Friday, February 18, 2005

Judah Ben Hur, Let Me Die!

"We keep you alive to serve this ship, so row well and live."

This is from Ben Hur when the centurion on the boat that Ben Hur was a galley slave on, sunk and both men were marooned on a raft and thought the Romans had lost the battle. The centurion then sought to take his life, but Ben Hur stopped him.

I watched ER on Thursday and it was about a 35 year old woman who had a stroke and part of the show was from her perspective and thoughts. Halfway through the show it occured to me that there was a Terri Schaivo element to the show. Her stroke was caused by a brain blood clot and there was a risky proceedure that could reverse the stroke by removing the clot. At one point the doctors were talking to her husband about the options, they could either do this proceedure with its major life-threatening risks or they could leave her as is. To leave her in her state, she could live indefinitely.

As they related the choices to her, in her mind she screamed repeatedly "I consent! I consent!" (to the risky proceedure) and also that she did not want to live like this. Eventually her husband agreed and the surgery was succesfully done. Ah, nothing like a neat end to a TV one hour show.

I have avoided the Terri Schaivo issue like the plague because I've found the politicization of the entire issue sickening. However, the one thing that has gotten under my skin more than anything has been the demonization of Terri Schaivo's husband. He has been portrayed as someone who wants to pull the plug so that he can get on with his life and new woman. I find that characterization just plain cruel.

Husband v parents on this issue is as difficult as it gets and it will happen that there will be disagreements like these. Which is why the one lesson here is that we all need to have living wills or give explicit directions for what you want done. I have absolutely no interest in hanging around. I've told my wife that as soon as she feels she can let go, let me go.

Unlike most Catholics I have no blanket opposition to euthanasia. I think its fine if not abused. For me, death is very much a part of life. We have to move away from this notion that death must be avoided at all cost, or that embrace of death is anti-life. We live to die. Every second draws us closer to our death. Death is a tragic separation and rupture in the context of our present lives, but the power of Christianity and religion is that our horizons are opened and we know that death is not the last word. Overcoming our existential angst about death i think is crucial for us as a society. Death really isn't an end, but a beginning. This doesn't take away the pain of death, but it is rather hope that gives death meaning. Remember, Paul in 1 corinthians 15 chastizes the Corinthians for forgetting about the power of the resurrection and the hope it brings.

When it is time to die, it is time. We can extend living, but embracing the event of death is just as natural. Not knowing much at all about the Terri Schaivo case, i come down on the side that if she had expressed a desire to be let go prior to her condition, then let her go. There is a "natural" (loose usage) end to life and that has to be respected. I've worked as a nurses aide before and watched many people die. I've seen them gradually stop eating and then slowly lose consciousness and then in time, they pass. It was always sad, always so final, but you knew that it is the moment spoken of in Qoheleth 12:6,7:

6: Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
7: Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

But it is not the final word as Job says, "I know that my redeemer liveth and he shall stand at a latter day upon this earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." We will all rise again and all quibbling in this time will look petty in the face of risen eternity. I should say that my view of life and death is very much influenced by the book of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) which I read over and over and over again as a young teenager. I was fascinated by its stark realism and the seeming vanity of life. But as fascinated as I was by this book, I was equally enthralled by 1 corinthians 15 and the book of Revelations and the angels of God of whom we are told that we shall be like.

Respeting life is not about extending physical functions, but about respecting the person.


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11:46 AM  

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