Thursday, March 24, 2005

I may have faith enough to move mountains....

The record on this grows more and more dreary:

Dr. Cheshire, who graduated from Princeton and earned a medical degree at West Virginia University, did not return calls to the Mayo Clinic seeking comment. The clinic said in a statement that his work on the Schiavo case was not related to his work at the clinic and that the state had invited his opinion. "He observed the patient at her bedside and conducted an extensive review of her medical history but did not conduct an examination," the statement said.

Dr. Caplan [director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania] said that was not good enough. "There is just no excuse for going in and making any pronouncement about the state that Terri Schiavo is in unless you're going to go in and do some form of technologically mediated scanning that would overturn what's on the record already," he said.

Dr. Ronald Cranford, a neurologist and medical ethicist at the University of Minnesota Medical School who has examined Ms. Schiavo on behalf of the Florida courts and declared her to be irredeemably brain-damaged, said, "I have no idea who this Cheshire is," and added: "He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You'll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say she's not vegetative."

He said there was no doubt that Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state. "Her CAT scan shows massive shrinkage of the brain," he said. "Her EEG is flat - flat. There's no electrical activity coming from her brain."
But Dr. Cheshire swore out an affidavit that: "the visitor has the distinct sense of the presence of a living human being who seems at some level to be aware of some things around her." This is diagnosis by empathy, not science.

There can't be any serious doubt what Judge Greer will do with this evidence, even though he is hearing a motion from Gov. Bush to let the state have custody of Terri Schiavo.

Oh, Dr. Cheshire directs biotech ethics at the "Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity," a group which was founded by "leading Christian bioethicists." "Christian," here having a very narrow parameters, indeed.

Tena asked me, last night at Eschaton, if I thought this matter had become blasphemous yet. She was thinking of the protestors who wanted to take water to Terri Schiavo (an act which would, of course, have killed her, as she cannot swallow). But, looking at the matter as a whole, legally, morally, ethically, theologically, I'd still have to say: yes. This matter has now been dragged over the line into obscenity, into action against, not just in defiance of but detrimental to, what is most valuable.

The opponents to removing Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube all insist they are acting out of the best of motives. If words had any real power of their own at all, they would blister the lips of Tom DeLay and Jeb Bush and the other sanctimonious politicians who insist, against all previous evidence, that they care for the least and the weakest among us. But that's simply the exercise of raw power, which is all politicians wield, and all they understand. The motives of the others is less obscure, but at some point it cannot be denied that it is just as selfish.

Where is the right, the good, the holy, in all of this? In love. But love is not about power, or defiance, or blind compassion that leads one to take water and ice cubes to a patient in PVS. Love is humility. Paul got it absolutely right, in what has become a cliched passage, but which should be dusted off now and reconsidered in this least romantic of contexts:

Love is patient and kind. Love envies no one, is never boastful, never conceited, never rude; love is never selfish, never quick to take offence. Love keeps no score of wrongs, takes no pleasure in the sins of others, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance. I Corinthians 13:4-7, REB.
In another, almost as famous passage, Paul rings through in powerful declaration that nothing in all the world, in all creation, in all human effort or imagination, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing, unfortunately, except ourselves. Love does not overpower, does not take hold, does not restrain us when we want to go astray. Our fear, our anxiety, our awareness that our death is possible, will do that.

No one is acting in love in this matter, who continues to offer false hope and illusory promises. No one is acting in love in this matter who continues to say that life can always triumph and cheating death for one more day is an unalloyed victory. Our technology has outstripped our moral sensibilities, but not because we need new moralities or more finely tuned sensibilities, or because everything changed after the Enlightenment, and we will haven't caught up. The answers, the guidance, the help we need, has always been available to us. But, as ever, we want it to be the master of us. We are all as children, waiting for the cosmic parent to come and tell us it is all right, that our selfish fears and desires are in harmony with the universe, and the cosmic parent will put the universe back in its rightful place. We don't want to face death becasue death is indifferent to us. Death doesn't seem to care.

But love does. Except love waits. Love is patient, and kind; and can bear anything. We can't. At least, we think we can't. We think we can't, and then we fear. We fear, and then we panic. We panic, and then we gather together, and with no more power to stave off death than we could stave off an eclipse of the sun, but in circumstances just as seemingly frightening, we look to our leaders for guidance and assurance that power will triumph. We cry, we shout; we wave things in the air, and look to mortal leaders for immortal guidance, look to the power we give them to provide salvation for us all, to stave off the symbol of death that is the eclipse of the sun, or the final days of one unfortunate woman. We look for this to save us from our fears, except it won't. It can't. Power lets us down again.

But love does not. Love never fails. We're the ones who fail, by not accepting that. But love is patient, too. It heals, it binds up, it comforts. Love waits for us, and nothing, ultimately, can separate us from it. Nothing, except our willingness to accept it.

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