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March 27, 2005

Terri Who?

You know what I find to be the saddest thing? It is certainly saddening that Terri is dying in the way that she is, while her life could have continued filled with love, no matter how dimly she felt it, but that's not the saddest thing. Once all has been done, after all, Christians can return to our deepest beliefs, as are especially poignant today, and find comfort in the likelihood that her suffering will soon be exchanged for something immeasurably better than nothingness. More saddening is that we must continue on in the tempest that her ordeal helped to make so plain.

I mean absolutely no disrespect — quite the contrary — to the following bloggers, but in reading their posts in succession, it struck me how easily we make such matters all about our own preferred battles. The thought consolidated upon reading the following from Michele Catalano:

Who's behaving badly here? Who is making death threats to judges, throwing their kids out to the wolves to get arrested, sending horrible emails to people who disagree with them, calling us nazis and Hitlers and killers, claiming that we want to kill the disabled and meek and that only good Christians can understand what's at stake here? Or that if we disagree with you that means we must be ugly liberals at heart or you start attacking us in other ways, dragging people's sexuality into the fight?

Surely there are excesses even on the side of righteousness; that reality fits the pop storyline, as the word's nearly habitual combination with "self-" makes clear. Still, fairness requires that we take into account the side that's on the defensive, here. Would there be more obvious extremes on the other side if Governor Jeb Bush did in fact use his executive authority to flip the momentum? I don't know, but we have to add in, too, the possibility that it is an indication of a healthy society that those who believe an unjust killing is taking place are a bit more emphatic than those who believe that a questionable life is continuing.

But it's that last question from Michele that really highlights the quick sprint to be on the right side of the aggressor/victim line. Who's "dragging people's sexuality into the fight"? I apparently missed something that Michele has read, but I do hear an echo of Ol' Reliable Andrew Sullivan's approach:

What this case comes down to is the right of a spouse to determine his or her incapacitated spouse's fate in the absence of a living will. Civil marriage is indeed a unique and special legal bond. The social right believes this. But they only believe it when it suits them. If it can be used to marginalize and stigmatize gay couples, they are insistent. If it is an obstacle to their absolutist views on feeding tubes for human beings who have ceased to be able to feel, think or emote, then they discard it.

Writes Glenn Reynolds, in the post in which he links to Michele:

We've seen what the you're-the-enemy-if-you-don't-agree-with-me-on-everything approach has done for the left. It's disappointing to see people on the right imitating it.

Indeed it is, and I don't exempt myself from having had such thoughts and perhaps mildly (somewhere) having voiced them, but let's not pretend that only one faction of the right is thus infected. A post by John Cole comes to mind:

Sick bastards- defining losing your wife as a 'gain,' but all is fair in politics, right? And that is what this is- politics and symbolism on the right to life battlefield. I have said it before- this is jihad for these folks. They don't give two hoots in hell about Terri Schiavo- this is about abortion, religion, and most of all, about power and control. Their concept of morality is king, you see- your behavior in the bedroom, your choice in sexual partner, your desires about end of life decisions, abortion, even the medication you use to ease the pain when you are dying of terminal diseases- their religious text should have authority over you, and if all these 'small-government strict constructionists states right's advocates' have to attain that through government proxy, so be it. ...

As I write this, the Supreme Court has ruled against the reactionaries, adding yet another legal defeat (if these guys were a basketball team, they would be the LA Clippers), but I believe they will remain undeterred. God is on their side, you know, and they know what is best for all of us.

Bill Quick is beginning discussion of ways to neutralize or leave behind his socio-religiously driven co-partisans. And, as I noted a couple of weeks ago, derailing the Republican coalition is a recurring threat among moderates/libertarians. Furthermore, if I may throw in a tangential tidbit: my previous post, which noted similarities between a particular historical inquiry and details in a particular movie, drew a barely related attack on my religious beliefs.

