Before getting to the heart of this posting, I want to be specific about my audience. This posting was written with those of like faith in mind. If you do not share the same foundation of spiritual belief that I embrace, this posting will not be relevant to your heart as it is the foundation from which I will share my thoughts.
Yesterday Tanner and I were sitting on the couch and he said, “Mommy? What you and daddy talkin?”
“What do you mean? You want to know what Daddy and I were talking about? When?” I replied.
“In da kitchen.” he said.
Hmmmm….that’s interesting. My three old was listening to the passionate discussion Jim and I were having over Terri Schiavo and wanted to understand what the root of our conversation was. Have to be careful about what we say in front of our little man.
Here is basically what I explained to my three year old son:
Daddy and Mommy are very sad right now. Do you remember when Ty was a tiny baby and he had the yellow tube down his nose that we had to feed him with? He was not getting enough milk in his bottle and wasn’t quite ready to eat yet so we had to force milk into his tummy by feeding him over a pump. Remember that? (He did). What would have happened to our baby if mommy and daddy would have pulled his feeding tube and not fed him? He would have died. There are some people that pulled a feeding tube out of a lady because she is hurt and now she is starving and very thirsty and is going to die and Daddy and I are angry that people are doing that to her.
I found it was very simple explaining this to a child. A child would never question the fact that starving someone is wrong. That is an obvious point.
As my audience knows, the issues that I feel passionate about, I pay attention to. I read articles, listen to radio, watch CNN, do web research etc. Partly because I want to understand and partly because I care.
In doing these things it is becoming very clear to me (and many others) that this controversary goes way beyond Terri’s fight. It is about the right to life and the right to die.
Often, I discuss these topics from a humanitarian, scientific, and general ethics standpoint and don’t dive too deeply into the spiritual side. The spiritual side of these debates is often quite obvious so there is no need to explain it to those of like faith. To those of unlike faith, Christian beliefs are irrelevant. HOWEVER, when discussing “right to die”, I am finding that many of my own circle of loved one’s who SHARE my faith have a split in the camp and I know this is nation wide. For this reason, I am going to center in on the spiritual nature of this argument.
Often, we as Christians, are so inundated with secular philosophy that we don’t even realize that we have embraced ideologies that run very contrary to God’s laws. From a spiritual perspective, when is it okay to “allow” someone to die? There are two portions of this question I want to address.
First, there is an enormous difference between allowing someone to die and causing their death. In the Terri Schiavo case it is PARAMOUNT to direct attention to this point. Terri WAS NOT dying! NOR were there extraordinary means taken to keep her alive. In fact, quite the opposite. I believe we would call it abusive to keep a patient in a room, limit visitation, and ensure that NO therapies are given for FIFTEEN YEARS!!!! What kind of condition would any disabled person be in without rehabilitation? Terri was in a state of living. Her journey towards death began last Friday when our nation’s legal system upheld decisions to starve her. Additionally, a feeding tube is not an extradordinary and heroic level of medical intervention. It in no way constitutes life support. Ty on the other hand WAS on full life support. Nearly every aspect of Ty’s system was kept alive by intervention. He couldn’t regulate his own body temperature, his skin was so thin you could barely touch it so it had to be protected, he couldn’t breathe on his own, his blood pressure was controlled his sodium and potassium levels were controlled his iron levels were controlled, he required many blood transfusions. To be honest, feeding was a rather insignificant point in all of this. I asked the Dr.s to teach me how to insert his NG tube just so that we could take him home last April. We used a feeding pump at home for his first month and realized the possibility that feeding Ty by tube could be permanent. Their are many micro preemies who end up on G-Tubes. (NG is temporary tube down the nose – G Tube is more permanent through the stomach).
In this country, Physician Assistant Suicide is illegal in most states (though I think Oregon may allow a form of it…not sure there). Why do most states not support it? Because it CAUSES a person’s death. Removing the feeding tube from Terri is absolutely and unquestionably the CAUSE of her death. Why then, was this allowed? Very fuzzy law attempting to define feeding tube as full life support. While this may have confused many in this country, it did NOT confuse those of us who have fed our children over pumps!
