They've made their cultural casket. Now they will die in it.
AS GOOD FRIDAY APPROACHES THE DEATH OF TERRI SCHIAVO is now only a matter of time but not of chance. Death is, for most of us, a matter of time and chance. But this death has, as all know, nothing of chance in it. It is something chosen for her by a husband and a legion of judges. They have all had their say. They have given or read depositions and testimony. They have looked at and argued the law. They have rendered and affirmed their decisions. This week they will all have their way with her.
At this point, watching the slow killing of her has become nearly as disgusting and excruciating as listening to those who are rooting for it with increasing bluntness. This sentiment from the always crass Chris Matthews is one of the "milder" versions: "The "her" in her, the personality, is basically an ink-well. It's basically a bottle of ink now.... " Elsewhere, commentators of all kinds have been at odds to stress "What a tragic and sad thing this is... I do so feel for the parents..." before launching into another report or an interview with another death expert that all comes down, in the end, to, "Kill her."
It matters little that, as we are constantly reminded by the statisticians of death, "this sort of thing goes on all the time." By dint of circumstance, this one death of this one woman has become other than a statistic -- it has become specific, up-close, and personal. Because of this specificity, because a "procedure" common to our culture has taken a name and a face, it has also become mythic. And faced with the brute power of myth and the meaning it contains, it is little wonder that most of us would choose to turn away; to examine the parochial and dismiss the profound. We will, it seems, always prefer the shallows to the depths.
In a time more in touch with the profound and the eternal, this entire episode would resolve itself as "Death triumphant. Love minus zero." But we are a silly and trivial people who seldom see beyond the pragmatic. Instead, as I glance about the media and the web, I see only two really trivial lessons that most people want you to know and to take away with you.
The first silly, gibbering lesson repeated ad nauseum is "My goodness, everybody get a living will now!" The more sophisticated version of this hoary chestnut is "Get really smart and get a durable power of attorney."
What a small and puerile insight this is. Is it really that obscure to people with a modicum of awareness that these are documents that all should have? The Euthanasia Party of America has been pushing this via the medical and legal 'professions' for well over a decade. After all, these documents make it much easier for you to be killed under the proper circumstances. You've a right to do this and, yes, you should. So what?
Anyone who has missed this fortnight's "urgent" lesson must have been in something like a coma for more than ten years. Who could that possibly be? Why, those unfortunates would have to rely on the testimony of, well, their husbands to make their will known. And that, as we have seen, makes killing them much more time consuming and expensive. It also brings the death machine's unremitting effort to kill them out of the hospices into the light. The death machine does not like the light, so its operators and acolytes repeat the need to fill out and notarize all the right forms that the death factories can function more smoothly without all these irritating protesters.
With this dinky "lesson" we move from a culture that holds "If it saves one life, it's worth it." (There's an expression you don't hear enough as a justification for expending limitless time and money.), to a culture of "If it makes it easier to kill one person, it's worth it." Live it, learn it, love it.
The second small and puerile lesson we learn from the endless line of law chanters who otherwise "have no opinion," is: "The Republicans really overstepped themselves this time. States rights! Bad law! Pure political grandstanding! Congress very bad. Courts very good. Just look at the HYPOCRISY!"
This is the spiel that comes right after the Standard Disclaimer, "I deeply sympathize with the family's pain...." and then is underscored by experts and citations until one is so numbed one is supposed to forget that, yes, politicians who hold power are at times inclined to use it -- for good purposes or simply to pander to those who gave them power.
For political junkies this is evidently really new news and their lesson is: "Don't let the will of Congress, mere representatives of the people, subvert the Founders' Intent as clearly expressed in the Constitution. The subversion of the Founders' Intent is a power expressly reserved for the courts." I note that all levels of the Federal court system were not slow in reminding Congress that the will of the courts now trumps the will of the people: "Silly Congress. Rights are for courts."
Fifteen years, endless litigation, national upheaval -- all combine to the bottom line of "Fill out the forms. Congress acts politically. Trust the court system. Die quietly."
You must excuse me if I find that this series of dull bromides from dead souls misses the meaning here by more than a country mile. And while the poet notes that "We had the experience but missed the meaning," the same poet also notes that "Human kind cannot bear / Very much reality." And the reality of the Schiavo Passion Play this Eastertide is very difficult to bear.
To me the lessons that should arise in our souls out of this sorry spectacle are twofold.
The first is that, more clearly than any moment I can recall, this case calls up the ancient demand of Deuteronomy:
"I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.... [Deuteronomy 30:19-20]. "
As a country we have, in this case, chosen death.
All our legal institutions have chosen death. The husband has chosen death. His lawyers have a long history of choosing death. The judge chose death and all the judges above the judge have now affirmed death. Death is where all our laws and all our "justices" have taken us.
If we are to believe the polls, our fellow citizens have chosen death in approximately the same numbers that chose John Kerry last November. Many of those citizens have in their lives, when confronted with an inconvenient life, chosen death before. This was not a hard choice since a culture which makes it a right to throw away new life has little trouble choosing slow death over disablement once it gets used to the notion. And there are large sectors of our culture who are very used to the notion. There are now large numbers of people among us who believe that whenever it is unknown whether or not a person would elect to die under certain conditions, the default state should be to kill them. Such is their cold choice.
Implicit in the imprecation of Deuteronomy above is the cost of choosing death over life; that your seed will not live. And, as we have seen, the seed of those among us who have chosen death across the decades is, in absolute numbers, declining. Given this disturbing demographic trend, I look for a movement among the willfully childless members of the American Death Trip to make the vote available to their cats or their dogs or whatever else is currently in vogue as a child substitute among them. After all, why shouldn't a family formed of a couple and a couple of pets have the same voting power as a family of four? How else can the continuity of death policies be assured?
The second lesson of Terri Schiavo is that, in this instance, the country has chosen evil over good, law over love.
It is well understood, though usually unmentionable, that in a society which has turned its morality over to lawyers, and made as many misdemeanors into felonies as it can find, the system churns out decisions every day that, while legal, are evil. In a society where secular law determines "right," and justice is often obtained with fees and remissions, evil outcomes are not only unavoidable, but desirable. Religious symbols such as The Ten Commandments lurking about the courts and the legislatures only serve to shame the legions of lawyers and judges, and hence must be expunged in order that evil can be forever hidden beneath the grimy robes of what is "legal."
Last week, Peggy Noonan wisely asked about the Shiavo case: "What good will come from killing her?" There has been no good answer to that question because there can be no good answer. The answer given this week by our society and our system is, "So that the law and evil and death can triumph over love and over life; that our will and not Thine be done."
One could say that God will punish those among us who created and who revel in this answer, but -- as I have noted elsewhere -- He already has. They've made their cultural casket. Now they will die in it.Posted by Vanderleun at March 24, 2005 10:46 AM | TrackBack