YOU READ IT HERE FIRST

“The zealots will always remember. And if Schiavo dies, they will have a martyr as well. And they will figuratively prop her up as a symbol in the campaigns to come.” – yours truly, last Sunday.

“‘It is entirely possible that in her death Terri Schiavo will become a symbol for many people about a disturbing trend in American culture,’ said Gary Bauer, a prominent conservative activist.” – Washington Post today. Let the direct mailing continue!

FOR THE RECORD

Here also is the full statement of the current Pope on feeding tubes as “ordinary” treatment, mandated for all patients. It’s a statement in stark contrast to the Church’s previous, more nuanced teachings. But with this Pope, that’s hardly unusual. Still even this Pope concedes that “[t]he person in a vegetative state, in fact, shows no evident sign of self-awareness or of awareness of the environment, and seems unable to interact with others or to react to specific stimuli.” He also concedes that “the recovery of [vegetative] patients, statistically speaking, is ever more difficult as the condition of vegetative state is prolonged in time.” The money quote, however, is the following:

I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.

Could we have a vegetative Pope suspended indefinitely in this state? Yes, we could. Maybe we will.

THE CATHOLIC POSITION

She’s now in the hands of her creator. It seems to me any more political talk should cease for a while. The moral questions linger, however. And it has been argued that there is only one authentic Catholic position on the Schiavo case, and that it is that the feeding tube should have been kept in indefinitely, regardless of the wishes of the legal husband. Anything else is murder. But that is far too crude an assessment of the Catholic position. This pope recently declared that feeding tubes are not “extraordinary” or disproportionate methods of prolonging the life of the terminally ill. But this is not official Church doctrine – yet. The long tradition has been a balancing of various goods and evils. Here’s the money quote from the 1980 document that is most relevant here:

However, is it necessary in all circumstances to have recourse to all possible remedies?

In the past, moralists replied that one is never obliged to use “extraordinary” means. This reply, which as a principle still holds good, is perhaps less clear today, by reason of the imprecision of the term and the rapid progress made in the treatment of sickness. Thus some people prefer to speak of “proportionate” and “disproportionate” means. In any case, it will be possible to make a correct judgment as to the means by studying the type of treatment to be used, its degree of complexity or risk, its cost and the possibilities of using it, and comparing these elements with the result that can be expected, taking into account the state of the sick person and his or her physical and moral resources.

In order to facilitate the application of these general principles, the following clarifications can be added:

If there are no other sufficient remedies, it is permitted, with the patient’s consent, to have recourse to the means provided by the most advanced medical techniques, even if these means are still at the experimental stage and are not without a certain risk. By accepting them, the patient can even show generosity in the service of humanity.

It is also permitted, with the patient’s consent, to interrupt these means, where the results fall short of expectations. But for such a decision to be made, account will have to be taken of the reasonable wishes of the patient and the patient’s family, as also of the advice of the doctors who are specially competent in the matter. The latter may in particular judge that the investment in instruments and personnel is disproportionate to the results foreseen; they may also judge that the techniques applied impose on the patient strain or suffering out of proportion with the benefits which he or she may gain from such techniques.

It is also permissible to make do with the normal means that medicine can offer. Therefore one cannot impose on anyone the obligation to have recourse to a technique which is already in use but which carries a risk or is burdensome. Such a refusal is not the equivalent of suicide; on the contrary, it should be considered as an acceptance of the human condition, or a wish to avoid the application of a medical procedure disproportionate to the results that can be expected, or a desire not to impose excessive expense on the family or the community.

When inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted. In such circumstances the doctor has no reason to reproach himself with failing to help the person in danger.

You can argue both sides of this in the Schiavo case. A constantly infected feeding tube that has resulted in no tangible progress of any kind for over a decade? Is that “burdensome”? But what can “burdensome” mean for someone unable to feel or think? Notice that the church even allows for discontinuing “disproportionate” means of life-preservation on the grounds of expense alone. And you can see why: if the rule is that all persistently vegetative patients must be attached to feeding tubes indefinitely, then the costs to society would be stratospheric. At some point we could have as many not-dead-yet human beings suspended unconsciously in semi-life as we have in embryo factories at the other end of the human spectrum. My point is not that this case has been easy in Catholic moral terms. My point is precisely that it is not easy. Fifteen years with no brain waves at all? Keeping her in that state would have been just ordinary care? And at what point do we “accept the human condition” in the Church’s words? That’s the question. We can say, however, that Michael Schiavo’s record is certainly within the scope of the Church’s historical understanding of what the moral obligations toward his wife are. What we are seeing is how far this Pope has shifted the debate toward an absolutist position on life and death. He is the innovator. But he does not have a monopoly on what the Church as a whole believes. It’s a church; not a personal cult. Not yet, anyway.

