Is America Still Good?
Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Contributing Writer
Let's review the recent headlines, shall we?
- In northern Minnesota, a 17-year-old student kills his grandfather and his grandfather's girlfriend, and then totes the gun to school where he kills an unarmed security guard, a teacher, and five other students. He is overheard asking one of his victims if he believes in God before he shoots him. At least 14 others are wounded, and two students remain in critical condition. After exchanging gunfire with the police, the young man turns the gun on himself and becomes the tenth victim.
- In Citrus County, Florida, a convicted child molester is arraigned and denied bail after he confesses to kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and murdering a 9-year-old girl from his neighborhood who had just returned home from church.
- In Santa Ana, California, another suspected child molester is charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and murdering a 5-year-old girl only months after being acquitted of molesting two other girls. Prosecutors declare that DNA that may have come from the girl's tears was discovered in the 30-year-old suspect's car, and scrapings of the suspect's DNA was removed from beneath the victim's fingernails.
- And in Tampa, Florida, an appeals court upholds a state judge's order that Terri Schiavo's feeding tube be removed -- and doctors remove the tube. But then Congress passes a bill, which President Bush signs, allowing Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to take the case to federal court. A federal judge refuses to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, which prompts lawyers for Terri's parents to file a notice of appeal to a higher court. The Eleventh Circuit Court rejects the appeal in a 2 to 1 vote. Now we wait upon the Supreme Court to see if they will hear the case.
One thing that must be highlighted here, at this moment a woman is starving to death in a Florida hospice and will die of dehydration or hunger if this ruling is not reversed.
In the course of a half-hour news program I heard several people quote the sadly familiar modern mantra, "You always think it couldn't happen here…" But it can. And it will continue to happen if the people of this nation don't make a heartfelt turn back to the God of the Bible.
Alexis de Tocqueville visited America at the height of the Second Great Awakening as revivals were sweeping across the country. Tocqueville repeatedly marveled at the number of different American churches, at their mutual toleration, and at the focus on morality in this country. A famous quote has been attributed to him, though not verified, but it squares with his overall view of religious life America in 1831.
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
Whether Tocqueville actually said this is secondary to the point that this statement is true -- over the last 230 years, America has been great because we have been good.
Today, nearly 200 years after Tocqueville's visit to the United States, we call ourselves a great nation because of our economic, technological, and military might. But the question before us today as an innocent young woman lies starving in her bed in Florida is, 'are we still good?'
The question that follows hard upon the first is, 'if we are no longer good, can we long continue to be great?'
I believe the Terri Schiavo case is a mirror, allowing Americans to clearly see the social and moral state of their nation.
In my view, it is not good to starve a person to death -- and in this case, there is evidence that such a course of action would be not only inhumane, but could be barbaric.
There are two elephants walking around in the living room of the liberal argument being made by Terri's husband, Michael, and his attorneys who are attempting to justify the killing of this brain-damaged woman --arguments that have been bought by the state courts in Florida, and now two federal courts.
Schiavo claims that Terri told him that she would not want to be kept on life support in such a condition. Elephant number one is that she is not hooked up to breathing or heart machines, but merely has a feeding tube that brings liquid nutrition directly into her abdomen. And at one point Terri was fed Jell-O and pudding by mouth until her husband stopped all efforts at rehabilitating her. This begs the question, 'what life support?'
Is feeding a person who is not capable of feeding themselves, though they can breath on their own and have brain and heart function, called life support? I thought it was called nutrition.
Elephant number two is the fact that there is no written directive from Terri to clarify her true wishes. The courts have relied solely on the testimony of her husband -- a man who is now living with another woman and has sired two children outside his own marriage. And yet he refuses to divorce Terri and turn her care over to her parents. This is dangerous ground. No one should be allowed to starve to death when they have the ability to eat and swallow based on the testimony of another person.
In my opinion, this should be the law in all fifty states.
In other words, if you have no living will, and you can survive off life support, you must be allowed to live.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan related a story of what Winston Churchill said once when he became home secretary in charge of England's prisons. "He was seated at dinner with a lady who said that if she were ever given a life sentence she'd rather die than serve it. He reared back. 'No,' he said, 'always choose life! Death's the only thing you can't get out of!'"
Always Choose Life
One of the glaring problems in the Schindler's battle on behalf of Terri is that liberal Florida Judge George W. Greer has ruled on the side of death again and again throughout this case. On February 25, he ordered that Terri’s nutrition and hydration be discontinued March 18. In several decisions since that time he has also ruled that Terri cannot undergo more medical testing and cannot be fed by mouth -- this despite the fact that Terri can swallow and has been fed by mouth in the past.
Greer also denied a request by Florida’s Department of Children and Families for a 60-day delay in the removal of the feeding tube so that the department could investigate allegations that Michael Schiavo has abused and neglected Terri.
Barbara Weller, an attorney with the Gibbs’ Law Firm, which represents the Schindlers, told Florida Baptist Press that she understands the Schindler family's frustration with Greer. Weller informed the paper that none of the 33 medical professionals who have said Terri should be medically reevaluated have been paid, and that all of them initiated contact with the firm. “Any other judge in the nation would have ruled for us,” Weller said. “So, from the legal side, we were very surprised.”
The Schindler's attorneys have submitted affidavits from these doctors and medical professionals -- 15 who are board-certified neurologists -- contending that Terri's condition should be reevaluated.
