First published in October, 2003.
Martyr is a term derived from the Greek (matyria) that means witness. In Christian antiquity martyrs were those who witnessed of a faith in God even unto death. Martyrs witness to a truth that exists beyond space and time, where meaning, values, and purpose have their source and judgment, and where the touchstone between good and evil resides. Martyrs do not kill. Martyrs are killed.
Terri Schiavo, in her courageous struggle against the ministers of death, is a witness for life. The public battle over whether she should live or die is a titan struggle between those who reference that higher truth, and those whose value of human life is determined by temporal expediency. Her mute testimony reveals that the contempt, scorn, even hatred, for human life that her adversaries possess is the soil from which great evil can arise.
"When is that Bitch Gonna Die?"
Wesley Smith, author of "Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Euthanasia" explains the motives behind the efforts to kill Terri by her husband Michael Schiavo. After winning a malpractice suit that would fund care for Terri, Michael banked the money and cut off all rehabilitative therapies. Meanwhile, Michael moved in with another woman and had a child (with another one on the way). Makes you wonder what does Michael's fiancée think might happen to her if she has an accident?
"When is that bitch gonna die?" Michael asked Carla Sauer, the nurse charged with taking care of Terri. Michael will receive the remaining portion of the malpractice settlement when Terri dies. Some of the money has been used to pay his legal expenses. Michael allows no doctor to examine Terri that he has not selected.
Terry Schiavo is not in a coma, not in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), and not dying. She has suffered brain damage that left her severely disabled but alert to her surroundings. She is not supported by oxygen, a ventilator, or other machines. She is fed food and fluids through a tube. (Christopher Reeves can't feed himself -- would anyone say that he should be killed as well?).
Several doctors testified that Terri has the potential for significant improvement if rehabilitative therapies were allowed. Meanwhile her family has promised to care for Terri if Michael relinquishes custody, something he refuses to do. Michael could divorce Terri, but then control of the funds for Terri's rehabilitation move to Terri's parents.
It got worse. Fighting for Michael was a cadre of professional euthanasia advocates including lawyer George Felos and Dr. Peter Bambikidas (two fallen sons of the Greek Orthodox Church). Michael appointed Dr. Ronald Cranford, who publicly labels himself "Dr. Humane Death," as a consultant in the case. So far Cranford has spent a total of 45 minutes examining Terri. The deck is clearly stacked against her.
Fighting Against the Killers
Terri Schiavo is in a stand-off with those who want her dead. Michael's motive appears to be greed and his hired guns are driven by an ideology that offers them power to decide who lives and who dies. Life is cheap is their view. People are reduced to commodities, their value determined by the benefit they give to the stronger around them.
This dark work hides in language that ostensibly values life. Pundits arguing for Terri's death for example, react to the courage displayed by Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature by arguing that Terri's life has become a "political football." It's a dishonest characterization. It is her death, rather than her life, that is the true football. The death advocates want to kick her into the end zone, not her defenders.
Manipulating language is the death advocate's stock in trade. Feminists lionize abortion pioneer Margaret Sanger as a champion of women rights when in fact she favored the death of those whom feminists claim are helped by abortion. Partial birth abortion advocates defend the barbaric practice by arguing that it is necessary for the health of the mother, when in fact the procedure is more dangerous to the mother than delivering her child alive. Euthanasia advocates argue that doctor induced death is necessary to relieve pain and suffering, when in fact research has shown that most requests to die arise because of depression, and advances in pain medication makes virtually all suffering manageable.
Against this offensive Terri lies mute and helpless, but nevertheless an eloquent witness for the inherent sacredness and dignity of life. Terri does not deserve to die. She recognizes and responds to life in ways entirely appropriate to her injuries. She awakens the conscience of those who ponder her circumstances with any measure of honesty, and clarifies the motives and intent of those who seek her death.
When Men Abandon God, They Will Believe Anything
Fyodor Dostoevsky once remarked that the abandonment of faith in God would render man susceptible to all forms of ideology, most of it dangerous and destructive. Alexander Solzhenitsyn sounded the same warning in "A World Split Apart" when he said that the abandonment of any reference to God in the Judeo/Christian West would favor man as the touchstone of all truth and value. This development (better described as a spiritual regression) would open the door to barbarism.
The advocates fighting for Terri's death are the apostles of this new barbarism. Abandoning all reference to a touchstone higher than themselves, they value Terri's life solely in terms of cost-benefit analysis. Michael Schiavo wants his wife to die because of the financial payoff. His cadre of hired guns wants Terri dead because it helps them rid the world of sickness and other human maladies by eliminating those who suffer from them.
Meanwhile, Terri Schiavo lies on her sickbed, recovering from four days of forced starvation. The battle for her life is not over. Death advocates are tenacious. They believe in their cause with a cool and deliberate fanaticism. The fight to keep Terri alive is one battle in the titan struggle to determine whether we bequeath future generations a culture of life or a culture of death.
This article was first written and published in October, 2003.
Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Reprinting allowed. Please click copyright notice for details. This article was also published on the Breakpoint website.