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.