The saddest thing, then, is that this particular issue, the life of Terri Schiavo, which touches deeply in many ways, has touched such vitriolic lines in modern politics. I don't know, frankly, that any current events issue — win or lose — has ever left me with such a feeling of distaste, perhaps mostly because the causes are in every direction. (The fact that Rev. Donald Sensing has been implicated as he has proves my side's culpability.)

My father — who stands back a bit farther from issues, emotionally, than I do — assures me that the political scene has always been thus, and he may be correct. When it reaches the pitch that it has during the past week, however, it becomes difficult to stomach. The Schindlers have apparently resigned themselves to loss, and I imagine that a great many of us, who invested ourselves emotionally in this issue years ago, are in the process of doing the same. I hope those who've landed on the other side in recent days, weeks, and months will, before writing or speaking further, take into account our long investment.

And I pray that I'm not alone in my distaste. That few will manage to hide behind a belief that the fault lies entirely elsewhere. That, whatever our positions, we can recognize that something pernicious has entered our collective discussion on all sides. And that those who've had the misfortune of providing the names and faces that the rest of us have pinned to our tempers — Terri, the Schindlers, and (yes) even Michael Schiavo — will find peace, perhaps even recompense.

We all believe ourselves to be reasonable and on the side of right. May we learn from the turmoil now roiling toward the horizon that focusing too intently on the light that we perceive can sometimes disguise the darkness to which we hold it in contrast.

Posted by Justin Katz at March 27, 2005 5:31 PM

As Christians fighting for the human dignity of Terri Schiavo we must never forget the human dignity of Michael Schiavo and Judge Greer. Dehumanizing those that believe Terri should die is exactly the wrong thing to do. While I believe that Michael and the Judge are absolutely wrong and that what is happening to Terri is evil, I also pray for them.

Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, especially since there is always the danger of becoming and acting exactly like what we despise.

Posted by: Jeff Miller at March 27, 2005 6:42 PM

"My father — who stands back a bit farther from issues, emotionally, than I do — assures me that the political scene has always been thus, and he may be correct. When it reaches the pitch that it has during the past week, however, it becomes difficult to stomach."

I've often thought that the notion that our political milieu is somehow uniquely partisan or vitriolic is frequently overblown. I think our current situation is more intense than, say, the 1990's, but it's normal for politcal passions to ebb and flow. Clearly passions were just as high during the Civil Rights era, or during Vietnam (not to mention the Civil War or the founding of the country).

Isn't it ironic that you hear people complain simultaneously about too much apathy and too much passion when it comes to politics? I guess what they want is less apathy from their side and less passion from the other side. ;)

Posted by: Mike S. at March 28, 2005 9:32 AM

I don't know, Mike. Part of my reaction, I think, is to passion poorly focused or inadvisably expressed.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 28, 2005 9:35 AM

I can't help suspecting that someone is exploiting one family's tragic situation for their own political reasons by creating this media circus.

It is not unusual for the family of a person with a hopeless medical condition to make the difficult decision to either continue or discontinue artificial means of life support. What makes this case unusual is that Terri's husband and parents strongly disagree on this issue. If those who describe the removal of Terri's feeding tube as "murder" were consistent, they would support banning the discontinuation of life support against the family's wishes in all cases where the patient's basic life fuctions might continue indefinately.

Posted by: Dancar at March 28, 2005 2:53 PM

Dan said:

"If those who describe the removal of Terri's feeding tube as "murder" were consistent, they would support banning the discontinuation of life support against the family's wishes in all cases where the patient's basic life fuctions might continue indefinately."

Which I do advocate. The trouble is finding a large enough group of people to support the same position to make it politically viable.

Posted by: smmtheory at March 30, 2005 11:27 PM

The alarms raised by the pro-life side of the culture war are not the boy crying wolf. For once the comparisions to the Nazis are not a mere rhetorical ploy. They started out by killing the disabled, and you know where it went from there.

Felos has an achievement -- the withdrawal of food and water was until now a bright line distinction. It is no more. He's provided a huge push for this nation push down the slippery slope to euthanasia to kill people who are not dying.

Posted by: Patrick Sweeney at April 1, 2005 12:29 AM