If a man dehydrated his dog to death, the New York Times would probably call for his incarceration. Michael Schiavo tried to dehydrate his wife to death and the Times casts him as a benevolent “legal guardian.” He is overseeing her “right to die,” it editorializes.
A right to die? This is a euphemism for a duty to die. The advocates of euthanasia believe that humans deemed inconvenient and useless should die.
The Times speaks of “Ms. Schiavo’s right to die in peace.” Since when has starvation conduced to a peaceful death? Starvation guarantees a violent one. Euthanasia is not about “letting die,” but killing. It is not about nature’s timetable, but man’s. It is not about ending the pain of the dying but ending the pain and burdens of the living.
Michael Schiavo didnâ€™t resort to depriving his inconvenient wife of food and water because she was dying; he took that crass step because she was not dying. “Has she died yet?” the press reports a nurse having heard him say. “When is that bitch going to die?”
Euthanasia proponents say “these are dying people” Apparently not. If a person is imminently dying, the person dies. It is because that person remains distressingly alive that the advocates of euthanasia feel the need to poison or starve the person to cause death. The New York Times’s “right to die” is nothing more than a right to kill. Chosen for oneself, euthanasia is suicide. For another, it is murder.
A few years back I covered the euphemistically-titled “A California Conference on Physician-Assisted Dying” at the University of California, San Francisco. It was an appalling, let’s-kill-the-enfeebled event. Participants chuckled as journalist Betty Rollin delivered a whimsical account of how she helped knock off her ailing mom. “We were not experienced killers,” she said. “We thought we would put her in a car, but we didn’t have a car. We are New Yorkers. We thought we might rent a car.” New York psychiatrist Samuel Klagsburn spoke of euthanasia’s power to console people for whom “living has lost its meaning.” He cited a “rich relative” who “lived for shopping,” and said, “If I canâ€™t do this [shopping], there is no point in living.” It cheered his relative up to know that she could kill herself in the event that illness prevented her from clothes-buying.
Only those with “meaningful” lives are exempt from euthanasia, according to this grim culture. The New York Times editorializes that a “true respect for life” depends upon a judgment about life “not just when it exists,” but when it is “meaningful.” Woe to the person whose life is judged meaningless.
Ted Koppel, on a recent Nightline episode about the Schiavo case, wasn’t impressed when Daniel Webster, a Florida State Senator who wrote a law protecting Terri Schiavo, noted that “we have a woman who can smile, who can respond to her mom, who can follow a balloon around the room.” These weren’t enough signs of meaningful life for Koppel: “You do realize that those symptoms you describe, the smiling, the eyes following a balloon, those are perfectly consistent with what can happen in the case of someone who is definitely, unambiguously in a vegetative state?”
So much for the right to life of humans who fall into a vegetative state. More noteworthy than Koppel’s usual browbeating was his Jesuit guest’s support for pulling the feeding tube from Schiavo. This even startled Koppel, who said to Fr. Kevin Wildes of Georgetown University: “Let’s get the surprise out of the way right away, Father. I was sort of astonished when I heard that a Jesuit priest would actually be in favor here of removing the tube. Explain that to me, in the context of your being a Catholic priest.”
Wildes replied that “Catholicism and Christianity has had a tradition, which is often characterized under the label of ordinary and extraordinary means. And if you use those criteria and think about it, this is a case, as many cases are, where there’s no obligation to continue to keep somebody alive for the sake of keeping them alive.”
This is the first time I have ever heard that food and water counted in Catholic thought as “extraordinary means” for preserving someone’s life. That should come as a shock to the bed-bound at Catholic hospitals. Also amazing was Wildes’s “Catholic” reasoning that while “Schiavo is alive” there “is no hope of recovery, there’s no hope that she’s going to continue beyond the state that sheâ€™s currently in.” Hopes of recovery — this is the “Catholic” criterion for determining whether or not to continue feeding and hydrating someone?
The pundits who have asked — where were the Florida bishops this week? — can find an answer in Wildes’s remarks.
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