Hospice Patients Alliance: Consumer Advocacy


by Ron Panzer
April 5, 2005

These past few days I've been attempting, among other things, to communicate with some online community "dialogers," sharing questions, thoughts, areas of possible exploration in the Terri Schindler Schiavo case, but no matter what I brought up, it was always the same response: she was "better off dead," "there was no 'person' there to be 'killed,'" "the 'always correct' doctors 'all' were in agreement that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state," "the courts have litigated this umpteen number of times and all agree with the decision made, so just let her die," and "Michael was just honoring Terri's wishes."

It became obvious eventually (I am a little slow sometimes!) that no matter what I offered as "evidence" that there were serious questions about how it all came to pass, they would defend the status quo, the mainstream media's "take" on the story, there was no point in even trying to converse. No real "communication" was taking place.

Sometimes it is amazing to watch the varying perceptions people may have of exactly the same events in life. You may know the ancient Indian story about the eight blind men who, when feeling an elephant, argue about what the elephant was like. Some would say, it's like a tree trunk, having felt the powerful legs; others would say, it's like a wall, having felt the body; others would say, it's like a huge leaf, having felt the ears; and others would say, it's like a snake, having felt the trunk...

Of course, the truth, the reality of an "elephant" is much more than any one perspective of the elephant, and the reality is greater than the sum of all the separate limited views one may have of the elephant. And while one view or perception of the elephant may complement another, they are not mutually exclusive perceptions. Once explained, the separate perceptions can all be added together without contradicting the other views. They are all true, but limited perceptions, partial truths.

Like a positive or negative view, or the woman's point of view as contrasted with the man's, the rich person's view as contrasted with the poor person's view, a child's view as contrasted with the parents' view, all are part of the reality, yet not totally denying the other's view.

However, there is such a thing as mutually exclusive perceptions or mutually exclusive "worldviews." It's as if people perceiving the same event or reality, actually experience completely different "realities" though the actual "reality" itself is the same. How does this occur?

Each fact of a case, each event, each observation made, is made through the filter of one's world view, one's basic orientation to reality. The difference between the worldviews is much more than just looking at something from a different perspective (like the blind men in the story). It's as if, the mutually exclusive perceptions or worldviews cancel each other out, or if they do not actually "cancel" each other out, one cannot live within one worldview and simultaneously live within the other. We can place one foot in one rowboat, and the other in another rowboat, but when the rowboats take different paths, you've got to choose one or the other or fall in the lake. The differences in world view prevent one side from perceiving the other's side, as if there is a curtain dividing the two "camps" from seeing what the other sees, believing what the other believes, "knowing" what the other knows. And each side believes the other side to be "prejudiced" and "biased."

I grew up seeing a different reality than those around me. While I saw life bubbling over with beauty, others just saw "nature, a physical reality to be studied." While I searched for God, others could not understand why one would bother searching for something that could not possibly exist. They forcefully denied the possibility that God could exist at all, tried to beat down my questions and search, trying to impose their worldview upon an "obviously misguided" seeker. And when I found God, they "knew" that there was nothing to it.

Now, I see God's radiance all around, filling every nook and corner of Creation;

they see only every nook and corner, but no radiance and no "Creation."

One hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, those who could never even contemplate the dehydration murder of a defenseless disabled woman were decisively in the majority in the USA. Today, who knows which worldview has the majority? We're a nation divided, not just between different agendas or political leanings, but also between different "visions" of the world, or worldviews. We have mutually exclusive views of the world. Either there is a God or there is not. Either there is sanctity of life, or there is not. Either every life has worth and meaning, or not. Either we care or we kill.

Those who subscribe to the view that life is created, is sacred, is a gift of God and that life has meaning beyond anything man can understand, ... they have valued Terri's life and the lives of all, whether "able" or "disabled."

Those who subscribe to the view that life is an accident, not "created," that there is no God to even make life a gift, or who see no ultimate "meaning" to man's life other than what he accomplishes in this world or what he experiences in this world, ... they have universally come out supporting Terri's death and yes, the death of ALL those like her!

