The tragic case of Terri Schiavo shows us one of the true miracles of human existence: it illustrates the process of communication and learning by which -- over time, as individuals and communities, and not without cost -- we seem to gradually change the world for the better. In that process, I can't help but wonder whether God is somehow at work.
No one who looks at a newspaper or at TV news can be unaware of the tragedy of Terri Schiavo. Doctors have testified, and courts have ruled, that Mrs. Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state for some 15 years (although medical opinion apparently isn't unanimous on that point). For years, her husband and her parents have fought a bitter court battle over whether her feeding- and hydration tubes should be removed; her husband claims that she had clearly stated she would not want to live like that, while her parents insist otherwise. The tubes were removed just over a week ago. The parents' avenues of appeal now appear to be exhausted. Mrs. Schiavo could die any day.
Certainly none of us would ever wish the Schiavo family's suffering on anyone. But it's hard not to be impressed by the "good" that, over the long term, will result from it:
- millions of people will have given at least some thought to what they would want their doctors to do if they were to be struck by similar misfortune;
- many people, seeking to learn from the Schiavo family's suffering, will draw up living wills to make their wishes clear;
- as a result of these loving acts, many families will be spared similar suffering;
- perhaps most importantly, society has been forced to think hard about its collective values, which likely will redound to the benefit of others in the future.
Thus, because of the process of human communication and learning, the tragedy of Mrs. Schiavo's death will benefit many, many others -- almost as if she were an organ donor, for all of us.