Big Issues in the Terri Schiavo Case: Part Two
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Mar 29
We find ourselves on day thirteen of Terri Schiavo's horrific ordeal. We are witnessing what we perhaps have seen before without realizing it. The difference here is that it's all too real. Who would have thought that such blatant disregard for human life in this context could happen here? Moreover, who would have thought the death squad would be the state itself? This historical and tragic event raises big issues which include the conflicting actions of Michael Schiavo, the continued advance of judicial tyranny, the needed attention to ethical questions, the abject absurdity of American protest, and the loving affirmation of evangelical truth. Yesterday, we touched on the first two issues and we tackle the remaining three today.
Before we raise issue three, let us make a brief comment in regard to Jeb Bush and our disappointment in him. Two affirmations must be set forth. The first affirmation is that we are not asking the Governor to break the law per se. Christians of all people embrace the rule of law as that rule is grounded in a Christian worldview. We are told more than one time in Scripture to submit to those in authority over us. Only when we are asked to sin against God should we disobey earthly authority. Only when biblical principles are at stake do we submit to a higher standard, the law of God rather than the legislation of man. In this context, Bush has the authority to save Terri's life. In so doing, he breaks no law.
The second affirmation is that if one could demonstrate that Bush does not have that authority, then this instance is one of those where he should submit to the highest authority that there is: God. While Christians are not exempt from providential suffering and indeed martyrdom, we certainly have the right to self-defense if warranted by circumstance and if God is glorified in such an action.
We have the right to defend others as well. Lest one disagrees, think of the well-worn example of hiding Jews in Nazi Germany. Would you hide them? If so, when the SS officers came to your door, would you lie? While we do not adopt the view of Murray and others who say we may never lie, even in such dire straits, neither do we affirm situation ethics. Rather, we affirm that higher principles are sometimes in view and if so, those principles must be given priority. The sanctity of human life is such a principle.
Moreover, in the Nazi Germany example, one would not be guilty of the sin of lying if he did not give up the Jews. One may only be guilty of the sin of lying when he is under obligation to tell the truth. In the example given, no such obligation exits as higher principles are in play and therefore no sin is committed by lying to the officers. The image of God in man and the sanctity of human life are dynamics that trump judicial decree, particularly unlawful judicial decree. Governor Bush has no obligation to submit to the state sponsored execution of Terri Schiavo. Rather, he has an obligation to submit to the sovereign Lord who alone gives and takes life.
To be clear, no one should advocate governors or presidents to ignore judicial results with which they do not agree. We don't want judicial tyranny, but we certainly don't want executive tyranny either. The principles upon which our nation was founded, principles grounded in a biblical worldview and envisioned by liberty-minded men, are the principles which should guide us today. Again, we may object to seat-belt legislation but we submit and buckle up so as to honor the Lord. The governor would have no authority or biblical mandate to ignore or strike down such legislation. The difference lies in the role of government: to protect its citizens from predators. We can live with the inconveniences of our teenagers having to be enrolled in school in order to get their driver's licenses if we must, though it is certainly an infringement upon liberty. What we cannot live with is those who kill us. We cannot live with murderers and so we have a law against murder. We cannot live with abortion and thus abortion should be outlawed. Neither can we live with judges, legislators, or executives who put us to death. Only for this principle ingrained in the fabric of our national existence do we urge Jeb Bush to protect Terry Schiavo, and us.
It has been said that the future of republicanism is at stake when we call upon Bush, for example, to override Judge Greer. Are we so blind that we cannot see that the republicanism we would desire is already dead? Of course, we can't count on the libertarians either. They clamor for women's rights at the expense of the human lives they carry in their wombs. They clamor for Terri Shiavo's death as some sort of right. We have no right to put an innocent woman to death. Where can we turn but to refresh ourselves with biblical truth and those issues of liberty upon which our nation was founded? I'm afraid that most Americans, and indeed evangelicals, are ignorant to both.
Third, we must give brief attention to other ethical questions raised here. Al Mohler has rightly pointed out troubling issues. Many posit that Michael Schiavo is rightfully representing the wishes of his wife because the courts have "found" that Terri would not want to be kept alive in this manner. Yet, Judge Greer simply accepted Michael's claim in the face of evidence to the contrary. Further, while the courts have ruled that a spouse has the primary right in representing a patient who is unable to represent himself/herself, that right should presuppose that the representing spouse has the best interests of the other at heart, which is certainly questionable in this case. It is also disturbing that many now seem willing to classify persons in a state of non-alertness unworthy of life. We're not talking about those who are brain dead or even in a PVS. We're talking about those who are simply in a diminished state of consciousness. Moreover, are we now going to call a feeding tube medial treatment?
I had this conversation with my mother who is in the hospital at this very moment. She was not only interested in the Schiavo case; she wanted to know what God had to say about such things in light of her own situation and potential outcome. God makes a very simple statement in Gen. 9:6 "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." The reason that murder, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, assisted suicide, and the like are wrong is minimally two-fold. First, God says these things are wrong by way of application from Gen. 9:6. Second, an attack on man is an attack on God because man is created in the image of God. When one kills another by way of murder, abortion, or euthanasia, he is attacking God. When one kills himself, he is attacking God. One may be filled with compassion for an individual who is suffering and move to assist in his/her suicide. The problem is that one is attacking God in such assistance.
We are not without compassion, but God says the world is cursed because of sin and creation itself has been subjected to futility. We with creation groan waiting for the final redemption of all things. Sadly, suffering is part of the futility to which we are all subjected. Yet, God uses suffering to show us our need of Christ, to sanctify us, and to cause us to look forward to the glories of the resurrection.
