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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Life Before Death 

Our revered colleague Richard Cranium of the All Spin Zone was researching administration plans to slash funding for food stamps when he came across this gangbusters Easter sermon by Forrest Church, the Senior Minister of All Souls Church (Unitarian) in New York City, who strikes us as an okay joe, for a cleric:
I wish I could add that my compassion--always an elevating sentiment--extends to the politicians who have opportunistically seized upon this family tragedy to trumpet their piety. Jesus warned against public displays of piety. He knew that self-righteous display is the opposite of righteousness before God. Among other things, such displays promote hypocrisy. Today, with respect to our born-again Congress, this hypocrisy is most evident in the ongoing debate over next year's budget. Terri Schiavo's care, and that of others like her, is largely underwritten by Medicaid, even as national funding for health care is being frozen and may soon be slashed.

One can make a moral case against all forms of euthanasia, but to do so responsibly requires a commitment to underwrite the massive costs such a position must entail. As for all the pious political expostulation against starvation, cutting back on food stamps here at home or slicing foreign aid to abate famine abroad rips out untold numbers of feeding tubes. Children daily die in Africa by the hundreds, by the thousands, without fanfare--children not in a vegetative state, who might otherwise have lived a full and active life. While ignoring or rejecting so many other humanitarian pleas, when our legislators take time off from cutting the human services budget to promote a feeding law designed to address the plight of a single human being, they turn President Bush's "culture of life" mantra into a parody . . . .

By definition, a life-affirming ethic requires hard choices among competing moral ideals. For instance, the social cost of banning all forms of euthanasia--considered a mortal sin by the religious right--will be offset elsewhere, at the expense of pre-natal care or of preventative medicine. Some proportion of healthy people will get mortally ill in exchange for keeping a smaller number of critically ill people barely alive. To choose life, embracing the fullness of God's call, we must be morally mature enough to admit the necessity of triage. Otherwise, on the altar of our piety we may lavish care on those who can't significantly be helped, while others, whose lives might be saved at far less cost languish in the nation's expanding waiting room.

With respect to abortion, did you know that 300,000 fewer abortions were performed during President Clinton's eight years in office than have already occurred during President Bush's five. In part, this is surely due to the cutback in funding and the restriction of birth control and family planning services in health education and sex education programs . . . .

Beyond this, if we are truly to choose life, we must weigh the competing demands for our moral attention in the scales of equity and justice. An encompassing pro-life position would weigh into the balance poverty and malnutrition, equal health care and education, and all the many facets of human rights and dignity, with as much care as today's pro-life crusaders devote to abortion, euthanasia, and Gay marriage. To choose life is not, regardless of the cost, to mandate birth or to prevent death. To choose life is to nurture and enhance the quality of life for the entire human family. This entails moral choice and requires moral compromise. No responsible civil ethic can be fashioned that does not allow prioritizing the competing claims on our moral attention. To choose life- reverently and thoughtfully, unbiased by sentimentality-we must resist the siren's song of moral absolutists, for whom both choice and compromise are anathema.

If our religion doesn't inspire in us a humble affection for one another and a profound sense of awe at the wonder of being, what finally will? If we can't see our own tears in the eyes of all who mourn and would be comforted, how will we find comfort when we too enter the valley of the shadow?

These questions you won't find answered in the papers. There you'll see true believers with signs cursing judges and damning to hell a bewildered, angry man who has watched his wife linger on life supports in a twilight zone between birth and death for fifteen years. And you'll see pious politicians claiming fidelity to the letter of the scriptures, testifying on behalf of a narrow moralistic agenda, crafting sentimental ad hoc legislation that stands no chance of passing legal muster, while casting budget votes that defy the spirit of neighborliness without giving this a second thought.

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