Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A Moral Voice?

Rev. Albert Keller in the Presbyterian Outlook has written a piece about the issues surrounding the death of Terri Shaivo. He urges the church to offer a "moral voice" on death. However, one sentence shouted out at me (emphasis added).
Stewardship: not to use a disproportionate share of common resources to hang on when it is time to lay life down; not to complicate the grief of loved ones with unfinished business; not to leave important medical and legal decisions un-addressed.
I do not hear a "moral voice." In fact, the voice I hear horrifies me. When is it time to "lay life down?" The answer to that question is key. Should patients with Alzheimer disease "lay life down?" Should the mentally handicapped? Should people with Parkinson disease? Sadly the argument about limited resources has been used to justify the extermination of the undesirable. Granted, I have taken these words out of context, and I hope that this is outside of the author’s intent.

Terri Shaivo, according to some, has been dead for fifteen years. They suggest that pulling the feeding tube was the right moral action because the woman was dead already. If Terri Shaivo was truly dead, I would agree. In that case, the cause of death would not be starvation or dehydration. However, the author of the article has not taken this position. In fact, he compares euthanasia with Jesus dying on the cross or Martin Luther King Jr heading to Memphis. Rev. Keller understands each of these as active decisions–"laying done one’s life."

The Church has traditionally made a distinction between suicide and martyrdom. The distinction is not always easily discerned, but it still remains. For example, we generally do not consider the fireman who rushes into a burning building to save others as suicidal. Death in these circumstances is not the objective. Rev. Keller does not even appear to be aware of such distinctions.

Perhaps, Rev. Keller is warning that life itself can become an idol. Perhaps, he’s right. However, I find that "quality of life" is an easier idol. We work, spend, and sacrifice for the sake of a particular quality of life. When that quality becomes elusive, many are willing to sacrifice life itself.

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