Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Culture of Life

With the passing of Mrs. Theresa Schiavo, one chapter ends while another begins. As many culture warriors would have it, the recent tragedy in Florida represents the front lines in the battle for uniformity of morality. Specifically, the so called “culture of life” was dealt a blow by courts at all levels, from the lowest to the highest.

The “sanctity of life” has become a rallying cry for social conservatives throughout the country. Matthew J. Franck, a professor and chairman of political science at Radford University, wrote an article for NRO in which his passionate pro-life position was unmistakable. Franck cites the Cruzan case of 1990, that adjudicated a “right to die” for one in a PVS.
In short, Rehnquist's preposterously invented "right" was the Court's way of blessing a practice called "substituted judgment": the process, varying from state to state, by which parents, spouses, or other close kin establish to a court's satisfaction either that when the patient was competent, he did express a desire not to live as an otherwise healthy incompetent, or (in states a bit more lax) that if he had thought about it when he was competent, it would have been his desire not so to live.

Justice Antonin Scalia concurred in the Cruzan decision, because the result was rightly to uphold the state's power to set standards for patient care and to regulate the decision to die. But he plainly stated his divergence from Rehnquist's opinion for the Court when he wrote separately to remind us that, traditionally, "American law ha[d] always accorded the State the power to prevent, by force if necessary, suicide — including suicide by refusing to take appropriate measures necessary to preserve one's life." In the tradition the Court was unraveling that day, Scalia noted, it was fully within the power of the state to prevent suicide or assisted suicide, even by the supposedly "passive" step of refusing or withdrawing necessary sustenance, and "even when it is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that a patient no longer wishes certain measures to be taken to preserve his or her life." Of course, Scalia conceded, it is within the state's power to offer less protection than that to human life — as Missouri did in the laws the Court upheld that day — but he wrote to defend the power of the state to protect innocent human life completely, unfettered by any claims of constitutional "rights" or "liberty interests" to kill yourself by refusing nutrition and hydration.

In similar demagogic fashion, Cal Thomas, an unapologetic Christian columnist, suggested that
No life is safe because every life now depends on the whims, desires, comfort level and pleasure of others. From an "endowed" right to life, we have quickly moved to a court-imputed right to die. Increasingly we do not speak of life at all, but death. America truly is, as the suffering Pope John Paul II has described it, a "culture of death."

So far, I’ve presented only the “academic” pro-life perspective. For many of this persuasion, the Bible, pure and simple, informs their thinking. Assuming that rank and file pro-lifers sincerely hold such views to be self-evident, I would like to challenge the basic premise: that life is valuable in and of it’self and ought to be protected without question. Moreover, the intrinsic value of life supercedes even the one that owns said life. Such would also apply to the life support system for an unborn fetus, namely its mother.

In that I have a working knowledge of the Bible, I will attempt to use scripture to counter the foundational claims of those for whom life is an end in and of itself.

There are 66 total “books” in the Christian Bible-39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament. This is a comprehensive volume to be sure, so I’ll not recite every relevant passage. I will however, select one potent bit from each section.

First, from the older, which is well known for God’s dispensing of punishment for iniquity. But there’s the unique account of Job, about whom God declared “that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Such a claim has not been attributed to Mrs. Schiavo, saintly though she may have been. Back to Job. The aforementioned conversation purportedly takes place between God and Satan, no less. Even a cursory reading of his trials reveals that God “sacrificed” his children, his servants, his cattle and indeed all of his possessions. To add insult to injury, his wife and his closest friends heaped criticism upon him, as though he had somehow earned such treatment. Oh, and there were those painful “boils” that afflicted his skin. The end of the tale shows that “life” was subordinate to the larger plan of the creator of it.

Now a portion from the newer testament. Paul, the Apostle that is reputed to have penned 2/3 of the New Testament, wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth, concerning the importance of terrestrial existence: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:6-8).

The question to the house is: why do “Christians” maintain that mortal life is the most valuable aspect of existence, when the Bible clearly teaches the opposite?

Some will point to Levitical Law in general and the 6th Commandment (murder not) in particular. To this I say that the failure to act (provide sustenance) cannot be reasonably construed as an action. There is no such commandment that demands the force feeding of one that is incapable of swallowing. Note that while “feeding tubes” and respirators were nonexistent in ancient times, God’s power to resurrect was…according to Biblical accounts.

The open secret really, is about abortion. Those opposed to euthanasia invariably say that it is a byproduct of Roe vs. Wade. If one were to remove the emotional component and look at the facts dispassionately, perhaps there would be less tension. Many cite the innocent nature of the “unborn” as a justification to ban all abortion. Again, the Bible contains an example of God’s dealings with innocents. [He] made a distinction between Hebrew children and the first born of Egypt on the night of Passover. Untold thousands of kids were slaughtered by the “death angel” that passed over Moses’ people (Exodus 11). Whatever Pharaoh may have been guilty of, the children had no part of it. The fact is that
God’s plan took precedence over “human life”.

In glaring contrast, pro-lifers by-and-large support the “death penalty” for those that are considered “guilty”. Quite simply, the justification for such a position flows from Levitical Law. “…you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-24). Fairly straight forward huh?...not exactly. With the death and resurrection of Christ, came a paradigm shift. The New Testament reveals that Christ fulfilled the requirements of the Law. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us (for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Galatians 3:13). Therefore, the law is of no effect for Christians.

Finally, the case for liberty can also be made without respect for mysticism. The life of an individual, for practical purposes, is the sole property of it’s occupier. Thus, our constitutions (state and federal) are drafted with the individual and his/her life in mind. The claim that the nebulous concept of life trumps the individuals mind (i.e. consciousness) is asinine. A body without a cognitive faculty is nothing but carbon based tissue. If this is true (and I believe it is), then not only may one choose the time and place of expiration, but a woman is justified in terminating a pregnancy before such time as the fetus is capable of self-sustaining existence. This may well offend the moral sensibilities of some, but I would suggest that [they] bear in mind that not everyone excepts a universal code of morality. Furthermore, imagine the magnitude of offense, in the event that a theocratic government were established that is contrary to your deeply held beliefs…this is how one feels that does not share yours.