nourishment. It is true that the few extra days of medical bills are not needed, but money is a poor reason to argue for someone’s life. The real reason is that it is a person that we are dealing with, and, in those cases when it is necessary to end a life, it should be done with dignity and mercy.
I am not so naïve as to believe that this will miraculously open a “national dialogue” on the right to die. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the two sides of the political matter will be even further apart and do everything possible to vilify the other side. It would do us well to remember at this time that Satan began as an angel who saw himself above the rest of the angels, and eventually above God. It would do us well to ratchet down the rhetoric and ratchet up the commitment to each other.
What I do hope is that, regardless of the political outcome, individuals use this example – this horrible example – as a reason to speak to each other about what their life means and what they want from it. I hope that husbands and wives embrace and promise to respect each other’s wishes about when the proper time to hold them ends and the proper time to release them begins. Those of us with elderly parents should use the opportunity to consider the same questions regarding their lives.
Those of us who believe that it should be possible to refuse medical treatment and chose a dignified death that does not ruin our heirs economically should use this as a time to discuss exact measures that would allow that to happen. Those of us who believe that life is so precious that it should be defended beyond any economic reckoning should begin to discuss exactly how it is possible to do so. Both sides should find common ground on how it is possible to provide adequate medical care for those of us who are not yet in such condition to no longer make our own decisions.
If both sides can agree that human life is precious and deserves dignity, not only throughout life, but in death as well, then this is the only course of action we can honestly take. We cannot continue to turn our mercy on and off like a spigot. One family in Florida is ruined because we do not have the spine to demand a consistent implementation of this belief. That is one too many.

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