"If we ever decide that a poor quality of life justifies ending that life, we have taken a step down a slippery slope that places all of us in danger."
-- Dr. C. Everett Koop
Former Surgeon General of the United States
For me, a birth or death this time of year expands the emotions of sorrow and joy, and deepens my understanding of the Christian celebration of Easter. With the early spring births of one son and two grandchildren, plus the pre-Easter death of my mother in 1991, I always have a framework for the cycle of life. Knowing that the crucifixion of Jesus was followed by his resurrection helps me handle death; experiencing the miracle of birth confirms that life, even in the midst of death, goes on.
This year, however, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the resulting promise that we, too, may one day "be with him in paradise" (Luke 23:43), I have been consumed by another thought: How does that cycle of life apply when man takes over the role of the creator and determines how, when, or if that cycle will go on? Specifically, how does this usurping of responsibility affect Terri Schiavo?
At this writing, we don't know if the incapacitated Florida woman will be another Easter death to remind us of a future resurrection, or a testament to the prayers of thousands who interpret her intentional death as outside the timing and will of God.
Three decades ago when Roe vs. Wade was about to become law, many on the anti-abortion side spent considerable energy on what seemed like an entirely different topic. Rather than just objecting to abortion, they also protested the practice of euthanasia. Why, some of us wondered, didn't these people concentrate on the topic at hand and save this subject for another time?
It wasn't long before we skeptics understood what the "pro-lifers" already knew: making willful termination of life legal at one end of the cycle leads directly to similar attitudes at the other. The pro-life mission was to protect the entire span of life from conception to the grave.
Today with the Terri Schiavo case dominating the headlines, let's look at how the abortion argument has played out. Has making abortion legal reduced the number of abused and neglected children in the country, and saved potential birth mothers from emotional stress as the pro-choice side had predicted? Or has there been even a little sliding down the slope of devaluing life as the pro-life groups forewarned?
My son was a 5th-grader the year Roe vs. Wade became law. Ours was a pro-life home, but I don't remember discussing the topic around the dinner table with our young children -- until after "the report." Apparently this child's class had been discussing abortion along with another current event, the drug thalidomide, which often caused birth defects when taken by pregnant women. My son received an "A" from the teacher for his report, and a scowl from me when I read this from his 10-year-old treatise on abortion: "If a baby doesn't have any arms or legs, what good is it?"
The long-delayed topic for dinner table discussion finally took place.
It seems to me that the two sides of the right-to-live or die issue are not so much on a collision course as they are driving past each other on two completely different trains of thought. One side dwells on the cold facts -- "the husbands says... the courts decreed... we're a nation of laws...." -- while the other ponders a fully alive young woman, her "inalienable right to life" as stated in the Declaration of Independence, and a loving family willing to assume her care. However this tragic case plays out, it's doubtful riders from either train will be convinced to switch sides.
But to those fearful that a renegade Congress will enact a "Terri's Law" to reverse previous laws and keep this woman alive, a reminder: three decades ago, Roe vs. Wade was a reversed law.
And to those on the "sanctity of life" train, take heart. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled without question that unborn children could be sacrificed if adults so desired. Today, whatever the outcome for Terri Schiavo -- and perhaps because of her -- there are too many questions and too many riders on the anti-euthanasia train for such a blanket practice to become the law of the land.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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