Monday, September 24, 2007

64. DEATH BE NOT PROUD

From the Archives

(31 March 2005) Well the poor woman’s body has finally been allowed to die.

I’ve been looking out the window at ominous clouds wondering how many of Terri Schiavo’s angry mourners mourned Matthew Shephard’s death, how many of them supported “Rev.” Fred Phelps, who protested at the funeral and tortured Shephard’s grieving parents by screaming that their son was in Hell where he belongs and that God Hates Fags. There’s a fine example of Christian charity ... or was that faith-based moral judgment at tax-payers' expense? (It’s getting closer all the time.)

There were no good outcomes in this tragedy, but these hypocritical Christians and opportunistic politicians really disgust me.

How can DeLay, whose morals have long been in question and who removed life-support from his own parent, look at himself in the mirror? How can Frist, who no doubt advised families of patients who had suffered irreversible heart damage to let their loved ones die with dignity? Surely some reporter can find these people and expose him for the opportunistic fraud he is.

Yahoo! reports that “Dawn Kozsey, 47, a musician who was among those outside Schiavo’s hospice, wept. ‘Words cannot express the rage I feel,’ she said. ‘Is my heart broken for this? Yes.’”

Did Dawn Kozsey protest after Matthew Shephard was murdered? Express rage? Was her heart broken?

Yahoo! again: “Rev. Frank Pavone [said] ‘This is not only a death, with all the sadness that brings, but this is a killing, and for that we not only grieve [the deceased’s passing] but we grieve that our nation has allowed such an atrocity as this and we pray that it will never happen again.’”

Did Rev. Pavone grieve Shephard’s murder? Make a public statement against homophobia? Did he work to create safeguards to decrease the likelihood of such a thing ever happening again, preach a sermon about loving all of God’s children?

I was on a bus in New York City when I heard the news about Matthew Shephard and overheard the woman behind me saying “Those fags deserve to die. Fuck!ng in the butt like they got no sense.”

The irony of the pope being on a tube is not lost on me. Nor is the irony of a man being arrested for offering a reward for the murder of Michael Shiavo (because he supports life, no doubt).

I have been in a situation where we had to make a decision to remove or not remove life support four times. It is a horrible decision to have to make, but which decision was best seemed clear each time.

My grandmother, who climbed mountains in her 80s and who had been in excellent health for all of her life, had a massive heart attack. Tests showed that she suffered major damage. A surgeon could have performed an extremely invasive surgery that would have kept her alive (and in ICU) for a few more weeks, but she had no chance of meaningful recovery nor would she have ever left the hospital.

Who would make the decision to perform that surgery? Removing the shell of her body from life support while expressing gratitude that someone so wonderful had lived so long and died so quickly was clearly the right decision and I am so grateful that I was able to hold her hand as she died.

My father—and this is useful information for everyone to know—signed a DNR in the hospital, then was released and readmitted a few hours later. The admissions clerk told him that he did not have to sign a DNR again but, when he went into heart failure, the doctors insisted on reviving him because he had failed to sign a new DNR upon readmittance.

So, instead of being able to die naturally from the cancer that had metasticized all over his body (cancer that no one knew about until the evening before this event, when he was admitted for tests), he lived with no brain activity for another five days because one of my sisters—who was separated from her husband and days away from delivering her first child (a child who would now never know her grandfather)—refused to believe the doctor when he said that Daddy was a vegetable. She argued with him, told us we wanted to murder our own father/husband, said he was in the room recovering, come see.

It was awful, but my mother was right that the decision should be unanimous. So he lay there for days basically melting as the cancer attacked the part of his brain that regulates temperature, until my sister finally agreed that we should remove life support and let his outer shell go.

Thankfully, Mud’s father was a surgeon who understood that his wife had no chance for meaningful recovery, so Mud and her dad and I were in the room with her when she died peacefully from (seemingly) natural causes.

We made the decision to not remove life support from my teenager brother after his traumatic motorcycle wreck, despite heavy pressure from medical personnel to donate his organs to someone who had some chance of a meaningful recovery. They told us that he had less than a one percent chance of survival and that he was horribly injured, but we could see that he was also screaming when the equipment registered him as dead and watched him bite a nurse when the doctor began a cut-down on him without anesthesizing him.

We decided that he was clearly fighting for his life and taht he deserved to continue fighting, even if he did only have a 1 percent chance of living (and lo, the boy lived to drink and drive another day).



David Morris’s Alternet column today explores how “organized religion elevates superstition to an entirely new level..." Let’s call its institutions by their proper name, he says, “superstition-based institutions...: The impact of moving towards superstition-based institutions would be highly controversial, quite educational, and on the whole exceedingly salutary,” he says. “Consider the impact on the audience if we switched the interchangeable terms in President George W. Bush's following statement, posted on a federal web site:
I believe in the power of superstition in people's lives. Our government should not fear programs that exist because a church or a synagogue or a mosque has decided to start one. We should not discriminate against programs based upon superstition in America. We should enable them to access federal money, because superstition-based programs can change people's lives, and America will be better off for it.

