Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Of St. Benjamin and Terri Schiavo

Today is the feast of St. Benjamin, a deacon during the persecutions of the Christians in Persia during the 5th century. His was a most horrible death; one he endured because of his refusal to accept the terms of his arranged release from prison. The terms were that he should know his freedom if he were to never preach about Christ again. St. Benjamin, although he understood it meant certain death for him, continued to preach, calling it his duty.

A friend sent me an article this morning from the Washington Times written by Cathy Ruse of the Family Research Council. The article was about Terri Schiavo. She died five years ago today, during Holy Week, a most horrible death. She was refused nutrition and hydration for two weeks. Terri had committed no crime, but was sentenced to death as a convenience to a husband, and a society, who no longer wished to care for her or recognize the value of her life. And, unfortunately for Terri, and unlike St. Benjamin, no one was able to negotiate even untenable terms for her release. Her parents fought valiantly in the courts to save her, but the "right to die" agenda fostered by radical individualism was too stalwart a barrier to breech. Terri had to die to bring to light an example of the lowest, basest human cruelty in the mistaken name of mercy.

One of the primary arguments for the removal of Terri's feeding and hydration tubes was based on her quality of life. Terri was unable to feed, drink, perform personal hygiene, talk, etc. on her own. I remember thinking at the time, regarding this logic, that babies must have absolutely no quality of life! Other people do all those things for those precious little lives, and do them joyfully in most cases. In Terri's case, her family was willing to re-establish guardianship to continue caring for their baby, literally, freeing Mr. Schiavo to go an do what he pleased, when he pleased, with whomever he pleased. Yet, the court found that they couldn't honor the request for life. Legally, they deemed that Mr. Schiavo's request for death was more relevant and merciful. Imagine if appealing to the mercy of the court has become a request for the death sentence! That's frightening!

Really, what was in question in Terri's case was the willingness of others to sacrifice to preserve a life that had taken on a new quality -- a quality of helplessness, of surrender. What was missing was the selflessness of her caregiver, of the courts to render a verdict that would allow another to sacrifice and care for her, of the society to reject such heinous conditions for her death, etc. When Terri was sentenced to die for no crime other than needing to be loved and cared for, the worst and basest reality of modern American society was shown to the world. And, shamefully, many in the world agreed with it. What a tragedy!

We have much to pray about and consider in the coming weeks and months with regard to the trajectory on which our medical and judicial systems are traveling. Terri's situation happened during a time when one had the opportunity to make these decisions based on conscience and ability to pay, either through insurance premiums or privately. We are now headed toward a system that will take those critical decisions away from the individual and place them in the hands of others -- reminiscent of a court decision. We could all succumb to a Terri Schiavo type scenario at some point in our own lives or the lives of loved ones. Can we accept this possibility in light of what is to come?

Conscience must prevail -- reforming the system to respect conscience and the natural law is of dire necessity. Caring for one's neighbor is a command of Christ, not a suggestion. But, we do our neighbor a serious injustice if we confuse radical individualism with care. Suicide, euthanasia, these are not acceptable choices with regard to human dignity. Life is precious, suffering has a redemptive component. If this is not clear in Holy Week, if Terri's death was not symbolic of the martyrs, then all hope is lost. We know this not to be true, because the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Where there are two or more gathered in His name, there is He in our midst. And, as long as there is a Eucharist, we are assured of His presence among us.

The Lord is providing a vivid opportunity for all of us to repent of these atrocities we have complacently watched creep up to strangle our human decency and compassion. It is time to renew our efforts in prayer and action to bring about peaceful change for a renewal of growth in virtue -- first in ourselves, then in the world around us.

For Terri and for her family, we offer prayers of hope and of thanksgiving for a life lived well and a battle fought courageously. She and her family are an example to each of us of the value of every life given by Our Creator. St. Benjamin, pray for us!


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