POSEUR ALERT I

“I am the only woman in Mommy and Me who seems to be, well, getting any. This could fill me with smug well-being. I could sit in the room and gloat over my wonderful marriage. I could think about how our sex life – always vital, even torrid – is more exciting and imaginative now than it was when we first met. I could check my watch to see if I have time to stop at Good Vibrations to see if they have any exciting new toys. I could even gaze pityingly at the other mothers in the group, wishing that they too could experience a love as deep as my own. But I don’t. I am far too busy worrying about what’s wrong with me. Why, of all the women in the room, am I the only one who has not made the erotic transition a good mother is supposed to make? Why am I the only one incapable of placing her children at the center of her passionate universe?” – Ayelet Waldman, New York Times. (Hat tip: Bidisha Banerjee.

POSEUR ALERT II: For every American feeling compassion for Schiavo, there are at least several more who feel a consolation and satisfaction, maybe even a sense of triumph. Events have complicated, peculiar resonances in the mind. As the instincts seem to be set loose to an unimaginable degree in American society and overseas, Schiavo’s unfathomably suffering face, with its strange beatific-seeming smile, is like a justification for all the carnage. This vale of woe is what life is, it seems to say–at least to those who want to keep her face just as it is, forever. It’s a chilling complement to “The Contender,” whose fixation on pummeling seems to say that this is what society is … So for the Christian right, Schiavo has become something like a human antidepressant… [B]y arguing, no, insisting that her story have a happy ending, they can cheer themselves up about the society they are helping to create every day, a society in which being able to celebrate the spectacle of the weak getting pummeled, and the weak wasting away from within in a vegetative state, is the measure of one’s strength. Nietzsche and Christ, together at last.” – Lee Siegel, The New Republic.

“SUPER-HIV”: The New York Times’ story today about the alleged new strain of HIV tells us a few things. No other person has been found with an identical strain; the patient is responding to anti-retroviral treatment; the bulk of his sexual contacts were already HIV-positive. So we had five days of hysterical coverage from the NYT for … this? The new story – tellingly – does not include the context that was provided in previous stories, i.e. that this new strain comes “as a growing number of gay men become infected despite warnings about unsafe sex.” Maybe that’s because the New York City Health Department has no statistics to support that claim. Is New York City alone in marking a decline in HIV infection rates? Nope. We were told a couple of years ago that Seattle was having a huge new increase. The Seattle Weekly recalls that “[King County’s] top AIDS official, Dr. Bob Wood, called the situation ‘frightening,’ ‘astounding,’ and ‘the most dramatic increase since the beginning of the epidemic.'” Hard data two years later show a stable rate of infections, despite a growing number of people living with HIV. Or a state like Virginia? A state-wide drop of 20 percent between 2003 and 2004. In Charlottesville, they saw a 67 percent drop. San Francisco? The same hype only a few years ago – “sub-Saharan levels” of infection, according to the head of the city’s public health department. The latest data show infection rates completely stable, along with a dramatic rise in the number of people getting tested. I’m waiting for evidence that will show that this new strain is new, that there is a resurgence of HIV infection among gay men in America, and that the New York Times is not a megaphone for whichever AIDS hysteric comes along next. As I said, I’m waiting.

“SUPER-HIV”

The New York Times’ story today about the alleged new strain of HIV tells us a few things. No other person has been found with an identical strain; the patient is responding to anti-retroviral treatment; the bulk of his sexual contacts were already HIV-positive. So we had five days of hysterical coverage from the NYT for … this? The new story – tellingly – does not include the context that was provided in previous stories, i.e. that this new strain comes “as a growing number of gay men become infected despite warnings about unsafe sex.” Maybe that’s because the New York City Health Department has no statistics to support that claim; and, in fact, has data that refute it (data unknown to the reporters at the NYT). Is New York City alone in marking a decline in HIV infection rates? Nope. We were told a couple of years ago that Seattle was having a huge new increase. The Seattle Weekly recalls that “[King County’s] top AIDS official, Dr. Bob Wood, called the situation ‘frightening,’ ‘astounding,’ and ‘the most dramatic increase since the beginning of the epidemic.'” Hard data two years later show a stable rate of infections, despite a growing number of people living with HIV. Or a state like Virginia? A state-wide drop of 20 percent between 2003 and 2004. In Charlottesville, they saw a 67 percent drop. San Francisco? The same hype only a few years ago – “sub-Saharan levels” of infection, according to the head of the city’s public health department. The latest data show infection rates completely stable, along with a dramatic rise in the number of people getting tested. I’m waiting for evidence that will show that this “new” strain is new, that there is a resurgence of HIV infection among gay men in America, and that the New York Times is not a megaphone for whichever AIDS hysteric comes along next. As I said, I’m waiting.