He quotes Robert Green Ingersoll, who traveled the country explaining

why the word God does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. The founding fathers "knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping, or in the keeping of her God, the sacred rights of man."

Ingersoll believed that reason, not faith, could and should be the basis for modern morality. "Our civilization is not Christian. It does not come from the skies. It is not a result of 'inspiration,’ he insisted. ‘It is the child of invention, of discovery, of applied knowledge—that is to say, of science. When man [sic] becomes great and grand enough to admit that all have equal rights; when thought is untrammeled; when worship shall consist in doing useful things; when religion means the discharge of obligations to our fellow-men [sic], then, and not until then, will the world be civilized."

And he quotes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who

explained how organized and assertive religions around the world have restricted women's rights. "You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman ... I have been traveling over the old world during the last few years and have found new food for thought. What power is it that makes the Hindu woman burn herself upon a funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion. Man [sic], of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, 'Thus saith the Lord,' of course he can do it."

Stanton's enduring motto was, "Seek Truth for Authority, not Authority for Truth."

Finally, he notes with alarm that

Organized superstition in this country has begun to drive and guide social policy. The clearest example of this is the recent enactment by several states of laws that allow pharmacists and doctors and hospitals to refuse to treat patients whose behavior conflicts with the their superstitions.

The central problem with organized, assertive religion, of course, is that it endows superstition with a moral and messianic fervor. God-directed superstition can be a lethal force. Indeed, one might argue that this type of force is behind much of the violence around the world.

If you want to read the entire article, it’s here

2 comments:

Dawn said...

Thank you for making me aware of Matthew "Shepard" who was murdered ...he actually was attacked on the day of my husband's death, and I was unaware of any of this. Nor have I ever heard of Fred Phelps but upon reading your post, full of assumptions, and further researching these people you have written about, I must respond.

I was aware of Terri Schiavo because I received a prayer request concerning her back in 2003 and read extensively about her case. I had already suffered fighting for both the lives of the most precious people I had known in my life, my husband and my mother. My husband was on life support at the end of his life. My mother was on dialysis and a feeding tube. In both situations the medical community did not feel their lives worthy enough to sustain, even though both wanted desperately to live. So I fought to sustain them. My heart is still broken after this. When I received a prayer request for Terri, I could truly empathize with her parents. I still do. No one will ever convince me that it is humane and merciful to starve and dehydrate a person to death.

I did not protest the injustice done to Matthew Shephard...Call me selfish, if you will, but I was fighting for my husband's life at the time and was unaware of what had happened. I did not hear about what was happening in the news, as I was burying my husband and tending to my children and all of out grief. Matthew Shephard's torturous murder was a terrible tragedy, extremely injust, and very heartbreaking.

I do not agree with Fred Phelps and find it horrific that he would protest at a funeral and torture Matthew's grieving parents as you have stated. Their tremendous grief did not need a judgemental screamer. It is actually beyond disgusting and extremely cruel.

I am heartbroken by a world full of injustice and lacking in brotherly love. May revival fall upon us, starting with me.

I am not damned by God as you would curse me, but am blessed abundantly. I am a christian, I am sinner, but I have been redeemed. My hope does not rely upon my accomplishments or my worthiness. At my best, I fall tremendously short. We all fall short of the Glory of God. I will not look at others and renounce their lives, as I must look into my own heart and must give an account for it. May God's words be written upon my heart and find expression in my life.
In sincerety,
Dawn Kozsey

MEDEApoetica said...

Dawn, thank you for your thoughtful comment and for correcting my misspelling of Matthew Shepard's name. I wish that Fred Phelps and his cruelty could simply fade from the spotlight, but the man keeps spreading his hatred across the land and proclaiming that he acts in the name of the Judeo-Christian god. He was protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq until recently, when legislators put a stop to his hateful disruptions.

I also wish that none of us had to learn firsthand how awful it is to be in the position Michael Schiavo or Terry Schiavo's parents or you or my family were in. No one wins when the human body ceases functioning. It is traumatic and heartwrenching for everyone involved, including the medical professionals who know all too well the limits of their ability to heal the sick and wounded.

My own experience tells me that there are far worse scenarios than being allowed to die peacefully when your body gives out. I also believe that the person I knew as my father was no longer inhabiting his brain-dead body when we turned off life support, that starvation does not mean the same thing to a cognizant person as it does to a body that can keep breathing indefinitely when a person is no longer there.

This was an easier decision for my family to make, however, because we already knew his wishes.