Terri Schiavo’s deadline

Today is March 18, the date on which Florida judge Greer said that Michael Schiavo could remove the feeding tube from his wife, Terri, so that she might begin to die of starvation.

I’ll link here to a summary by Jeremy Lott of Get Religion, because he frames this as another example of “judicial usurpation” of the authority that rightly belongs to the legislatures, and the people.

If the courts are prepared to sanction murder by starvation as a remedy for irreversible medical conditions, and it appears that they are, will Terri’s case serve as a precedent that starts us applying the same standard and “cure” to other chronically ill people?

Update: Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed this afternoon by court order. All Things 2 All has updated information.

Also, Joe Carter has an interesting post at Evangelical Outpost on the question, When is it right for citizens to disobey the law? He suggests that one option (not taken in this case) is to simply refuse to carry out the lawful but immoral order of the courts to remove Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. What do you think?

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  1. Charlie Morriss says

    The Schiavo case seems to hinge on the moral issue of whether disconnecting her life support (or keeping her connected) is moral. Consider the Euthyphro Dilemma. Our western civilization began working on the Schiavo case 3500 years ago, well before Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and all the other religions of Western society.

    First, some background. Socrates is in jail “for corrupting the youth” and his cellmate is a young man named Euthyphro. Euthyphro’s father took justice into his own hands and murdered a family slave who had murdered a fellow slave. Euthyphro brought charges of murder against his father for the killing, and bringing charges against one’s father was considered an offense punishable by death. Therefore, Euthyphro was set to be punished for doing what he thought was justice.

    In the Euthyphro, Socrates asks the young man questions about justice:

    (1.) Is a thing is moral because it is pleasing to the gods, or…

    (2.) is it pleasing to the gods because it is moral?

    The dilemma posits that, if a thing is moral because it is pleasing to your God, then whatever you believe your God urges you to do is (or could be) arbitrary, and not necessarily the essence of morality, but merely the whim of God. On the other hand,

    if a thing is pleases your God because that thing is inherently moral, then it seems that morality is something that has an essence, or root, somehow outside of your God. If you believe your God is omnipotent, then how could morality exist independent of a God who created everything? Did your God not create morality along with everything else?

    In the case of Terri Schiavo we’re presented with a somewhat similar dilemma: Is it moral to keep her alive because God commands that killing is immoral, or is allowing her to die moral because it is inherently immoral to prolong a life against the forces of nature?

    In the Euthyphro, neither Socrates nor Euthyphro seem to come up with an answer, and in the case of Schiavo, we are unlikely to reach a satisfactory answer either.

    Nature wants Schiavo to die. Without our machines, she will not live. So we must ask the question, is the will of nature the will of God, or is it the will of God that we challenge nature by use of our intellect, which of course created the technology to prolong what appears to be a living thing?

    If nature is the will of God, we must not intervene in Schiavo’s life or death, but if God commands that we not kill, then we cannot disconnect her life support.

    Therefore, the true path we must take in our thinking is not about the morality of prolonging Schiavo’s life or terminating it, but rather we must take the path of an inquiry about the nature of God. We must first determine whether nature reflects the will of God, or whether our conception of what we believe God’s moral commandments to be, is the will of God.

    Nature appears to want Schiavo to pass away. Humankind’s interpretation of what we believe God’s will to be appears to want Schiavo to live. Is nature God’s will or is God’s will what we interpret God’s commandments to be?

    Until we can answer this question, we cannot know which is the moral thing to do. This will likely lead us down the path of moral relativism, but that is fodder for an entirely different post.

    Charlie Morriss

    B.A. Philosophy, 2004

    University of Arizona

  2. Thank you for some excellent observations.

    “Therefore, the true path we must take in our thinking is not about the morality of prolonging Schiavo’s life or terminating it, but rather we must take the path of an inquiry about the nature of God.”

    My own belief is that this sort of ethical dilemma must indeed drive us deeper into a pursuit of who God is and what his moral Truth would have us do in a time when we have become powerful enough to “artificially” extend life, without always knowing just how best to care for this precious gift, or even if we have exceeded our moral authority by doing so.

    Socrate’s dilemma was due in part to the capriciousness of the gods, who were untrustworthy as moral/ethical models. The Christian view is quite different: God is the embodiment, author and archetype of moral truth, and we act morally only to the degree that we act as God would. But we “see through a glass, darkly” as the Apostle Paul said, and are not always certain what God’s moral truth would call us to do, especially as we push the envelope of technology.

    Again, thank you for your comments.

    Go Cats!

  3. “Comments” on “Terri Schiavos deadline” advises us that “western civilization began working on the Schiavo case 3500 years ago, well before Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and all the other religions of Western society”

    Socrates lived from (469-399 BCE). Judaism starts most substantially with Moses and Exodus. 1447 B.C

    That places Judaism’s start some 1000 years before Socrates.

    Josephus answers the Greek antisemites in “Against Apion” (ca 73 ad?)that when the greeks were still wearing animal hides without an alphabet, that his people, the Jews, were already and ancient priestly people.

    Just to set the record straight

    Ty Enright

  4. I believe this question transcends the Terri Schiavo case and opens a pandora’s box of ethical questions.

    Who decides what is immoral? The individual, advocates of one line of thought out of many, the government? What would be the result if everyone with a “belief” decided they had the right to act on their own outside the structure of society?

    Could this line of thought lead to anarchy? If so, what are the consequences of anarchy for both the individual and the society in which that individual lives?

    How far should such action go? What are the limits of lawlessness? Ethical and moral considerations? Who then decides methods of enforcement? Should there be enforcement?

    When does personal opinion supercede the common good of a heterogenous society, a democracy?

    Emotion has a role in our society, but so does critical thinking that isn’t hobbled by agenda.

    May the Lord bless Terri’s soul and heal the rifts of anger and bitterness that poison all of society.