Thursday, 31 March 2005
The will to live or die
By Joseph Planta
First, some housekeeping: The Pacific International Auto Show opens tomorrow in Vancouver at BC Place Stadium, and runs until Sunday the 10th. For the second year in a row, THECOMMENTARY.CA will be providing report on what was seen. My colleague Michael Kwan will be pulling in that coverage next week. Check out their website for more details on tickets and the sort: http://www.bcautoshow.com.
VANCOUVER - The question of whether we, mere mortals, have the right-to-die or the right-to-live has been a prevalent one in light of the very public end to Terri Schiavo's life, playing out all over the news from outside some hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida. These are pertinent questions as they get to the nub of our existence as people-do we choose our own demise, and what happens when we can't make that choice.
Christie Blatchford, one of my favourite columnists, in her Globe and Mail column last weekend, made a very thoughtful point. She said that in all the scrambling people have done going to lawyers and getting powers of attorney notarised in light of the Schiavo story, there is something hollow in all of our preparation. It's sort of like seeing a movie, and coming out of it, saying, I would do this or that, if that happened to me, thanks to what we've just seen. Michael Schiavo, the husband of Terri, claims that his wife never wanted to live life hooked up to a feeding tube. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler claim otherwise and have litigated to keep their daughter on a feeding tube. As Blatchford says, we never really know what we want until we are posed by whatever fate has in store for us.
Michael Schiavo doesn't come across very well in all of this. What guy who wants to pull the plug on his wife would? Then again, his argument would be there's no quality to her life, plus she's in no position to set out her wishes, thus why prolong her agony. Some court somewhere along the way-one can't remember which one thanks to all the appeals-recently declared the feeding tube, Schiavo's only source of sustenance, be removed. The Congress got involved, and so did the President. In a very politically motivated move, the Republicans raced back to Washington to debate a statute that the President-who also cut short a holiday-quickly signed into law. It didn't do much to say the least, and at this point, it's been almost two weeks now that Schiavo has been without food or drink. She's being starved to death, and there's no denying it. You wouldn't do it to a dog, but such is the state of life's course when the state itself is the be all and end all.
The entire situation is harrowing. The husband doesn't look good, especially when he's already got another babe in the wings, carrying on with her. Her family is claiming he has some ulterior motive to see his wife dead. The family is being charged by some as having some agenda too, wanting to get back at the shady son-in-law. You'd think common sense would prevail somehow, that if the husband doesn't want her, then perhaps the parents could take care of her. That problem arises when the state gets involved - common sense need not apply.
The entire Schiavo situation is another battleground in the ongoing culture wars. Two sides with differing views, with hardly any common ground. There are crowds surrounding the hospice, with right-to-lifers praying and protesting, invoking God and religion. There are those promoting euthanasia, who agree this starvation is cruel and unnecessary. When the political classes get involved, it's obvious here arrives another critical issue of how life is valued, thus a rancorous debate that echoes throughout society-or at the very least on talk radio or on 24-hour cable news. The backdrop of the Christian commemoration of Holy Week last week, was a striking juxtaposition. Particularly powerful rhetoric came from some pro-lifer who said, that even the Romans gave Christ a drink as he was crucified. While there are non-believers who wonder, just what God would let Terri suffer so in such agony.
I heard "The God Squad," the estimable Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Tom Hartman on with Imus yesterday. Both agreed that what was going on with the Schiavo case was horrifying and regrettable. No one and it was Gellman who said this, has the right to decide when life is to be ended. Hartman's Catholic faith, as I suspect others do, considers suicide a mortal sin. Life, Gellman said, was a gift from some higher power, whether that's God or whatever, thus why end it whenever you decide. Hartman likens life to a candle, that burns, and it is but God who gives life as a gift, and who extinguishes the flame.
One would have to agree that the sanctity of life is mysterious as it is precious. In moments of depression and anger, we can say awful things and make obstinate declarations about the way want our life to be, and in the case of murderers, the lives of others. The time to reflect and consider all our options is hardly present, and perhaps the greatest gift to come out of the life and death of Terri Schiavo's is to perhaps slowly reflect on our own lives and our own values. Then again, Christie Blatchford says whatever we say now, in our youths perhaps, may not be opinions we'll hold when we're old and dying (when it'll matter), let alone next week. Her advice is to buy a gun, and make sure you know how to use it.
Somewhere I have a so-called Living Will. I made one out years ago, when I was going through one of those phases in my life where I wanted to make sure my affairs were in order. Obviously, I wasn't dying, but I just wanted to make sure. I'm not morbid enough to think I'll meet my demise anytime soon. Frankly, I've hit 23 recently, and that isn't a terribly long life I've lived, so I suspect I've got more mileage to burn. I'll have to revisit that Living Will I made out, and see exactly what I'll want now, years after committing what I thought would be my final wishes. What's terribly sad about this Schiavo matter now is that poor Terri doesn't have that luxury of setting out her wishes or revisiting them, and the way it is, it's hardly easy whom to believe-her husband or her family; the right-to-lifers or the right-to-die advocates. Either way, if you side with death, as the husband, or life, as her family, it's all a very painful time for everyone involved. Painful and perhaps unnecessary, and there's seemingly nothing anyone can do, but wait for God.
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