Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Religious Case for Killing Terri Schiavo?

This morning The Anchoress links to an article by Neal Boortz offering a religious argument in support of killing Terri Schiavo (though as the Anchoress notes, he refuses to call it “killing,” preferring the inaccurate euphemism “being allowed to die.”).

I’m afraid this post is going to get rather heavy into God-talk. Boortz frames his argument purely in religious terms, so it requires a religious answer. If that’s an uncomfortable topic for you, you’ll probably want to skip it.

Boortz’s main point seems to be that it’s not fair to keep her from her heavenly reward by trapping her in this mortal realm. He challenges religious supporters of preserving Terri’s life this way:

…Do you believe in God’s promise of everlasting life? Do you believe that the reward for a life well spent on this earth is a life with God in heaven after you die?

…perhaps you believe, as I do, that the human soul is so connected to and integrated with its earthly body that any transition will not be made until that body ceases functioning -- until death occurs.. That being the case, why do you so ardently desire that the soul of Terri Schiavo spend five, ten, perhaps 30 years or more trapped in a useless and non-functioning body, unable to move on to whatever reward awaits her? Isn’t 15 years enough?

I know Mr. Boortz is sincere here. But his argument contains fundamental errors.

The first is that this test could apply to anyone at any state in life. Heaven, by common religious consensus, is incomparably better than anything we could experience on earth. So why aren't we all bumping one another off with wild abandon to share the love? Perhaps there's something deeper Boortz is missing here.

It might be that he focuses entirely upon Terri Schiavo in isolation from those around her. A central belief of Christianity (I assume Mr. Boortz is speaking from a Christian perspective, but I may be wrong. In any case he’s directing his comments to a largely Christian audience, so this still applies) has to do with the duty we have toward other people – especially those less fortunate than us. From the Gospel of Matthew:


'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'


Christians are given a mandate by Christ not to abandon the least in society. This is generally taken to mean the lowliest, most vulnerable, and most needy among us deserve at very least the same respect we give our peers. If anything they deserve even more. We’re told to see Christ embodied in such people and treat them accordingly.

Allowing someone to die – particularly someone who would not be dying were it not for the conscious decision to starve them to death – is not considered a merciful act in Christian theology. It’s considered a grave sin.

Yet Boortz isn’t so ignorant he doesn’t know this. He simply thinks that’s not the situation here. He characterizes Terri’s situation like this:

Most of us are aware of the stories related by people who have near-death experiences. The usual scenario is a surgical procedure or some other medical emergency. These people describe a sensation of leaving their body at the very time the heart stops beating and the brain ceases functioning. They tell of floating above their body while watching doctors below working hard to resuscitate, to bring them back to life. As the heart once again starts beating and as the brain resumes its functions, they tell of a sensation of falling back into their own bodies to resume life.

We don’t hear from the patients upon whom resuscitation efforts are not successful. We don’t hear from them because they’ve left us. They’re gone to experience whatever lies beyond. They died.

Is it possible that the soul of Terri Schiavo has been floating – held in some prolonged and excruciating limbo – waiting for doctors to stop interfering with the process of her death? I believe that this is so, and that is why I have supported her husband’s desires to have her feeding tube removed.

Where to even begin here? I suppose the first place is that most of us take our faith a little more seriously than this. “Maybe” tales of near-death experience, even if titillating to a certain audience, don’t trump the clear words of the Gospel. And Boortz goes even beyond such tales into something completely novel and speculative, applying near-death experiences to the mentally handicapped.

The second problem is that Boortz yet again implies that Terri Schiavo’s brain has ceased to function. It has not. It functions at less than full health, but it isn’t “dead.”

Boortz’s position amounts to simply picking an arbitrary line at which he can consider someone dead. There are many mentally disabled people in the world. They’re either dead or alive in some real objective sense, and our personal opinion on the matter doesn’t change this. I think it’s absurd to start calling obviously living people “dead,” and there is certainly no Christian justification for such a thing. Worse than absurd, it’s an attack on their dignity and the value of their lives.

Mr. Boortz is an intelligent man. But he seems symptomatic of a cultural poison that has spread further and deeper than I had realized. Without using the term, he has come to accept the monstrous belief that certain lives aren’t worth living, and therefore have no rights that must be respected. It’s chilling. And it’s about as far from Christian belief as one can get.

UPDATE:

Glenn Reynolds seems to think Boortz's argument is sound, though odd coming from Boortz himself. Wow. That's two well-respected "right-wing" pundits floundering embarrassingly over this issue.

Guys, it's better to simply disagree than to argue from a religious basis neither of you seem terribly well founded in. Glenn would eat me alive if I tried to beat him on legal technicalities here. Why he doesn't realise he's putting himself in the same position by jumping into theology over this baffles me.

