A Culture of Life and the Sanctity of Marriage
By A.D. Freudenheim  

26 March 2005

A shooting in Minnesota – by a student – leaves 10 dead, including fellow students and his grandparents.

A man in Wisconsin goes to church – and kills his minister and a number of co-religionists.

In Atlanta, a man about to go on trial for allegedly raping his fiancée, overpowers a guard, takes her gun, and kills the judge and a few others. (And one has to pause on the beginning of this sad story to ask, again: he allegedly raped his fiancée?)

And so on.

Welcome to the American “culture of life,” as proclaimed by our Congress and our President. While Terry Schiavo’s fate has been fought over in state and federal courts for a decade and a half, a diverse range of life-loving Christians out there across the American hinterland continue to murder each other, or allow each other to die, with (by and large) little national fanfare. Unnecessary and preventable deaths happen every day in the United States, yet most of the time, Congress does nothing, nor does President Bush. The school shootings in Columbine might have suggested the need for stricter gun control for military assault weapons – but instead, our life-preserving Congress allowed this gun law to expire. Many children and adults across the country cannot afford even one tenth the health care support that has been expended on the persistently-vegetative Terry Shiavo, yet Congress has failed consistently to ensure that every American is adequately insured.

Then there is Texas, the state formerly administered by our life-loving President Bush – the state that officially puts to death, on an annual basis, more people than every other U.S. state combined. In fact, Texas kills more people than most other sovereign nations with capital punishment. And “kill” and “murder” are the right words, certainly. If what is happening to Terry Schiavo can be considered state-sanctioned “murder” then so, too, are the state-enforced deaths in Texas and every other prison execution house.


In the Schiavo case specifically, another issue rankles: the sanctity of marriage. As the U.S. faces its deepest fears about what should or should not be considered “marriage,” and as conservative Christians across the country proclaim loudly the importance of keeping marriage defined as a holy bond between a man and a woman, one can only wonder why so many of these same Christians refuse to allow Michael Schiavo, Terry’s husband, the appropriate control over his wife’s medical care.

In theory, the marriage bond supersedes all other relationships in importance, period. A husband’s responsibility for his wife, or vice-versa, is considered more important than that of a parent, child, friend, or government official, which is why the Florida state courts’ decisions have ultimately agreed that the evidence Michael Schiavo has presented should determine the state’s response. In other words, as Terry’s husband, Michael Schiavo’s beliefs and opinions about what his wife would have wanted for herself are and should be given the benefit of the doubt. The Federal courts, in deciding not to review or overturn the state courts’ decisions, have affirmed that belief.

Like it or not, that seems consistent with a conservative Christian perspective on the value system for and within marriage. One does not even have to be a conservative Christian to feel this way. I love my parents, but in choosing to marry my wife I can also say, with no reservations, that I would want her to make these kinds decisions for me should I be similarly incapacitated.

Yet with all the hue-and-cry over this one Floridian, it raises a question about whether the presumption of – the importance of – life trumps all other issues. If that is the case, then Christians (and others who believe that Terry Schiavo’s “life” should be sustained artificially), indeed all Americans, must also address fully their views on capital punishment, on gun control, and on health care. If the state, and our medical system, is not capable of determining adequately that Schiavo’s current condition is irreversible, untreatable, and that she is truly brain dead, how, then, can anyone be so sure of the life-endangering determinations of guilt or innocence in crimes that carry a capital punishment? How can Americans believe that life is so important, while simultaneously failing to protect it in the most basic of ways? Or are gun control and health care a contravention of a Constitutionally-established right-to-die, just in a different formulation? What would Jesus have wanted?


The Schiavo situation is nothing but sad, and it should evoke mixed feelings. Life is definitely precious, and worth sustaining. But not necessarily at all costs. Not necessarily when the best science available today indicates that there is no “life” there in any conscious sense. Not when, as an individual choice, an individual chooses not to live in such a situation, or when such a belief is known to the person responsible for another’s care. More to the point, in this situation one can understand the impulses (religious or otherwise) that have pushed Congress and the President to act as they have, just as one can understand why Florida Governor Jeb Bush has sought out every legal avenue available to him. Theirs is an inherent, very human desire to save a helpless person’s life.

The problem is that as much as I understand it, I find it impossible to respect. Until President Bush, and Governor Bush, and Republicans and Democrats and all Americans alike are willing to agonize over an issue like the Schiavo case while also agonizing over the contradictions inherent in their actions and their beliefs – their support for capital punishment, or their opposition to abortion but their equal opposition to providing sex education or contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies – there can be no respect for unjustified state and Federal interference in this or any other case like it. The actions of politicians in the Schiavo case may look religiously-motivated, but they are nothing but political. It is politics at its worst.

  Copyright 2005, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
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