Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Declaring Someone Dead

Terry Schiavo, dehydrated to death in March 2005

Usually I concern myself with articles about abortion, as that is my main interest. But euthanasia follows right upon the heels of abortion and we are going to be facing a major show-down in our society on this issue very shortly. Just as the pro abortion movement took the words "rights" and "choice" and used them for their own purposes, the pro-euthanasia group will take the words "death with dignity" and "compassionate care" and twist them for their purposes.

Dying with dignity will override living out one's life to its natural end; compassionate care used to mean what is carried on in palliative care wards, it will come to mean assisted suicide; the right to die will become the duty to die, as the population becomes increasingly older and we older people are seen as a burden to the young. After all, we are using up a disproportionate amount of their tax dollars in our health care, we are no longer contributing to the economy of the country because we are not working, we will only be seen as a burden to take care of. Whereas previously the aged were treated with respect and consulted for their wisdom on life, they (or we) will be in the way; our knowledge will be considered irrelevant and we will be considered out of touch with a society that is progressing so quickly along scientific and technological avenues, but is becoming increasing dehumanized.

Yesterday, I read the following email from Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life in the US:

I had the privilege of blessing the grave of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, who was murdered on March 31, 2005 by dehydration. Her grave is not far from the place where she died, and where people from around the world had gathered to protest and pray. Those who visit the gravestone, however, will notice something highly unusual. While on most graves there is an inscription of two dates – when the person was born and when he or she died – on Terri’s there are three.

Here’s exactly what the grave says:

Born December 3, 1963

Departed this Earth February 25, 1990

At Peace March 31, 2005

The whole world knows that she died on March 31, 2005. National and global media were present at the scene for days, covering every detail. Media were present again when I preached at her funeral mass. We know when she died. But her gravestone has become a pulpit for the euthanasia movement. Those who killed her are now using her grave as a platform for their twisted ideology. What they are trying to say is that once her brain was injured in 1990 and she was no longer functioning like most of us, she wasn’t one of us anymore. She “departed this earth.”

This is actually a variation on an ancient heresy, which says that we are really spirits inhabiting a body. Terri couldn’t communicate normally. So, her “spirit” must have left her. The body was just a shell left behind. Those who believe she really “departed this earth” in 1990 can therefore pretend it was OK to kill her in 2005. After all, it wasn’t really her. She was already gone. This is heresy, because Christianity teaches that we are a unity of body and soul, not simply a soul “using” a body. The body matters. What we do to the body, we do to the person.

Moreover, the gravestone inscription is a deep insult to all who are disabled, and to all those who love and care for them. Should they be considered already dead, too? Are we just wasting our time caring for them? Euthanasia advocates would have us think so. A recent news story about a disabled unborn child quoted one as saying, “There’s no human life there.” Isn’t that the same idea? They think the baby has already “departed this earth,” so they don’t hesitate to abort the body.

As I blessed Terri’s grave, I also prayed that God’s people would be kept safe from this falsehood. And I recalled being in Terri’s room the day she died. I remembered
her face, dehydrated from not having had a drop of water in two weeks. I recalled seeing the flowers, inches away, on her night table. They were immersed in water. And as I left the grave, I gave a final glance to the vase of flowers that was standing by the stone. - Father Frank Pavone, February 2, 2009

Today, I read that Eluana Englaro in Italy will be taken to a hospital that will undertake to dehydrate her to death. This case has been before the public for a while now, as Eluana's father wishes to end her life. She has been in a state of diminished consciousness since 1992 when she was left brain damaged after a car accident. Her father has been petitioning the courts for a decade to euthanize his daughter.

Medical authorities readily acknowledge that death by dehydration is extremely painful and horrible.
In cases of severe dehydration, toxins build up in the body and the body's chemical balances are disrupted. This disrupts the electrical system that triggers the action of muscles, including the heart. The tongue and lips crack and bleed. The eyes recede into their orbits. The skin becomes so sensitive it peels off upon firm contact. The lining of the nose can crack and bleed. Dried brain cells can cause convulsions. The mouth becomes dry and saliva thick, and there is cracking of the mucous membranes of the mouth and lips. The blood thickens, increasing the risk of stroke. As fluid decreases in the body, blood pressure drops and the heart rate increases, possibly causing shock and heart attack. - LifeSiteNews, February 3, 2009
More than 700 Italian doctors have opposed such an action; the Church in Italy has spoken out loud and clear that this is murder. Eluana has become the center of the collision between the culture of life and the culture of death.

Of course, everyone of us agrees that her life is a tragedy; I doubt that anyone would wish for her to continue on indefinitely in this state; but the danger is that we are letting our emotions dictate to us that we should have the last word on life and death. Once we do that, we open the door to euthanizing many more people in similar states; the critically ill will be at great risk as the value of their lives will become subjects of debate; once we decide that we as human beings can decide who has the right to live or die, we usurp the role of God. One seemingly humane act, letting Eluana die, opens up the gates to a flood of such actions.

I am reminded of John Paul II who let the world see how he died. This was a man who suffered for years with Parkinson's disease, yet he continued to make public appearances at which we, the world, could see a physically disabled man continue his work on earth. He gave incredible value to death by the way he let his death overcome him, with grace and with dignity.

Eluana is not suffering as far as we know, and a convent of sisters actually said a few months ago, that they would continue to care for her until her natural death. Their offer was refused. Instead, she will be dehydrated, a process that takes about two weeks, and she will have to go through a painful process and she will die a humiliating death.

When we encounter suffering such as this, we should be looking for ways to help the person who is suffering. In the case of Eluana, I can't help but think that it is her father's suffering that we wish to relieve, not his daughter's. The fact is that none of us like to face death and we try to get it out of our experience as quickly as possible. If we take life and death into our own hands, no one will ever be safe again. Such decisions should only be left in the hands of God.


Jaclyn said...

Your comments on how our culture has devalued the aging reminds me of one of my favourite moments from my wedding day:

My new father-in-law (who is Chinese) informed my grandmother that where he comes from, they honour their elders. Since Francis and I married, they too had been joined in a family of sorts, so he wanted her to know that now she was the oldest and most respected and revered member of his family. This touched her (and my whole family) deeply.

I think the often-used term "quality of life" has much to do with our culture's readiness to overlook the value of those who are disabled and challenged in various ways. If we rank "quality" of life, it's not a big stretch to rank "value" of life - and herein lies the danger.

Elena said...

That comment by Jaclyn brought tears to my eyes.