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April 01, 2005

You Might Say I'm Irritated

I've had a terribly long day. I've driven a few hundred miles, stomping through rural Alabama just to have some people sign some papers. I'm tired. I've been up since six a.m., and it's now early Friday morning. I want to be in bed, sound asleep listening to the rain pound the pavement outside my window.

I can't sleep. Not yet. I am simply too angry. I am still livid. I first heard of Terri Schiavo's death on the Glen Beck show this morning, sitting in my car. I was putting cream cheese on a bagel from Panera Bread Company. My coffee was starting to cool. It was rainy and grey and I was hungry.

Terri Schiavo was hungry. For two whole weeks. I've had a lot happen in my life since Terri's feeding tube was removed. I had friends coming into town that fateful afternoon, and my rooommate and his girlfriend and I were cleaning the apartment like crazy. The past two weeks have been a blur for me, but not for the Schindlers. In all I've done since that day, Terri's family has had to watch her starve to death. Time only flies when you're having fun. For the Schindlers and their loved ones, time has been, to paraphrase William Carlos Williams, a storm in which they have been lost for the last fifteen years.

I'm angry not just because the media blew it. Not just because these smart aleck namby-pampy know-it-alls at ABC, CNN, NBC, PBS, NPR or whatever acronym you can create decided that playing cute political games with the Republicans was more important than telling the ever-loving truth. It was more fun for Judy Woodruff to take a cheap shot at Jeb or George Bush than it was to tell the whole world that a bone scan revealed that Terri had multiple fractures throughout her body, while her loving husband blamed a therapist but never called for an investigation. I'm angry because some commentators are too cynical to understand that maybe, just once, other pundits really did care about Terri Schiavo. I'm angry because normally reasonable people cared nothing about the facts in the case. I'm angry because the polls were crooked, and since the media was lying through their rotten teeth, the public is still clueless about what really happened down in Florida. I'm angry because a suggestion that Christian political leaders like Jeb Bush owed something to a higher law were met with scoffing. I'm angry that we have come to worship at the alter of the judiciary, unquestioning anything said from a man or woman in a black robe. It's like a bad Lord of the Rings nightmare.

And I'm really, really, really angry that the best we could do - we who supported Terri's right to life and food and water and some blessed due process in our oh-so hallowed courts - was to send up Randall Terry and Jesse Jackson to defend her poor family. Every right-wing Christian leader in America, Catholic and Protestant, has used this tragedy as an opportunity to rail about a runaway judiciary and the perverted worldview that has affected our culture. Rightfully so, but where we these people? I may think them loons in every other aspect of their lives, but God bless Randall Terry and Jesse Jackson. Whatever faults we may find with these men, and Lord knows it may take a while to list them all out, at least they had the courage to step up to the plate. My prayers are with Jerry Falwell right now, but where was James Dobson? Where were Richard Land and Al Mohler and every other leader of the Southern Baptist Convention? I've been to the Southern Baptist Convention a number of times. I know what goes on, and I've applauded, and will continue to applaud the call to a Christian presence in our culture. Euthanasia has been decried at ever SBC meeting for twenty years. It will be mentioned again this summer, likely with Terri Schavio's name, but not one SBC leader could leave their office for a day or two and stand up for this woman. But I'm sure you'll all hear about it on Sunday. What about Richard John Neuhaus or John Piper or Ravi Zacharias? Where were the Catholic bishops who threatened to deny Communion to John Kerry? This is shameful. The Christian Right is ridiculed in the mainstream press, and while Terri's Fight is about more than PR, we should be embarrassed that we abandoned the Schindler family to be consoled by two of the more polarizing figures in American politics. Ralph Nader took the time to issue two press releases, but we can't find one - not one! - respectable and noted Christian leader to go stand with the Schindler family and say "we support you"? Shame on us!

We can't be content to show up at the polls every two years or call our Congressman or write out cute blog posts for our friends and family to gawk at. At some point the rubber must meet the road, and we must be willing to demonstrate that we care about these matters in a real, tangible way. A woman was murdered over the last two weeks, and our leaders took a walk.