Other questions are raised. What about one who is brain-dead, not brain-dead but in a coma, not in a coma but on life support, not on life support but is in need of a feeding tube? What about a living will or a "Do not Resuscitate" order? These questions are certainly difficult. To remove someone who is absolutely brain-dead from life support is not the same thing as euthanasia. Removing someone who is not brain-dead from life support becomes more problematic.
Furthermore, a feeding tube cannot be considered life support in this context. Food is a basic necessity for all living creatures. The fact that someone cannot feed himself cannot justify allowing that person to die. Persons who are paralyzed cannot feed themselves. Many older or weaker patients cannot feed themselves. Infants cannot feed themselves. It is already an atrocity against God and humanity that in the culture of death, infants up to two or three years of age are considered by some to have no rights under the law because the two halves of the brain have not connected. Many are the academic elite who advocate extra-uterine abortion up to two years of age. Shall we add to the list of those not worthy of life the grandmother who has a stroke and is unable to utilize her arms even though she would like to use them? Where will the line ultimately be drawn? Shall we add to the list my friend who broke both her arms in a skiing accident a couple of weeks ago?
What about a "DNR?" While a "DNR" may be appropriate for an eighty year old man who has coded three times in two days because his heart is simply worn out, it is quite another thing to put a "DNR" into someone's chart who has an expectancy of life. Of course here, the problem lies in the fact that many will push the line further and further as to when it becomes permissible to issue a "DNR." We may never fall into pragmatism or relativism. Nor may we fall into embracing "quality of life arguments." God has a standard. The issue in this case is the providence of God in a person's life. A "DNR" order for a thirty-five year old who is tired of waiting for a heart transplant is an attack on the image of God. Yet the eighty year old who has no hope of a transplant and whose heart is worn out may simply be ready to go home if and when God causes his heart to stop. In 2 Tim. 4:6, Paul wrote, "for I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand." He knew that God's providence was upon him. It was time to go home.
To be very clear, a "DNR" may not be issued biblically for quality of life purposes nor may it be issued biblically for those who are simply tired of living. The point is that we must in this type of decision apply biblical principles as we would in any other decision-making situation. On the one hand, we can't charge persons with relativism who say its okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols in one setting while forbidding the practice in another. The apostle Paul was the one who said that. On the other hand, we can't cast biblical principles out the window and make it a matter of personal choice, that is, if we are concerned at all with what God thinks. Does God allow a person who is depressed to end his life? Certainly not. But does God expect a cancer patient with but a few days left to leave his family, fly a thousand miles, suffer alone, and die with strangers in a hospital because some experimental drug may give him another week in that setting? No indeed. Those who would argue for personal choice in these matters ignore Scripture. Those who would do away with all distinctions and proactively prolong life at all costs in all situations with all means possible ignore the Scriptures as well. We may not be relativists. But, we must be biblical. Remember too, a great chasm exists between the natural process of dying and facilitating that death by the removal of a feeding tube. One is allowing God to be God. The other is murder.
Some would argue that these distinctions are too restricting while others would argue that they are too loose and arbitrary. Working from both extremes, most Christians agree that euthanasia is murder while removing one who is absolutely brain-dead from life support is proper. Those dynamics in between may be in grayer areas. The biblical principles of God's image and God's providence serve to guide us in these murky waters. We may never violate the sanctity of human life. We may never usurp God's role as life-giver. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. At the same time, in God's providence, it may be sinful to burn someone up with radiation for an extra day of life. Yet, in the case of Terri Schiavo, removing her feeding tube is an attack on the image of God in her. May God be merciful to those who are complicit in this regard.
Fourth, there is the glaring inconsistency or abject absurdity of the American psyche in view and at work here. How can so much press be devoted to one woman in the face of so little press regarding the thousands of infants who will be murdered today by state sanction? Maybe the real question is how can there be so little press devoted to abortion today or embryonic stem-cell research? We have heard the cry for the unborn. Yet, when will we cry out for the little ones with the same fervency we have cried out for Terri? Understand, it's not less clamor for Terri I seek. It's more clamor for the unborn and, the rest of us.
Finally, please hear compassion in this last plea. We must affirm evangelical truth. In all the emotion and compassion for Terri, and there should be much, let's not forget our heads and start singing "Kum ba yah." Some have assured us of Terri's place in heaven. While we will fight for her to the end, we must pray for her to the end as well. We must pray for her physical life to be spared, but we must also pray for her salvation. Only God can look upon the heart. However, the only thing I've heard in regard to Terri's relationship to God is her Roman Catholic faith. In fact, it's been a point of debate between the Schindler's and Michael Schiavo. They have made much of the fact that he has denied her the mass over the years and especially on Easter Sunday. He finally relented and Terri "received Holy Communion on Sunday afternoon," according to Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski. "I gave her the drop of precious blood on the tongue, so we know she received Christ," he said.
We need not go into the nature of the sacramental system and the supposed efficacy of the sacrament itself apart from any personal faith. We need not speak of the doctrine of transubstantiation as the elements are viewed as being transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ upon consecration by the priest so that Christ is sacrificed again in a way that is identical with the cross event. We need not speak of the fact that in this system, the adherents believe that upon ingestion of the elements, the entire body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ are received. If this is the only way Terri Schiavo has received Christ, she has not received Him. She has received nothing more than wine and is yet dead in her sins.
We have no salvation in the mediating work of an earthly priest. The Scriptures tell us that "by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:10-14)." Oh, may we have real compassion and pray for God to somehow, someway break through Terri's impaired state and speak grace to her soul that she might truly turn from her sins and embrace Christ. No doubt some will argue that God is merciful to the mentally impaired. We reply that while God is merciful to those born with such impairment, Terri Schiavo had twenty-six years to fly to Christ. For her, there are no guarantees. For this reason, we must pray for her as she will no doubt slip into eternity all too soon.