A Time to Pray

As "unconfirmed reports" (here and here) that Pope John Paul II has received the Church's last rites emerge, we can only pray that God hold the Holy Father in the palm of His hand. God, of course, will do this, whether we remember to ask him or not. For those of us who love John Paul, however, we will benefit from act of praying for him, an old man, now not far from the judgment that awaits us all, sick and doing something that, no matter how many are present, we all do alone with only one other Actor.

Christianity made headway in the early years because it valued each human life, old and ugly, slave and free, male and female. Watching John Paul, his face partially paralyzed, his voice almost inaudible, unable to walk, we remember that Christianity is about the cosmic significance of every human being who comes into this world. He is as human and worthy of our love today as when he was a vigorous, relatively young pope from Poland.

It is odd that the Holy Father may be approaching his earthly end the same week that Terri Schiavo was starved to death. Her death shows that society is turning to pre-Christian values. At least, the frail pope with his feeding tube is a sign of that all human beings, even those at the brink of death, matter.

After Terri Schiavo, It's a Dangerous World...

After thirteen days of starvation, Terri Schiavo died around 10 o'clock this morning. For those who sometimes had a hard time remembering that there was a real woman at the center of "the Terri Schiavo case," the Dallas Morning News has a profile. I am glad the Vatican called the death what it was.

Terri apparently died without members of her immediate family present. According to Father Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest, who was with the parents in their battle to keep Terri alive, her kin were not allowed in the room when she died:

"'Bobby Schindler, her brother, said 'We want to be in the room when she dies.' [Estranged husband] Michael Schiavo said, 'No, you cannot.' So his heartless cruelty continues until this very last moment,' Pavone said."

The Weekly Standard calls the death a "judicial execution by dehydration." Author William Anderson asks, "How could such a thing have happened? Students of law, medicine, and ethics will examine this tragedy for decades to come."

A psychiatrist, Anderson has interesting observations about the legal fiasco that led to Terri's starvation. Even more compelling is this tidbit from Dr. Anderson:

"For several years," writes Anderson, "I had the honor to be the physician for a neuropsychiatric hospital unit which served seriously disabled people. Some of them appeared to be similar in condition to Terri. The nursing staff worked hard to keep these patients alive, comfortable, and stimulated by the environment to the maximal extent possible. They typically had guardians, and their instructions were followed, including the occasional refusal to employ tube feeding. But no one on the treatment team would have dreamed of acceding to a guardian's demand to withhold water. We would not have done it. And no judge would order it." The only precedent, writes Anderson, is Germany in the 1930s.

Writing in the same magazine, ethicist Eric Cohen noted that the courts had made some serious mistakes along the way in the Terri Schiavo case: