Monday, March 21, 2005

How dare you, Joe?

“Regardless of what you think of this case,” intoned Congressman turned pundit Joe Scarborough, “the husband has behaved in a deplorable manner.”

I have read the Supreme Court brief filed by the parents of Terri Shiavo. I am not sure what I think of the case. That brief makes a compelling argument that modern testing has been foregone and that the presumption of the medical diagnosis that has prevailed may be in error. Of course, this is based on a brief for the parents, and does not present the alternative perspective. The perspective that apparently has convinced one court after another along the way for years.

The current period of political warfare and fractious public discourse is characterized by an inability to agree on the facts before the screaming starts. On any given issue, little effort is made to recite and agree upon a given set of facts before proceeding down the familiar path of charge and counter-charge, personal attacks and righteous declarations. This has never struck me as clearly as today, when a woman’s life is at question, and due to whatever ill-conceived set of circumstances, the nation has been drawn into one family’s tragedy.

All of us in our lives have dealt with or will deal with a circumstance of terminal illness of a dying friend or family member. All of us in our lives have had to face or will have to face the terrible decisions that arise in those situations. All of us in our lives know or will come to know the terrible pain, guilt and anger that such events inflict upon the survivors as well as the injured or dying. The dignity and respect with which we deal with death––our own and that of our loved ones––is one of the greatest challenges we face in our lives.

I remember as if it was yesterday sitting in my grandmother’s bedroom in New York City. She was sitting up in a chair, her body ravaged by cancer, knowing that she had lived a full life and not wanting to let it go on any farther. “David,” she implored, her voice weak but clear, “Why can’t you just give me a pill? Please, would you do that for me?” I felt impotent, sitting there. This woman whom I loved and who had always loved me back knew that her time was over. She was content and clear in her wishes. Could I not just do this one thing for her?

Some years later, as my mother was dying of cancer, I spent days with her in the hospital. Unlike her mother, she was content to live through the chemotherapy and spend the time that she could just talking, or listening. Her friends and family gathered around her during those last days, and it was a magical time of connection and connectedness. I have seen little of her friends since those weeks, but the connections from that time remain.

How dare they turn this one family’s tragedy into a public spectacle? How dare those politicians in Washington presume that through their actions they are acting in the public interest rather than in their incessant warring seeking just one more wedge to divide us from ourselves. This story is not about a culture of life, it is about a culture at war with itself. It is not about the sanctity of God’s gift of life, for if it were these self-same politicians would be rising in rage at a child dying in a Texas hospital whose families can no longer afford to pay, or the impending execution of an inmate at a Texas prison. But they do not.

How dare you, Joe, for your ratings and sense of your own righteousness, bring this family tragedy out into the public square and deem yourself fit to pronounce judgment?

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