There was an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip wherein Calvin ponders the idea of modern, realistic superheroes. Hobbes coolly suggests that the heroes could attend council meetings and write letters to the editor. As Hobbes yells, "Quick! To the bat-fax!," Calvin begins to see the problem. The same is true of us. I rebuke all calls for violence and disorder, but until we are willing - as sane, rational Christians - to stand in the streets and rebuke the Fred Phelps of the world while we rebuke the perverse and maddening culture that starved Terri Schiavo to death, then we can blame no one but ourselves.

Posted by Matt at April 1, 2005 01:58 AM

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Tracked on April 1, 2005 03:01 AM


I hate losing.

All of my life, I've hated to lose. Whether I was playing baseball or basketball or cards or whatever - I hated to lose.

But we American Christians had better get used to losing - a lot - if we continue to fight battles in the same manner in the future as we are presently doing.

Oh - we make a lot of noise. And we point our fingers at a lot of people. But, it's just a form of shadow boxing. There's no power behind our punches - nor will there ever be any.

The weapons of our warfare are not supposed to be like the world's weapons. We are to use divine power for destroying opinions in opposition to the knowledge of God.

So, we're both angry. You are upset with Christian leaders, the media and that Christians aren't in the streets protesting the injustice of this human tragedy.

And I'm upset that we Americans know our God so little. And that we know how to use our spiritual weapons hardly at all.

Posted by: Larry at April 1, 2005 11:52 AM

If you believe Terry lived a good and full life being a catholic and who's going to heaven after death, then why preserve her in a vegetated state? Wouldnt just prolonged her spirit in her, in a body where she cannot communicate in. If you look at her brain scan it showed massive damage to her cerebral cortex

Posted by: charlie at April 1, 2005 02:55 PM


Alas, you miss the point. Newborns who have genetic problems can also have problems with their cerebral cortex. Do they, too, deserve death? No, the point is that all life is created by God. As such, it is precious. More import--it is beyond our power to choose to take it.

Posted by: Mark Sides at April 2, 2005 02:20 AM

Yes Charlie.... you hit the nail right on the head!

For it does not matter what state Terri was in, as she was not terminally, it seems the media and many co-workers and friends I spoke with, forget that, they forget that her voice was not heard in this....... her husband decided 7 years after her heart had stopped and after he found a new love, that she had told him she would not want to live this way..... What way Mr. Schiavo? Being fed through a feeding tube? or on a breathing machine? or what? what did you specifically discuss with Terri? Did you discuss that she would not want her parents present during her last breath? Did you discuss that you should disregard her parents feelings and opinions? Did you discuss that if while Terri was in this vegetative state, and you found a new love and had children with her, that you would still decide what was best for her? That you would refuse to divorce and let her parents care for her until she is no more?

I am a little curious as to what this conversation consisted of and was it before or after she spoke of thoughts to leave you?

I am angry, that the justice system is not working for the good of America....... and I am angry that we have yet to figure out that Terri was a vessel of knowledge, she was used by our God to bring truth to our Nation!

Lessons learned or not:

* Bulemia Kills

* Create a Will

* Be careful who you marry

* and last, but most important..... Do not let a doctor tell you that their is no hope, do not let a doctor tell you when you should let go, do not let a doctor play God with your family, for it is God's decision, who stays and who goes and only God brings us into this world and only God should take our life from us....... Do not forget all the children and others that have breathing tubes or may have been told the ceribral cortex is beyond repair. This does not mean, it is their turn to die........

God Bless Terri Schiavo and all that she has taught us:)

Posted by: Sarah at April 4, 2005 04:43 AM

We don't live in a theocracy. We live in a secular country governed by secular institutions, and this includes the judicary and the rule of law. Judges interpret the laws; they don't create new ones out of thin air. Also, unless they allow personal beliefs (e.g. their religion) to affect them, legal precedent plays a big role in their decisions. Thus, it is hard to make a capricious change in the law. In Terri's case, it was anything but capricious. 15 years and no improvement in her physical status. 15 years of consistent court decisions.

