Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Culture of Death

Perhaps you’ve been following the Terri Shaivo case. Its been in the news constantly for the past two weeks. Unless the Supreme Court takes immediate action, which is unlikely, Terri may be dead by the time you read this.

Numerous times, I’ve gone with families through some of their most difficult decisions. Some of those involved continuing or discontinuing life support for a loved one. When asked, I have always counseled for life but not necessarily prolonging life by extraordinary means.

What constitutes prolonging life by extraordinary means? In my view, extraordinary measures are those which artificially prolong life. Today’s technology permits doctors to artificially prolong life when, by all measures, the individual’s brain functions are gone and only a respirator maintains life. When faced with a decision about “pulling the plug,” I’ve advised families to make that decision with the counsel and advice of a qualified physician. At the same time, I’ve counseled them to provide for life’s absolute necessities – food, water, and access to air. A feeding tube is not an artificial measure. If one is to err, it should always be in favor of life!

I am shocked to discover that 70% of the American populace says this woman should die. In spite of the fact there is ample testimony that Terri responds to stimuli, seems to recognize others, and attempts to speak, the overwhelming majority accept the decision to “pull the plug.” Qualified professionals disagree on Terri’s viability, but at the root of the issue is the belief that since Terri will never fully recover she should be allowed to pass on. We are told by her husband that she did not wish to have her life prolonged artificially. In most courts of law, such testimony is hearsay since there is no written “living will.” Nonetheless, her husband, who has had a long standing relationship with another woman complete with children, wants her out of the way. For him, Terri is now just a nuisance and a hindrance to the life he wants to live.

Here are a couple of facts for you to consider. First, death is no friend. The Bible describes death as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:27). Death is the specific punishment for sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:19; Romans 3:23). Although the Christian has no reason to fear death, the unbeliever does and should!

Second, human life is precious because God created humans in his image (Genesis 1:27). Only humans bear God’s image. Only human life is sacred.

Third, God demonstrates the special value of human life when he decrees the punishment for murder (Genesis 9:6). This is a “Creation Ordinance” and applies to all humanity for all time. The only just and appropriate punishment for the willful non-judicial taking of human life (murder) is the forfeiture of the murderer’s life. Why? Because man is made in God’s image!

Fourth, God states the value of human life in the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13). The commandment says, “You shall not murder.”

Fifth, Solomon insists any life is preferable to death. In Ecclesiastes 9:4 he says, “Anyone who is among the living has hope – even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!”

In my opinion, our culture has become “a culture of death.” There is little respect for human life as evidenced in the abortion rate and the growing acceptance of euthanasia for the terminally ill. There is only one reason for this as far as I can see. Our culture has pounded the humanistic and naturalistic theory of evolution in our heads until most of us accept the idea that we are nothing more than animals – more intelligent than some – resulting from chance plus time. If humans are little more than a mass of protoplasm from the cradle to the grave, why not extinguish or eliminate that which is imperfect, inconsequential, or inconvenient? Such thinking is vaguely reminiscent of what the world heard from Hitler and his scientists in the 1930s as they pressed for the development of the “Master Race.”

20 comments:

Tony said...

I agree with you that Life is losing its meaning in the USA.

I would like to email you about another isue that is on my mind.

The Lord's Supper in the early church and the reformation.

Tony
hulltq1@yahoo.com

Joy in the Journey said...

Tee hee, Hawkeye Gold is NOT the only reader of your humble blog. . .

The entire Schiavo case has disturbed me deeply, from the skewed presentation of the press (again?!) to the Congress allowing judges to continue to legislate from the bench.

The Constitution will have to be changed in order to stop these activities, liberal judges from continuing our culture of death.

Love,
Joy

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that in the culture of death, animal life seems to have more value than human life. If what was done to Terry S. was done to a dog or a cat, someone would have gone to jail. The other matter, in this case, which should concern us is the tyranny of the judiciary. Tyranny is the comingling of powers. When the judiciary exercises executive and legislative powers, then life and death is determined by the whim of a judge. We have to reign,pun intended, them in! --Hawkeye Gold

Anonymous said...

It is obvious those opposed to letting Shiavo's body cease to function either did not understand her actual condition, or have a notion that even when the conscious brain is dead that which remains, constitutes human life that has value to that person - a curious notion indeed.

Michael Hines said...

I have wrestled with this issue from the standpoint of biblical ethics and from that of ministry.

The first point I would make is that there was some question about whether or not Terri Schaivo's brain was dead. Listening to the pundits on both sides of the issue, it was rather obvious that medical professionals were divided on the issue. Some asserted that Terri's brain was "dead" others that it was not. It seemed rather strange to me that the Florida judge was not interested in hearing "all" the evidence especially after supposedly "new" evidence came forth. It seemed to me that a new hearing, before a different and impartial judge, might have resolved the question. After all, we are often counseled after a diagnosis from a medical doctor to "get a second opinion." Had a new hearing come to the same conclusion, it would have given weight to the first judge's decision.

Second, I am firmly convinced that any "active means" resulting in death is, at a minimum, manslaughter unless in the defense of one's own life. All living things require food, water, and air to sustain life. There are times when a respirator will artificially sustain life. If Terri had succumbed after being removed from a respirator, it would indicate that the body was unable to breathe on its own. Since all of us must "intake food and water" the question is not whether the individual can swallow but whether or not the body can still process the food or water. There are cases where a person is born without a properly functioning esophagus and they can only survive with a "feeding tube." Since the authorities would not permit anyone in to give Terri water or food, we will never know if she could take it in on her own or not. Withholding food and water was as active a measure in causing her death, in my view, as a lethal injection.

I have counseled family members to "pull the plug" on machines that are artifically keeping a family member alive. At the same time, I have counseled them to make sure the loved one still has access to food and water. When the body is ready to die, it will no longer process either and all functions will shut down and the individual will die.

Once the decision is made, as it was in the Schaivo case, that a human who is nonfunctional should be allowed to die (a euphemism in this case for starved and dehydrated), should we "allow someone who is severely retarded to die?" Should we "allow someone who has suffered a particularly debilitating stroke to die?" If so, where do we draw the line and who makes the decisions? No matter how high-minded or sympathetic a case may be, cutting off that which is essential to life is unnatural, inhumane, and unethical and can't be supported from a biblical perspective at all!

America's respect for life has been on a slippery slope since the Roe v Wade decision. If we can abort millions of babies before their birth, why not end the lives of those who are unproductive, uncomfortable (although for whom is not clear), and lacks "quality"?

The decisions facing the Schindler family and Michael Schaivo were difficult. Nobody ever said life was easy. Jesus himself said, "In this world you will have trouble." Nonetheless Terri Schaivo carried with her the "image of God" and that made her life valuable. Seeing that her parents were willing to bear the burden of her care, why press forward with such intensity? I do not think the story is over but we'll see.

I just hope that more comes out of this tragedy than the conviction that we all need to make sure our "living wills" are in order! In my view, we need a lengthy and complete national discussion on the sanctity of life.

Anonymous said...

May 20, 2005 CE. I was wondering if the death culture had caught up with you. I hope life is treating you well. If it isn't, we have a great one ahead of us. God Bless;
--Hawkeye Gold

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