The news out of Pinellas Park, Florida breaks the hearts of all decent people. It should shake us to the core. Terri Schiavo is dead, intentionally deprived of food and water, with the force of the raw power of government holding the hands of the executioners. She was killed deliberately, by starvation and dehydration. No Court, Legislative body or Chief Executive had the courage to stop this killing. She was deprived of her substantive due process rights by every branch of government.
Terri was not dying. She was not receiving any "extraordinary medical treatment." She was being fed and given water, as many disabled people are at this very moment, with assistance. She had trouble swallowing because she was disabled by damage to her brain. She would have lived for many, many years, bringing great joy to her family and changing the world. But now she is dead; killed by the complete abject failure of a system that has lost its soul.
The Greek word for "witness" is "martyrion". In our use of the word over all these centuries of Christian history, we have emphasized those who shed their blood for the faith. However, there is also a tradition of "white martyrs", those who live sacrificial lives that change the world. That is what Terri did. None of us will forget her smile. We all adopted her beautiful family. We now mourn her loss and share, at least a little, in their deep pain. We must also become outraged at the sheer evil of this killing and we must act.
Terri Schiavo is a martyr. She had her life taken away by the enforcers of a New Rome. Remember, the old Rome also had an elaborate system of courts and a highly developed legislative system. It prided itself on its culture, its arts and its claims to "civilization." Yet, it legally sanctioned horrors such as the practice of exposure, where children, the disabled and other "unwanted" persons were left on rocks to die by exposure to the elements or to be killed by hostile passers by. We now do the same.
The killing of Terri Schindler must mark a turning point in American history. Terri was killed while "the law" was unwilling to intervene. Her death stripped away the veneer of civility painted on the face of the current culture of death. It was a diabolical event, plain and simple. The rejection of the inherent value of every human life as a foundation of our whole understanding of ordered liberty is a clear and present danger. We face a serious risk to both life and liberty when reference to the truth is removed as the measuring stick for our behavior. Authentic freedom has been replaced by a counterfeit. The very foundation of decency is shaken.
To honor Terri, we should dedicate ourselves to the long term work of building a new society, a culture of life and civilization of love, where the dignity of every human life will be the polestar of all public policy; marriage and family will be protected as the first mediating institution and defended against those who aim to replace and eradicate them; authentic freedom will be exercised in reference to truth and within a moral constitution, and our obligations in solidarity to one another, and most especially those who have no voice, will be upheld by elected and unelected public servants.
With all the talk of the "religious influence" in America, the martyrdom of Terri Schiavo reveals the lack of a national soul. Terri was killed in a manner reminiscent of past evil regimes. I am reminded of the old adage attributed to the English Philosopher Alisdair Macintyre who, commenting on the decay in English society, once said "The Creed of the English is that there is no God but it is proper to pray to him once in a while." Without reference to the Source of unalienable rights, the One who placed the hunger for true justice within every human heart, we have become unmoored as a Nation.
Terrible injustices sometimes mark turning points in the political history of Nations. I pray that Terri’s death becomes such an event; an impetus for a new coalition for life, family, freedom and solidarity. If it does, Terri’s martyrdom will not have been in vain.