On to neurobiology, about which I know something since I have a PhD in this subject. Without a functional cortex, Terri was incapable of forming long-term memories. Sensory information could not be processed and stored. She was almost certainly incapable of feeling and thus of suffering. I don't see how this is disputable. If you don't believe it, do some reading of a real textbook. Speaking of facts, I don't know what cortical abnormalities several of you have claimed that some newborns have. If you are not just making up something you think could be true, cite something specific. In any case, I don't think these kids are euthanized if they are conscious or are thought to be capable of becoming conscious. People are not allowed to die unless there is no reasonable hope of recovering.

Another thing: some of you have said that we can't take away a life - only the Lord can. But in fact conservatives condone and enforce the death penalty in this country and it does not draw your ire. Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in the Darfur region of Sudan over the past six months due to the failure of our country to lift a finger to intervene and it does not attract the attention of religious conservatives. Our government tortures and even kills prisoners in its war on terror - prisoners that have been demonstrated to be misaccused/misidentified 70% of the time, according to our own goverment. If you want to exercise your religious outrage, then be consistent, and choose issues where the most people are affected. If you do this, you will have more credibility than now, when it seems hypocritical of the religious right to talk about enforcing a "culture of life".

Posted by: Bill at April 6, 2005 02:24 AM

Doctors are not allowed to play God, they can offer choices, but not say, I think it would be best, because your opinion does not matter, for every family must make a difficult decision when needing to decide if life support is taken away...

Terri Schiavo was a living, breathing human being..... she was fed through a feeding tube and other than that, she had NO life support! The pope was fed through a feeding tube, many people in the world are fed through feeding tubes, that does not mean their life is more or less valuable than mine.

She could not remember anything long term? She could not feel pain? Why was she on morphine while they were killing her? the doctors must have thought maybe she just might feel it?

I have also heard many, many times, that the brain is one organ that doctors do not thoroughly understand. You continue to research and learn, but it is such a complicated part of the body, that it doesn't seem you will EVER know EVERYTHING!

On that note, Terri was not terminally ill and that means more to me than her memory and ability to live a normal life. Maybe you would not want to live like that, but we did not get to ask Terri how she felt, so she should have been kept alive for that reason alone. And for her husband to tell the courts that his wife wanted to die, if in this state, was quite rediculous, since he waited 7 years (after he found a new relationship) and he all of a sudden remembers this conversation.... Did she say, if I was being kept alive by a feeding tube, kill me? If my parents want to keep me alive, kill me? If I am not terminally ill, kill me anyways? I could not imagine this conversation being of this nature.....

The last thing I would like to address to Dr. Bill is, although I am grateful that you are a doctor and I am aware of how difficult and rewarding this job can be, all in one, I find it quite frustrating for you to come off so cocky and arrogant. For you to tell people they need to read and that you are just so smart that, if people like me, feel Terri was not terminally ill and was not given a real choice, whether she lives or dies, so therefore she should not have, this means we must all need to be enlightened by you and all the other medical experts in the world.

No doctor can tell me, who's life is valuable and who's is not..... and no one can tell me a brain injury, due to a heart attack, deserves starvation and dehydration!

Thank you for allowing me to vent after reading your above email! I would not usually respond so abruptly, but if you read your email again, you may see why it offended me so deeply, unless you are too caught up in your own feelings, to have compassion for others.......

God Bless:)

Posted by: Sarah at April 6, 2005 11:53 PM

Dear Sarah,

I can understand how my posting might have come across as arrogant, and if that was indeed my attitude then I apologize. However, I think it is easy in an email to confuse arrogance with frustration, and I believe it is the latter that was driving me to write what I did.

I will address many of your comments, but I would like to note that you were very selective in addressing mine. In particular, there are many issues involving life and death on a far grander scale than right-to-die and abortion. And as I said, evangelicals are largely silent on these issues, which are no less morally pressing and in my mind no less worthy of God's - and therefore our - attention. These include the current genocide in Sudan (why was Iraq more important than the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese?), the death penalty, and torture (and sometimes murder) of prisoners who are merely suspected of being enemies of our country. It also includes gun control, and issues of economic justice, such as recent moves by the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled congress to limit medical coverage and bankruptcy protection. Since over 10% of our population has no medical coverage and more people declare bankruptcy than get divorced, a further erosion of the Democrat-legislated social safety net from years past will lead to people suffering and dying prematurely. These issues should also be considered when discussing the so-called "culture of life". This is relevant to another irony: it has been reported that the number of abortions has risen since President Bush was elected. While nobody knows the exact reason for this, the only reasonable explanation I have read is that many poor women do not believe they can raise their children in a climate in which their economic outlook is terrible and in which the social safety net has been swept away.

