Chipping at the Edges

Mark Steyn writes the following in a piece that touches on the Terri Schiavo case:

You can read similar stories in almost any corner of the developed world, except perhaps the Netherlands, where discretionary euthanasia is so advanced it’s news if the kid makes it out of the maternity ward. As the New York Times reported the other day: “Babies born into what is certain to be a brief life of grievous suffering should have their lives ended by physicians under strict guidelines, according to two doctors in the Netherlands.”

Perhaps I can be forgiven for allowing paranoia to mix with principle for a moment as I ponder the procedure for writing and amending the “strict guidelines” that define “grievous suffering.” Although the rhetoric sometimes drifts into a debate about whether or not Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, floating around this issue (National Review Online’s Corner offers a self-contained example starting here) is the underlying question of whether her life is “worth living” or not. Putting aside the law, how does a culture define such a thing?
I ask because Projo blogger Sheila Lennon links to a personal anecdote from Barbara Brotman that steps a bit away from realm of being a vegetable:

My husband and I entered the murky waters on behalf of both his parents. They both headed into their 90s with dementia that left them unaware of their surroundings. Their bodies were gradually failing. They were adored by family members who agreed that if they began to die, we should not stand in their way.
One night, the phone call came. The nursing home called to say that my mother-in-law had pneumonia. The doctor wanted to send her to the hospital to be treated and was calling for the family’s permission.

Again, I have to wonder: where are the boundaries of “dementia,” and who will set the guidelines around it?
I’m wading deeply into speculative waters, but there seems to me clear reason to worry about a society that begins trimming its notions of rights and worthiness around the edges. Anybody who’s ever thought a Monday morning head cold would never fade knows that suffering is a fluid concept; when current, it feels eternal and unbearable. And anybody who’s ever been through or witnessed a teenage romantic breakup knows that whether a life is worth living is a matter of mushy perspective.
We all rightly despise suffering, and it is right to wish that our world did not include it. It’s also right to desire to relieve it in some way. We’d best be wary of looking to death for that relief, however, lest it become the prescription for midlife discomfort.

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Dust in the Light
16 years ago

Trimming Worthiness at the Edges

I’ve posted a broader thought based on the Schiavo case over on Anchor Rising. If you’re inclined to comment, feel free to do so here or there, if you’d like a change of scenery….

John Hearn
John Hearn
16 years ago

Now the spring rains fall,
Calling green shoots from the bare earth,
To reach for the sun.
Should I love this rain,
Remembering that dark days,
Of cold death will come?
I sowed no life here
Nor willed autumn’s killing frost,
Free to grow toward light.

smmtheory
smmtheory
16 years ago

It seems clear to me that if continued unabated, the obligation to die may eventually get to the point that it(obligation to die) is applied to anybody with a diminished capacity not instantly curable by medicine or surgery. Of course the person going for surgery may be required to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order. I shudder to think of a situation arising wherein a doctor might refuse to operate should the person not sign the DNR. What option would that person have if the surgery is necessary for continuance of life? The doctor would have them over a barrel so to speak.
It’s a race against time for the culture of death people to try to make this a widespread social norm though. They diminish themselves through abortion, euthanasia, non-reproductive sex quickly enough and they will soon be outnumbered and outmanuevered by the culture of life people.
It’s up to the individual consumer of health services to be concerned enough to question their doctor about his attitude toward life and death. If enough people start inquiring and seeking out life affirming Christian doctors, then the demand will probably influence the market. Hopefully, people will begin to realize that nowhere in God’s word is there a mention of a right to die and that the ‘right to die’ is nothing more than an allegory for a lack of will or courage to live.

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