They see no life where we see life. They see no "person" where we see a person to be loved and cared for. They see no "murder" where we do, and we cry out to Heaven for justice. They see no "starvation or dehydration" occurring where it is obvious to us that that is exactly what happened.

And we wonder, "how can they not see the obvious?" How can they lie about it? The answer is that they have what I call "anti-vision." They see what they want to see. (and they would accuse us of doing the same).

They hate religion, faith, talk of God or of sanctity of life, and they hate us. We hate the harm done to the least of our fellow human beings.

You must know the famous painting by Michaelangelo where God extends His hand out with his fingers pointing toward man, while man reaches out to God, but just missing. There is a gap between God and man. Well, that is not the end of the story, at least not for me. I don't accept that as the final verdict.

For me, God is ever present, a presence that never leaves; wherever I look, His radiance can be perceived. I wonder, how can God not be present? How can God be distant? How could there be a gap between God and His creation? And yes, I know that the theologians love to argue about such things, but my reality is: He is here! His love extends to all of us. He never left me or you.

We may feel that there is a gap; we may feel that we are abandoned or alone, but it is not God who has abandoned us. We feel that way only because of our own forgetfulness. If we do not give weight to our doubts, and if we remember His promise, we find He has been with us all the time. How could we possibly forget Him? How could we possibly harm our sister Terri? How could we possibly do what we have done, as a society?

What has happened was only evil and insane. Those who killed Terri believe in the "rightness" of their actions. They may even believe in God, but I cannot understand the zeal, the urgency they felt to kill her. They felt they had to do this in order to confirm their own worldview, to confirm their own values and to deny ours. It is clear they "needed" Terri's death to make a point, to show the world how "progressive" they are, how much they respect "patient's rights."

When they looked at Terri, they saw nothing. When I contemplated Terri, I saw life, a woman, a helpless victim. Where they see "patient choice," I see concocted lies. Where they see "compassion," I see cold-hearted ruthless, merciless murder.

It is not a question of different perspectives alone; it is a question of mutually exclusive realities. We do live in differerent worlds, and the actions of one world's adherents has swallowed up the life of another, a life loved by those in the other world view. I don't think there is a way to bridge the gap between the two worlds, and that is why the battle is far from over.

We do not seek to kill the participants in their world view, but they do!

We must understand: they do!

And though they become enraged when we compare their actions to Nazi Germany, I cannot but see the similarities between Nazi Germany's worldview and action, and their world view and actions. The fruits of their tree (of actions) looks the same as the fruits of Hitler's tree: ruthless victimization and murder.

All I know is that they do not hear the same drummer or serve the same vision or mission that I serve. They say that they are bringing "progress" to our society and are transforming how society "looks at dying." I say they are looking to impose dying upon select targeted people within our society, by hastening death and manipulating the courts to suit their ends; they are perverting society and destroying the foundation of our nation's very existence.

And while there are some who simply don't care, there will soon come a time when they all will care, because it will be their lives that are affected.

"Anti-vision?" It may not be a common phrase, but somehow it makes sense to me. I do not see this conflict as something that can simply be explained away or resolved through discussion. This is a battle for the very existence of many and for the way we as a nation choose to treat the elderly, disabled, chronically ill and vulnerable.

Without a faith in God, without the view that life is sacred, without submission and adherence to a higher law, without a pledge to "do no harm," there is nothing to prevent us from falling into the abyss.

Submission is not a word or concept that those who killed Terri find inviting. They do not wish to submit to anything or anyone. For them, the individual man reigns supreme, so long as he agrees with them! For them, man's law reigns supreme, not God's law. They refuse to accept the commandment: "thou shall not kill."

We understand that we cannot be fulfilled without submission to God's will and law.

This is the time to act, to speak up, to strengthen our resolve and to never stop trying. We are at a pivotal turning point, and we are going to have to choose which vision is going to be America's vision. From the values expressed in our Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution, till fairly recently, it was clear which vision society generally embraced. Today, we are a nation divided. And sorry to say, there is no quick solution to this ongoing conflict. This conflict is here to stay and this generation is being tested.

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