Now, on to your comments.

You said:
"Many people in the world are fed through feeding tubes, that does not mean their life is more or less valuable than mine."

The difference between many people on feeding tubes and Terri was that she was unconscious; she had been unconscious for 15 years; and all medical experts involved in her case thought there was virtually no chance she would emerge from unconsciousness.

You also question whether she could feel pain. In fact, when you are unconscious, you are unaware of pain. This is precisely why general anesthesia is applied to patients during an operation. It blocks sensory information from getting to the cortex, where it can be processed. Terri's lack of a cortex in some ways is analagous to that state.

As to the morphine, a prominent neurologist was interviewed about that very question and said he thought it was used to reassure Terri's parents and brother, who were claiming she was in pain. That is, it was done to make the family feel better, not to help Terri, who was not believed to be able to feel anything for the reasons I stated above.

You then argue that I can't say anything about the brain because others have said it is far too complicated to understand. Admittedly scientists don't understand everything, but that doesn't mean we don't understand enough to say certain things. I would welcome any disagreement you might have with me based on real information, but it seems unreasonable of you to argue, based on no information, that I don't know what I'm talking about, particularly when I have already stated that I study the brain.

Next, you question what Terri really wanted. You say, "we did not get to ask Terri how she felt." But her husband did. Terri said she didn't want to be kept alive by extraordinary means. It is irrelevant what means were used or that her parents and brother objected. This is a point that conservatives never acknowledge in liberals arguments. That is, liberals believe an individual should have the right to make the most personal decisions about one's body free of interference from the government. It applies to abortion too. But conservatives see it all as life vs death. It is a problem for both sides that we talk past each other. It has led to the impression on the left that the right is trying to ram its religion down our throat and the impression on the right that the left is valueless and therefore evil. The left doesn't understand why the mainstream media, who didn't question the runup to the war and who are dominated by conservative pundits, are called liberal simply because reporters question what our government is doing, which is something they have always done since it is their job. Conservatives think we oppose religion, but that is not the case. Plenty of lefties are religious, though we tend not to be evangelical. What we oppose is religion being used to justify governmental policies. And we oppose the exploitation of religion to demonize and therefore intimidate the left.

Just for the record, lefties hate abortion, and we certainly felt sorry for the Schiavo family. But we see things differently than you do. For example, the Schiavos invited criticism when they asked the press and the government to intervene in what should have been a private and a legal matter. Terri's parents also were guilty of exactly what Bill Frist and Tom DeLay are accusing the left of: judicial activism. They wanted activist judges to overturn a decision that had consistently and repeatedly been in favor of Terri and Michael Schiavo's wishes.

You and other evangelicals should know several other things. First, Tom DeLay, the Republican House majority leader accusing liberals of judicial activism and who said the Schiavo case was a liberal affront to all Christians, pulled the plug on his own father ( Second, Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist's family created the 191-hospital chain Hospital Corporation of America, where euthanasia occurs on a daily basis and which in fact profits from decisions to limit efforts to sustain people's lives. Third, although the Democracts were criticized by the supposedly "liberal press" for trying to politicize the Schiavo case, it was the Republican leadership and conservative pundits that fixated on the story to gain political points from evangelicals. In fact, they were even caught plotting this, as sick as it sounds (,2933,152700,00.html).

There is much more I could say about all this, but I fear I am digressing too much already. I would really like to promote a discussion between the left and the right. That's why I come to this web site at times. I want to know what you are thinking and to tell you what people like me are thinking, since it seems that the two sides don't share their thoughts anymore, only accusations. Also, I really abhor the politicization and exploitation of something as personal as religion - a phenomenon I see getting far worse before it gets better.

Posted by: Bill at April 23, 2005 09:54 PM