ALL YOU NEED IS ROVE

Adam Moss’s revamped New York magazine continues to impress. The latest smart piece is by John Heilemann on Karl Rove. John (an old friend) is smart enough to criticize Rove while not under-estimating him. I almost look forward to Rove running Bill Frist for president next time around. But this paragraph is the most interesting:

Not long ago, I had a chance to see Rove speak to an audience of conservative activists down in Washington. The speech was as revealing for what it left out as for what it included. Not once did Rove proclaim the importance of reducing the size and sphere of Washington’s purview. Not once did he echo Ronald Reagan’s famous line x97 which codified a fundamental verity of modern Republicanism x97 that “government isn’t the solution to our problems; government is our problem.” Instead, Rove rejected the party’s “reactionary” and “pessimistic” past, in which it stood idly by while “liberals were setting the pace of change and had the visionary goals.” Now, he went on, the GOP has seized the “mantle of idealism,” dedicating itself to “putting government on the side of progress and reform, modernization and greater freedom.”

Greater freedom? Abroad, sure. At home, we have seen a clear decrease in tangible freedoms, some reasonable, others far less so. The only time this president speaks warmly of freedom is when he’s referring to foreigners. Heilemann correctly diagnoses the Bismarckian first term agenda of Rove: “tax cuts for the rich; subsidies for farmers, tariffs for the steel, shrimp, and lumber industries; the gargantuan Medicare prescription-drug entitlement for the drug companies and the elderly.” Big government goodies for everyone. Larded over with a Kulturkampf. Just like Bismarck.

TORY SUICIDE – AGAIN: Just when they looked as if they were gaining traction for the coming election, Britain’s Tories return to their favorite activity: attacking each other. Depressing.

EMAIL OF THE DAY: “This May 8th will be the first year of my mother’s death. The publicity surrounding Terry Schiavo has brought up a whole lot of feeling for me, possibly even producing shades of PTSD. My Mom had pancreatic cancer and was hospitalized for about 2 weeks when my father, sister and I took her off IV fluids. The physician said there is nothing more we can do except to prolong her suffering and we all felt strongly my mother had suffered enough. My mother had been hospitalized about 2 years prior, 9 month in Intensive Care because a surgeon punctured her bowel while removing a benign tumor. During that time and for several months later at home, my mother was in a highly agitated state of consciousness, in and out of delirium. Afterward she expressed gratitude for not remembering.

I remember about 2AM, the night we took her off fluids waking up in anguish and horror, thinking that I was killing my mother. Hysterical, I attempted to speak with someone at the hospital about our decision. I think they thought I was crazy. Early that morning, my Dad and I went to the hospital and I was able to talk to a physician who said we made the right decision. If there had been any chance at all that my mother could have lived, we would have taken it, no matter the odds. The decision was agonizing and to this day I am haunted by it.

My sister-in-law is a devout Catholic, a Republican, and she watches Pat Robertson’s 700 Club almost religiously. She phoned the hospital that moring and spoke with me, disagreeing with the decision we made. When I asked why, she said, ‘You never know.’ ‘You never know what?’ I pleaded. ‘You never know, miracles can happen.’ I restated to her the physician’s words to us. ‘I still don’t believe you are making the right decision,’ and went on to describe several miracles she said she knew of. I asked her if her words were supposed to be comforting to us. She didn’t understand my question.

Andrew, I do not understand. My mother was a good Catholic and as far as I know, Christians believe that good Christians go to heaven. I just don’t understand the need of so many devout Christians in prolonging the suffering of another human being who is in the end stage of disease and with no hope for remission. And they do it with a conviction that is rude, intrusive and without compassion or regard for those of us who have to make an anguishing decision.”

GAY PATRIOT SILENCED

I don’t buy everything that GayPatriot writes; and his rhetoric can be a little much at times. But it’s a shame he has been intimidated by the gay far-left into ending his blogging. A shame but unsurprising. If the gay “outers” spent a fraction of the time they spend attacking other gay people actually making the case for equality to straight people, the world would be a better place.

REALITY CHECK: Here’s Larry Kudlow on the Schiavo case:

Inexplicably, the U.S. court system is determined to take Schiavox92s life. I say inexplicably because the courts have chosen to disregard the morality of life, the religious belief in life, the culture of life. Inexplicable because all Americans of faith believe that in situations like this we should, as President Bush has said, err on the side of life.

In fact, of course, majorities of “people of faith” disagree with Kudlow and with the notion that removing life-support (and a sophisticated feeding tube is life support) after fifteen years of being completely incapacitated is certainly not an easy call. Even people inclined to be “pro-life” see that this case may be one in which allowing a human being to die is the morally preferable thing to do. But Kudlow doesn’t see this diversity of religious view – even now. That’s how hermetically sealed the far right is. Until now, most people haven’t seen the theocratic tendencies in today’s GOP. The religious right has focused on abortion (which affects a small minority) and gays (ditto). But the right to die affects everyone. Suddenly the willingness of the far right to use the full weight of government to impose their views comes to light. Now many people get a taste of how gays feel. And a chill up their spine.