Though, to be fair, Glenn might not be endorsing Boortz's opinion.

7 Comments:

Blogger pinkmonkeybird said...

"This morning The Anchoress links to an article by Neal Boortz offering a religious argument in support of killing Terri Schiavo (though as the Anchoress notes, he refuses to call it “killing,” preferring the inaccurate euphemism “being allowed to die.”)."

While I count myself among those who would save Terri, I don't find "being allowed to die" inaccurate at all.
What if Michael Schiavo walked into her room and bludgeoned her to death? I'm sure we would all agreed he'd killed her. I'm sure we'd all agree he'd murdered her.

Terri is in need of saving. If we neglect her needs we allow her to die.

This is the quandary the right to die camp is in. They can't shoot her as we would a suffering dog. This is because then they would have killed her. That's not good political capital.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous David Duncan said...

I can testify that Mr. Boortz is partially wrong about "near death" experiences. I am a 64 year-old heart patient that had a massive heart attack three years ago. I left this world for about an hour while my heat fibrilated and doctors tried to revive me. After 20 jolts with the defibrilators (heart like hell) I came around on number 17. Happy to say, I am back to normal. The first question my pastor asked me was if I saw the white light while I was out. I did not. Nothing. Dying was just like passing out but really painful trying to "get back". Not seeing the white light, however, did not faze my faith in Jesus.

I enjoyed your piece on the Christian perspecive and feel you are right on.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Pink, I'm not speaking in legalese. I realize the law doesn't consider her situation as being "killed." But common sense argues otherwise. If I have the ability - and responsibility - to provide you food and water, and I intentionally withold it until you die, I've killed you - far more cruelly than with a bullet in the head.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Muzzy said...

I had a long conversation the other day with a rabidly prolife Christian woman, who said exactly the same things. She repeated the mantra about 'being allowed to die,' and 'resting in the arms of Jesus.' I tried to reason with her by asked her if she felt that strongly, why she wouldn't just kill herself now, so she could go to glory, to which she snorted that I was being ridiculous. The key in Terri's situation, for her, was that - as everyone knows - she is brain-dead and PVS, therefore it is the right thing to let her go and that only her husband can decide that. This is not the province of the courts or the president. It made her angry, she said that they would interfere. I asked her if she really understood all the issues at stake in the case, to which she answered that of course, she did, that she'd read everything the Strib had printed on the subject. I finally got her to admit that if Terri were NOT PVS and/or brain dead, that she would not be so quick to condone 'pulling the tube.' I also asked her whether she would approve if there were serious doubts about the legality of the process, as it has been played out: she said perhaps not. I told her that, in that case, she actually agreed with me, and left it at that. Sigh.

1:29 PM  
Blogger rew said...

I think Boortz is trying to take a look at the moral ethics of Science. It's a complicated task, simply because technology changes so rapidly, the moral ethics have to keep being reexamined at every new case.

Example: trying to conceive a child. Originally, a couple would say that infertility is God's will. Then, technology came about that would allow multiple implanted embryos. It's God's will to have this technology come about, so it isn't immoral to artificailly inseminate. But once those embryos are implanted, you could have many births, in some cases as many as eight or nine. Often, at this point, a couple is asked to do selective abortion in the hopes of giving a few a chance to survive with lower birth defects, etc. This is also new medical technology, but some couples decide against it because they are following God's will. The children are born needing operations, they have physical and mental defects. In this case, diagnosis and help can again be offered through medical technology. How does one decide which parts should be accepted and which parts should be left alone as part of the Plan?

Medical morality can be such a complicated issue. Although, when is morality not, I suppose.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rew, I think it's better, from the point of view of scripture and Christian teaching, to distinguish between types of "God's will" if (as orthodox Christian belief has it) God is both moral and powerful. Just like us, God can let something happen without approving of it.

Is it "God's will" for me to slander my neighbor? Yes. And no.

If you are talking about God's will in the sense that nothing happens without his permission, then by definition, everything that happens is God's will, including artifical insemination and all the implications it has.

But it is also true--again, in orthodox Christian teaching--that some things violate the will of God. Murder. Lust. Theft. Slander. And so on.

So ... Just because God has allowed us to, oh, grow "spare humans" to harvest for organ transplants doesn't mean that it's "God's will." Not in the moral sense.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Sue Bob said...

A month or so ago, Neal Boortz revealed something about his "spirituality" when he recommended a book (I can't remember the title at the moment). I went to Amazon and learned that the book was about New Age spiritualism.

I think that is what is informing his opinions about Terri.

8:38 AM  

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