This leads to my second point of emphasis. The issue is not really about “allowing someone to die gracefully” because, again, Terri was not dying. The issue is value of life and if anyone (including the affected individual) has a right to death. Here is where things get sticky and we have to approach these discussions with GREAT care and concern. The issue of “quality of life” and “life of value” and “right of life” all have a common root. Is the life of a human individual created by God EVER of little to no value? Ever????? Do we even have to guess at God’s answer folks?
The next argument of course is “If we are taking extraordinary means to intervene with life, are we interrupting God’s plan?”. This question has many levels.
On a broad level, most of us would answer no. If my child had terminal cancer and I refused treatment for him when treatment was available, in all likelihood, I would be forced by the state to submit my child to treatment. This is because the vast majority of us believe that God has given the benefit of medicine to us as a gift.
Let’s discuss the individual who is indeed in a state of death and dying and is on absolute and FULL life support. There are many questions to be asked here. Is there ANY consciousness? Any? Any whatsoever? Second, is there ANY hope of improvement? Improvement defined of person not remaining in a state of death and dying not improvement defined as quality of life as that is too subjective. Is everyone in agreement that everything that could have medically been done has been done and the individual has no fight left? Are we in constant battle to keep them alive when God has put them in a state of dying?
In Ty’s case here were the facts that we had to evaluate:
1. He was on full life support and was having death and dying episodes
2. There were HUGE questions about his future quality of life due to his bilateral hemorrhages
Would we have had a “legal” case to defend ending his life support? Technically yes.
Would we have had a “moral” case to defend this? I strongly believe NO.
Here is what Ty had going for him. He was a fighter. Yes he had death and dying episodes but he did NOT die. He lived. Irregardless of our medical intervention it is not possible to thwart God’s plan’s. If He would have called Ty home, that would have been the end of it and no amount of life support would have made a difference. As I have stated before, I saw this scenario up close and personal and there were a few moments when I thought God was going to take our baby despite our best human efforts to save him.
Ty did have GREAT potential for disability. The range was broad from mild to incredibly severe. PVL alone gives him a 60% chance of CP. CP can be devastating and the end result can be a PVS state (as Dr.s “claim” Terri is in). Ty also had potential to have a healthy and full life. There was not ever a Dr. (nor would there have been) who could have told us what Ty’s future looked like. No one knew. No one knows now though Ty is telling us he is going to get through this beyond anyone’s expectations.
Imagine if we would have fought a legal battle believing Ty would end up in the severest of all situations? What do you think our son would say to that? And he most definitely WILL be able to respond to this question because Ty is QUITE cognizant.
Now we step up another level.
What if we knew beyond shadow of doubt that Ty WOULD live in a state of PVS. Does that then give us the right to terminate. Would Ty have the right to die had he signed consent?
A few years ago I knew a family that experienced a horrible tragedy. Their son was critically injured as a teenager and was rendered a quadriplegic on life support. Eventually he was able to leave the hospital and live at home with his family. He was in a wheel chair and could not breathe on his own or speak. He was totally cognizant though. Very much like Christopher Reeves. This young teenager, battling depression decided to end his suffering and he had state support to do that. With his family gathered around him, they removed his life support and watched as he suffocated. This was a TERRIBLE situation for all involved. My heart grieved for them. My heart also grieved for him. HE had decided his life had no value. HE decided he was unwilling to live life disabled irregardless of his conscious state.
While I strongly oppose the embryonic stem cell battle that Christopher Reeves chose to support, I do applaud Christopher Reeves for realizing his value and continuing to contribute to society and his family despite a severe disability.
