Choose Life

Readers probably have heard of the ongoing abomination that is the death-by-starvation of Terry Schiavo. Readers of the New York Times might be under the impression that this is about "right to die," but it could more accurately be said to be about the right to kill: that is, the right of Terry's nominal husband (who, by the way, has been living with another woman for over a decade and has two children with her) and a Federal judge to condemn her to death, on the basis of hearsay and over the strenuous objections of Terry's parents, the Florida Legislature, Congress, and much of America.

Ace of Spades has been following the case with disgust and some alarm:
I'm not fond of slippery slope arguments as a rule (I mean, once we begin taking slippery slope arguments seriously, who knows what sort of arguments we'll begin taking seriously in the future?), but Rightwing Nuthouse notes that the right-to-die/right-to-euthanize impulse seems to be gaining. As he puts it:
Each time we kill someone like Terri it gets easier. Each time we make a decision to end the life of someone like Terri we expand the boundries of what’s “permissable.” Each time the debate is joined, the advocates for the cult of death point out the “special nature of this particular case” or that it’s only an “isolated incident."
And to prove his point, he cites the Gronigen Protocols, Dutch procedures regarding when it's ethical to euthanize children with incurable and painful diseases, up to 12 years old.

I don't believe these are easy questions that can always be resolved in favor of "life." But we do seem to galloping towards a general acceptance of euthanasia in the interests of "mercy" for a stricken patient -- and in the unspoken interests of convenience for every one else.
This point is very personal to me. Completely aside from the fact that a society that no longer considers life to be sacred is on a path to the worst sort of institutionalized evils, I can easily imagine a world in which I, personally, would have been "euthanized," i.e. murdered. And some would have thought it merciful.

The trouble is, death forecloses all other possibilities. It is absolutely irrevocable. And deciding to murder another in the name of easing pain, or even for an individual to commit suicide, is to deny hope. It is to deny the chance that things will get better. Worse, it is to deny that life can be worth living, in spite of whatever hardships have caused people to consider death.

A few weeks ago, I met a remarkable student at college. I had seen him around before, from a distance; his head seemed dented and unbalanced in spots, the skin of his face seemed like he had been badly burned, and he was blanketed with freckles. When I did speak to him, he told me that he had a severe allergy to ultraviolet rays, which come from the sun, or flourescent lighting, or any number of things. He had already had 86 seperate surgeries to treat recurring outbreaks of skin cancer, including dozens of skin grafts.

I was horrified. How could anyone live a life when such simple pleasures as feeling the sun's warmth were deadly? How could anyone endure such constant hardship? I have had 2 surgeries, and did not enjoy them too much; I cannot imagine having 86 surgeries. Yet the student was remarkably cheerful. His condition came from God, he said, and who can say why God chose to give such a condition to him? He lived his life with purpose; he felt that he had a mission to improve the world in whatever way he could.

In a world of euthanasia for "non-viable" babies such as is called for in the Gronigen Protocols, he would have been killed as soon as his condition was discovered.

It makes me sick to think that people exist who wish for doctors to kill patients who are seemingly more trouble than they are worth. Human life transcends such petty concerns; all the more so in the case of Terry Schiavo, who was not hooked up to expensive machines such as respirators, but only to a simple feeding tube.

I intend to live for as long as I can, under whatever circumstances are consonant with Jewish law. When the Angel of Death comes for me, he'll have to call for backup, because I'm not going quietly. I have three reasons for this decision. First, because life is good. Second, because the realm of human action is in this world, not in the next. By ending my life, you are stopping me from impacting others and making the world a better place. Third, where there is life, there is hope. As long as I am alive, things could improve. People of goodwill could lend their help. New conditions or technologies could solve the problem. And always and always, God could intervene. There is no situation so hopeless that God's power cannot reverse it.

And this, I think, is the key point. Generally, those in favor of euthanasia are not thinking of God, or of hope for the future, or of transcending suffering. They are thinking of cost/benefit, or expected utility, or of overwhelming physical sensation as a justification for snuffing out a human life. They would build a world where hope is absent, where God is disregarded, and where physical sensation rules over all.

Soma, anyone?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Oren
I take exception to your equating Bush with Mordechai in standing up against evil. In my opinion Bush took us to war for one reason. He knows that the American public has never turned out a war time president. And to justify his actions he had to vilify Saddam. Time will tell is we have been subjected to one of the biggest scams in American history. I hope I'm wrong, but it is my gut feeling that this is true. I've lived thru one war, and have felt the horrors of men serching out other men to kill them