"The important thing for people to understand is that she can eat and swallow right now,” said Dr. William Hammesfahr, a neurologist who has examined Schiavo. He is in many of the videos circulated through the news media showing that Schiavo is at times responsive and seems to be aware.
A leading expert in the field of brain injury and stroke, Hammesfahr has asked to be allowed to work with Schiavo. Dr. Hammesfahr was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1999 for his work in brain injury and stroke. He is a recognized expert in treating neurological disorders, having successfully treated thousands of patients using vasodilator therapy, which increases blood flow to the brain, potentially healing conditions previously thought to be untreatable.
"They are truly withholding food from a person who is awake, alert, and can eat and swallow,” Hammesfahr said. After spending at least 10 hours with Schiavo several years ago, he told Judge Greer that he believes she can improve with therapy.
No Living Will
The issue that should chill the hearts of every American is that Terri Schiavo did not have a living will -- her desires are not known. Yet her husband has fought in courts for years to have the tube removed because, he said, she would not want to be kept alive artificially and she has no hope for recovery. But her parents contend that she responds to them and these 33 medical professionals agree that her condition could improve.
According to Andrew C. McCarthy of National Review Online, the legal question that is in front of the court in the federal appeal will be, 'Is Terri Schiavo in a persistent vegetative state (PVS)'.
He writes, "In 1990, in a case called Cruzan v. Missouri, the U.S. Supreme Court assumed that a competent person would have a constitutionally protected right to refuse lifesaving hydration and nutrition, and held that where a person (a) was actually in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and (b) had actually evinced a desire not to be sustained in that state (i.e., a desire to die rather than be kept alive), the state was permitted — but not required — to allow her surrogates to discontinue sustenance."
The problem before the court is that at this moment, Terri Schiavo may be only days from starving to death. There is little time to prove whether Terri is truly in PVS as her husband claims, or is possibly able to receive rehabilitative care. And the lower court case screams of a biased judge who has not allowed her to be examined by unbiased medical professionals.
"Cruzan is distinguishable from Terri Schiavo’s case in that there is powerful reason to doubt that Terri is in a PVS," McCarthy continues. "But, of course, Terri’s case is not distinguishable unless the federal court is open to a full reconsideration of the factual determinations made by the Florida courts that Terri is in a PVS and that she asserted an informed desire to die."
This is where the recent bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush becomes relevant:
The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida shall have jurisdiction to hear, determine, and render judgment on a suit or claim by or on behalf of Theresa Marie Schiavo for the alleged violation of any right of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution or laws of the United States relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life.
The plain language of this law indicates Congress intends that there should be an exhaustive review of this most important case — ignoring all prior rulings and factual determinations made by the courts of Florida.
McCarthy concludes, "The federal court cannot grant relief unless it can be shown that some federal right of Terri’s was violated. But, the federal court is not bound to accept as fact — and, indeed, should not accept as fact — any factual conclusion drawn by Judge Greer and the rest of the courts of Florida. In other words: Fully develop the facts and then determine if federal law has been transgressed."
What is America Saying?
Which brings us back to the question, "Is America still good?" Will the Supreme Court recognize the inconsistencies in this case and order a thorough examination? We will know the answer soon -- and it will be another in a series of wake up calls for the people in America to let them know the true 'state of the union.'
Sadly, it seems that many Americans have already stepped across the dangerous 'right to die' line and are ignoring the two elephants in the living room. According to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 909 adults taken over the weekend, nearly six in 10 people said they think Terri Schiavo's feeding tube should be removed and said they would want to remove it for a child or spouse in the same condition.
About two-thirds in an ABC News poll said the political leaders who are trying to keep Schiavo alive are more concerned with using her case for political advantage than with her or the principles involved in keeping her alive.
Michael Schiavo, who refuses to turn over care to Terri's parents -- even though they have publicly declared that they will release him from all responsibility for Terri, allowing him to divorce her and move on with his life -- said he was outraged that lawmakers and the president intervened. "When Terri's wishes are carried out, it will be her wish. She will be at peace. She will be with the Lord," he said on CNN's 'Larry King Live'.
But there are still some glimmers of hope for Terri and for this nation.
In his dissenting opinion, federal Judge Charles R. Wilson of the Eleventh Circuit Court expressed concern that Schiavo's "imminent" death would end the case before it could be fully considered.
"In fact, I fail to see any harm in reinserting the feeding tube," he wrote.
Brave champions for life in the House and Senate -- people like Senator Rick Santorum and Representative Tom DeLay -- even now are fighting valiantly to save the life of this helpless woman.
The Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow, has previously represented the Schindlers before the Supreme Court to save Terri's life. The center filed a brief on behalf of Rep. Dave Weldon of Florida, asking that Schiavo be reconnected to feeding and hydration tubes until the case can be properly considered by the federal courts.
The Justice Department also filed a court statement, saying an injunction was "plainly warranted" to carry out the wishes of Congress to provide federal court jurisdiction over the case. Unless the feeding tube is reinserted, the department said, Schiavo may die before the courts can resolve her family's claims. "No comparable harm will be caused" by letting Schiavo live while the case is reviewed, the filing said.
Late in the afternoon Tuesday, the Schindlers arrived at their daughter's hospice and Terri's mother again pleaded with state lawmakers to save her daughter's life.
"Please, senators, for the love of God, I'm begging you, don't let my daughter die of thirst," Mary Schindler said.
With that, she broke down in tears, and was escorted away.
Will a good America hear this mother's plea and protect Terri's life 'until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream?' It's time to look in the mirror.
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