When it comes down to it though, the significance and value we place on ourselves is not what is of key relevance. The value that God puts on each of our lives is supremely significant. I find no where in scripture that God allows us to end our lives prematurely based on our own opinion of our value and worth, nor the amount of suffering we are willing to endure. I can imagine many scenarios in my own life where it would be tempting to say “No I would not want to live like that”. Joni Erickson Tada did. She begged her sister in the hospital to help her commit suicide. She didn’t want to live a quadriplegic and be a burden on her family and society. Thankfully, her sister would not support her in this. The result? Joni is a profound spokeswoman for the disabled but more so an awesome testimony to the sovereignty of God and she gives all glory to Him. I can’t wait to meet her in heaven someday and to see her walk but I personally will thank the Lord for “diminishing” her quality of life because she has made a difference in my life and countless others and we will be different throughout eternity because of things we learned from her. That counts! That counts huge!
And what if a person is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS)? What if they are not dying but they are not conscious either? If you have to CAUSE their death in order to “release” them, than you have to question who gave you the authority to do so. If God wanted to take the individual he would have.
Here is where the question of compassion comes in. I get many ugly labels for my stance on this subject. My first priority is to honor God though and causing the death of the innocent does not honor God. Ever. It is not my choice to make. Do I feel compassionate on those who are living in this state? Of course I do. I don’t know what God’s reasons are for allowing it though so who am I to intercede? Occasionally God does give little glimpses of the “why’s” even when we don’t have full knowledge. On this subject I can think of a list of possibilities. To name a few:
1. Medical professionals often get it wrong. Case in point. Nurse told me she did not have expectations of a good potential outcome for Ty. She was wrong. How many stories like this could we list? Countless.
2. Sometimes when people suffer it makes PROFOUND significance in the life of someone else. I have known families to care for severely disabled children. Those children may not have been aware of the impact upon their families but their families were irrevocably changed because of them. Some of the most loving caring and most compassionate people you would ever want to meet came by these traits through suffering…and often watching someone they love suffer.
3. Miracles do happen.
4. As a sub point to my first one, Heidi has told me about a situation of someone she knew that was in a state believed to be (or similar to) PVS. All involved believed the individual was not cognizant and could not respond. Heidi’s aunt intervened and began to sit with this individual, read to him, pray with him , and sing to him. After a lengthy period of time, this individual began to communicate with her using his hands. He would squeeze her hands to answer questions. Before he died, he accepted Christ as his savior through non verbal conversation. IF THAT ISN’T A REASON TO GIVE SOMEONE EVERY LAST CHANCE I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS???!!!
If you claim to be a follower of Christ and you read this and you think I am way off base, I would encourage you to study what other trusted leaders of our faith say to these matters. Billy Graham? James Dobson? Pat Roberts? Charles Stanley? John MacCarther? John Piper? Randy Alcorn? Rick Warren? My list would be lengthy. I will tell you that from what I have read, the large majority of Christian leaders support all that I have just written. In regards tot he Terri S. case, I have not yet seen any fundamental Christian leaders support this execution. I also thought it was interesting to read that Joni Erickson (on Larry King last night), sited 26 different US disabilities organizations ALL backing Terri. That alone say’s something.
My purpose in writing this to you is to challenge you. If you have embraced pop culture philosophy when it comes to embracing the truth of right to life and right to die issues, I would encourage you to dig deeper. First, ask the Lord! Ask Him to lead you to His truth on this subject. Study what known and respected leaders believe and how they biblically support their beliefs. I’ll do more research and provide links to reputable Christian sites that discuss these issues to help you form your own opinion.
This is an incredibly important topic. If we say that preborn babies have no value and we allow them to be executed, and then we say those that are sick have the right to die, if husbands can abandon their wives – ensure they get no rehabilitation and then remove their feeding tubes, if parents can remove the feeding tubes of down syndrome babies (yes that has happened many times) and then we attempt to determine what quality of life is and what value of life is, we will start a blood bath like we have never seen. You think I am being dramatic? Wonder what our fore fathers would think of what we have already done? Determining value of life is only the next step and it is an easy step to take once we are killing off people who WERE NOT DYING. Ultimately, no group will be left untouched. America has enough blood of the innocent on her hands – what will it take for us to embrace a culture of life?