Dignity

It’s strange that Terry Schiavo and Pope John Paul II’s last days are so close together with the Catholic church so often at the forefront of the battle against euthanasia, with the Pope having his own feeding tube inserted in those last days. There are a lot of things I could say about the issues surrounding the Schiavo case– how it’s interesting that we are so quick to perform all life-promoting, life-saving and life-sustaining measures, but we’re always so afraid of facilitating death even a little bit, even if it may be the most humane choice. Even with millions of orphaned children out there in the world, we’ll pump women full of fertility drugs and implant test tube babies, but when she ends up becoming pregnant with eight babies, none of whom will most likely survive to full term, no one is willing to abort any of the embryos, babies, or whatever you would prefer to call them. They say that that they’re leaving it nature, to “God’s plan.” Well, if you had left it to nature, you wouldn’t have been able to have children at all. Situational ethics don’t always make sense.

The religious community is always at the forefront of these battles against euthanasia, but shouldn’t they be the least afraid of death? That after having lived a good life, after having exhausted what medical technology has to offer, after having hoped for a miracle, when it’s clear that it’s the end, shouldn’t those in the religious community be the most ready to face death, to move on to the next life, the better life? I know that I have been experiencing somewhat of a crisis of faith since high school, but I still believe in God, a God that is kind and merciful and wants to do good things and make the right choices when we can. And I always find it hard to believe that if God has given us so much human ingenuity, talent, intellect and even opportunity to do some of the great things medicine can do to save lives, why wouldn’t he give us the power to ease suffering and facilitate death when necessary?

To be honest, for me, if I’m in a persistent vegitative state for an extremely long period of time, especially if the only thing I can feel is pain, please just let me go because I can’t imagine wanting to be kept alive on a respirator or with a feeding tube for 15, 20 years, silently waiting for the next infection, the next stroke, for my bones to deteriorate, my muscles to atrophy. Let’s say Terry Schiavo really did have basic thoughts and emotions– what would they be? Was she glad that they went all the way to Congress with the fight to keep her alive? Or was she pained by constantly having her sickly image shown broadcast, non-stop, all over television and the Internet? Or was she pained by having to watch her parents struggle and mourn her condition day in and day out? Was she wishing her parents would let her go in peace and if not an afterlife, at least relief from this life?

There are a lot of people who want to give definitive answers to these questions, but to be honest, I don’t really know either. I know what I would want to happen if it were me and I’ll take the necessary steps to make sure my wishes will be known and followed. What other people choose to do is their choice and each unto him and although the law is clear, I don’t know any better than the next person whether Michael Schiavo or the Schindlers were in the right. My only issue with everything is how we have made such a circus out of the suffering of this poor woman. That Congress convenes to vote over the fate of one women who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years while more and more American lives are being lost overseas is unbelievable to me. And even in her death, she is granted little peace or dignity as the feud continues over her cremation, her autopsy, and her funeral.

And while the Pope was not kept alive for over a decade through medical devices, certainly we could have done more to give him some dignity in his last days? As local news broadcasts gave regular updates on the Pope’s health, just skimming the surface of being called “Pope Watch,” I kept wondering why we seem to revel in his suffering. I’m not saying we enjoyed his suffering, that we wanted his suffering, but what is wrong with us that we peer in with such a twisted, morbid curiosity, like watching a car accident on the side of the road? Despite all of the Catholic Church’s problems, no one can deny the great works the Pope and the Church have been able to do. They go places no one wants to go and they do work that no one else wants to do. So, why couldn’t we give him some respect during his last days, to die in more peace and more dignity than we did? What did we think we would accomplish by watching his every failing breath? The greatest tribute we could have given the Pope would have been to follow his humanitarian example and devote even a portion of our days to helping the suffering of others. We fixate on the suffering of the famous, whether celebrity or religious or political leader, but we fail to acknowledge the suffering of the millions around the world who we can help if only we were to look at them with the same interest. Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from having watched Terry Schiavo and the Pope’s last days broadcast on television, day in and day out, is that while they may not have been able to be helped during their last days, maybe there are others we could help and the greatest tribute to the sanctity of human life is to value our own days here as an opportunity to make the most of them by devoting them to promoting life and the quality of life for those in need.