Friday, March 25, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Kill and Technology

The Terri Schiavo case has been dominating the news here in this country, perhaps even in the world. I find these emotional flash topics to be interesting. And it is a good thing that people are filling out a living will. It is also good to reflect on these ethical issues. What upsets me the most about this is the typical religious response that cites the Decalogue, which in King James English translates "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Most of the signs spell "Thou" or "Shalt" wrong, but aside from that, this command has nothing to do with euthanasia, capital punishment, or even abortion. It simply prohibits the premeditated murder of another human being (after birth). The Israelites practiced capital punishment, euthanasia, even child sacrifice. Several people in the Bible commit suicide. Perhaps the most relevant biblical case to Terri Schiavo is Abimelek, the guy in Judges 9 who is mortally wounded and asks his armor bearer to kill him (verse 54). While Abimelek is by no means a hero, he is purposefully put to death in a form of euthanasia. But what complicates the matter in the Terri Schiavo case is technology. If she lived in biblical times she would have died 15 years ago when she entered the persistent vegetative state. There were no feeding tubes, no artificial breathing machines. People in her state would have died naturally, albeit without the comforts of hospice and pain killers.

So, why doesn't the husband divorce her and give the burden of care to her eager parents? From what I’ve read, it's because he loves her too much. In an earlier court proceeding the parents were asked at what point they would stop this artificial living. They said if she suffered diabetes and had to lose all four limbs they would keep her alive. They said that if her heart quit they would opt for an artificial one to keep her physically alive. At that point the husband decided that he would fight for her right to end her life. It reminds me of Robocop in many ways. Where do we draw the line between life and death?

Three more points that I find relevant but neglected:
Bush is hypocritical in his making this a political issue, as when he governed Texas, he signed the 1999 Advance Directives Act which not only gave the right to choose death over life to the spouse or primary caretaker, but also to medical experts. That is to say, if the Schiavos lived in Texas, she would have been dead 15 years ago. More important, the Republican agenda is fighting so hard to cut Medicare by billions and to limit big financial rewards in medical malpractice lawsuits. Terri Schiavo, the poster child for Republicans and the upcoming battle over abortion/pro-choice, was kept alive to this point only with huge Medicare and a $750,000 reward from a medical malpractice suit. How can politicians fight so hard for this one woman while at the same time arguing for legislation that will harm, impoverish, and even kill hundreds of thousands? We need a biblical judge to open up a big can of whoop ass on these oppressors.

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