Gov. Jeb Bush has
ordered the feeding tube reinserted into Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged
Florida woman who has been artificially fed for 13 years. Bush contravened
a court order. Terri’s parents had implored the governor to save their daughter.
Is cutting off food and water to a patient murder, as it surely would be
with an infant? Is pulling out Terri’s feeding tube to let her die of starvation
and dehydration morally different from giving her a lethal injection? In
ending the life of a pet, the injection seems more “humane.”
In France, this debate has exploded. Marie Humbert, acting at the request
of her mute, deaf, paralyzed, nearly blind son Vincent, put an overdose of
sedatives in his feeding tube. Vincent did not die. He fell into a coma and
became a “human vegetable.” Then, his doctor ordered all life support ended.
About Vincent’s death, there is no argument. He was put to death by his mother
On both cases, men and women who believe themselves moral are divided. In
the phrase of author Thomas Sowell, what we have here are “Visions in Conflict.”
Christian traditionalists contend that God is the Author of life who alone
decides when life ends. No man can destroy innocent life. Among such traditionalists
are John Paul II and those lobbying Governor Bush to save the life of Terri
On the other side of the moral divide are those who argue that whether or
not God exists, there is no higher law to which human law must conform. Each
individual has the right to decide when to end a life that has become unbearable.
And when a Terri Schiavo cannot make that decision, those closest to her
As Governor Bush intervened on behalf of Terri’s parents, the ACLU intervened
on the side of her husband, who wanted Terri’s life ended.
The positions are irreconcilable. Each reflects the view of one of the adversaries
in the great Culture War in the West, as we enter deeper into a post-Christian
era where the old laws no longer bind.
There is no doubt that the traditionalists are in retreat. In France, 88
percent consider themselves tolerant of euthanasia. In Holland, assisted
suicide and euthanasia have been legalized. Children from 12 to 18 can be
euthanized with their parents’ consent, if they argue that their suffering
is unbearable and a doctor concludes that there is no realistic chance of
Oregon has passed a Death with Dignity Act, legalizing suicide for the terminally
ill with six months to live. Eighteen Oregonians killed themselves in 1998.
Last year, the number rose to 38. Even Dr. Kevorkian, in prison for having
put to death individuals who were only deeply despondent, is admired by some
as a social pioneer.
Trends in the moral and social universe seem such that the West of 2050 will not even be recognizable to the West of 1950.
Christianity is dying in Europe, its proscriptions ignored by the many and
unknown to the young. Europeans believe they have a right to end their own
lives as they choose and to abort the lives of their unborn. Dutch doctors
perform “mercy killings” on terminally ill patients in a land where doctors
were heroes, 60 years ago, for resisting the Nazis’ euthanasia program.
Moreover, Europe is aging. By mid-century, a third of Europe’s population
will be over 65, a tenth over 80. Nursing homes will be stuffed to capacity
with the elderly, feeble, sick, incontinent, dying.
To care for Europe’s exploding population of elderly, taxes will have to
be raised repeatedly on the shrinking share of the population still working.
Immigrants will have to be imported to care for them in retirement centers,
nursing homes, hospitals, and hospices.
And among this godless population, for the young schooled in the utilitarian
dogma of “the greatest good for the greatest number” and having embraced
La Dolce Vita, a question will insistently arise: why
work endlessly only to see half our wages go to keep alive, fed, and housed
“useless eaters” whose lives are ending and who no longer contribute to society?
Why should they not depart when they become ill, and cease to consume all
If there is no God, no life after death, no higher law, and society may permit
euthanasia, why can society not decide to make euthanasia mandatory for those
who have begun to die? What is to stop the coming generation from kicking
aged Baby Boomer and Gen Xers into their graves?
In 1938, the father of “Baby Knauer,” a retarded blind boy missing an arm
and leg, appealed to Germany’s ruler to let his son die. Permission was granted.
That leader was a father of the New Europe, and, as it now appears, a man
ahead of his time.
First published in the November 17th issue of the The American Conservative.
Reprinted by permission. Pat Buchanan, advisor to three presidents,
is editor of The American Conservative and hosts MSNBC's Buchanan & Press.