Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Sanctity of Life

I came across an article last night discussing the case of a 14 year old girl. Some time ago she was brought into a hospital with severe brain trauma and she has spent the last two years of her life in an "irreversible vegetative state". The courts ruled that her condition was hopeless and that she should be removed from life support....she was no longer vital and had, essentially, ceased from being a human being. They removed the life support....and she lived. She's now recovered and in court testifying about the abuse of her parents that landed her in the hospital in the first place.

As a I read this, I was reminded of an article I wrote for another website before I launched this blog. I wrote it on the heels of the murder of Terri Schiavo in Florida several years ago. What follows is my article entitled "Life vs. Death".

The Terri Schiavo case has been filled with emotion. It has caused all of us to ask ourselves some difficult questions, requiring us to find a deeper, more meaningful reaction than our first instinct, knee-jerk reactions. We’ve had to face the tough questions and then come to a conclusion that satisfies our emotional, logical, moral, religious, and social consciences. What is life? When does it begin? When does it end? What is quality of life? All of these questions have been asked and answered from many different perspectives, but there is one lingering question to which I’ve not heard a proper answer. Why were some folks so set on seeing this young woman die? I don’t just mean her husband – I’m talking about the tens of thousands of people around the country who supported him and just wanted to see this young woman die.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. One of the worst punishments of God that we see in the Bible occurs when He simply gives men up to their own desires. It’s almost laughable, but James 1:15 and Romans 8:13 both leave us with the harsh reality that, left to ourselves, we will absolutely and completely self-destruct.

Jeremiah 17:9 records these words when talking about the nature of man: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is incurable; who can know it?” Another translation states that the heart of man is “desperately wicked”. We should never be surprised at the wicked actions that wicked men perform when lost in their wicked natures. However, there is something in us that wants to say that man is basically ... okay. We understand that there is “none righteous, no not one”. We understand that ALL men have sinned and are, therefore, sinners. We know that because of that sin all men are rightfully destined for hell. We know that even after salvation there is a battle raging within us between the old sin nature and the new nature – the righteousness of Christ. We know that the only thing that restrains us is the Spirit of God, but even without that restraint, there is something in us that wants to believe that all men are basically good. And then, something happens to snap us back into reality.

I remember in September of 2001 that what reminded us of the desperate, incurable, deep-seated wickedness of man was the terrorist attacks on the U.S. This year it was, once again, man’s attack on the sanctity of human life, namely, the life of Theresa Marie Schiavo.

The strange thing about the legal sparring is that nobody ever disputed the FACT that Terri Schiavo was alive. There were questions raised about the quality of her life, about her wishes, about many things, but NEVER about her classification as being a living human being. This fact should have fostered many discussions about euthanasia, but those conversations were strangely lacking.

Throughout the 1990’s there was one name that dominated conversations about euthanasia: Dr. Jack Kevorkian. He assisted in over 100 suicides of mostly terminally ill patients. Some called him an agent of death, and others called him an angel of mercy. Regardless, he was sentenced to prison in 1999 for second-degree murder, and he won’t be eligible for parole until 2007. Throughout the legal wrangling over the fate of Terri Shiavo, I kept going back in my mind to this man that people dubbed “Dr. Death”.

Here was a man that was acting “on behalf” of the terminally ill in an effort to end their lives – with their consent. He would provide the means, and the patients would ultimately end their own lives. Yet he is in prison.

The purpose of this article isn’t to call for the vindication of Jack Kevorkian. Rather, it is to ask a question or two. Why is Kevorkian – a man who was clearly acting under the direction of the patients – in prison today? Perhaps a better question is, “why aren’t the judges, lawers, and Micheal Schiavo – the people who are directly responsible for the death of Terri Shiavo - in prison today?” These people fought to kill a woman that couldn’t speak for herself. Ultimately they succeeded, and in doing so, they starved her to death. This was a much more heinous act than any that Kevorkian ever committed. These folks ended another human life by denying her sustenance. They weren’t merciful in the way they destroyed her. It wasn’t instantaneous – it took nearly two weeks. It wasn’t without pain – Terri was administered morphine to deal with the pain that she was feeling as her brain dried up and her body began to shut down.

It occurred to me that the differences between Terri Schiavo and the men that saw to it that she was put to death can be boiled down to one simple fact: she wasn’t able to feed herself, these other men are. Oh yes, there’s one other difference now….Terri’s dead. We can sugar-coat it any way we choose, but the fact of the matter is Terri was executed. Why? Well, she was no longer vital. Her life no longer qualified as being a life that had any worth to it. I read an article recently on MSNBC that referred to her as “no more than the vessel in which her spirit once lived, like a music box that no longer plays”. It troubles me how boldly some can simply dismiss a human life. In fact, it makes my blood boil a bit. Who are we to determine whether a human life has lost its value and usefulness?

These proponents of death are in for a surprise. This life that they have so callously dismissed as being of no importance is proving to be of utmost importance. Never in my lifetime has there been such a rallying around the nature and sanctity of human life as there has been around Terri. While the death brigade won a small victory in this case, the war continues. Terri is dead, but the fight is far from over.

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