As I noted in an essay some weeks ago, people who support evolution have a wondrously strange habit of using language that is diametrically opposed to their meaning. Now, we see this same tendency coming to the fore again, only this time the consequences are somewhat more immediate.
The problem revolves around the meaning of the phrase “vegetative state.” According to the National Institutes of Health, “a persistent vegetative state (commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as "brain-death") sometimes follows a coma. Individuals in such a state have lost their thinking abilities and awareness of their surroundings, but retain non-cognitive function and normal sleep patterns…. Spontaneous movements may occur, and the eyes may open in response to external stimuli. They may even occasionally grimace, cry, or laugh. Although individuals in a persistent vegetative state may appear somewhat normal, they do not speak and they are unable to respond to commands.”
Note that the NIH definition does not say the individual is dead. It merely describes an inability to communicate. This distinction appears to be lost on many. Instead, today’s commentators on the situation want to have it both ways. They want to insist that Terry Schiavo is both alive and dead, sometimes insisting on both in the same sentence.
Take, for instance, Ronald Bailey, Reason’s science correspondent: “So is Terri Schiavo still alive? The odds are way against it. It's time that her long-suffering parents and the grandstanding politicians let her go in peace.”
Or Michael Schiavo himself: "Terri died 15 years ago. It's time for her to be with the Lord like she wanted to be."
Now these statements, and all the statements like it, are absurd. Simply put, there are only two possibilities here: either Theresa Schiavo is a person or she is not there at all - her body is a rather unusual corpse. Despite what biological evolutionists might say to the contrary, there is nothing in between. Either the entity under discussion is a person or not.
Death is the separation of human soul from human body. When the soul leaves the body, the person is no longer in the body. The soul is the organizing principle of the body. When the soul leaves the body, the body decays back into the dust from which it was made. That is death - the divorce of soul and body, the divorce of two entities that were meant to be indissolubly joined. Divorce is a concept that Michael Schiavo and his supporters don't seem to understand very well.
If Terri Schiavo is no longer there, then it matters little what happens to her body. She’s already gone. Her body could be slapped around, burned, kicked like a football, what difference would it make to Terri? She isn't there. If Terri isn't there, Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers are both arguing over a corpse and have been for the last several years. You can’t torture a corpse. You can’t rouse the peacefulness of a corpse. Corpses don’t suffer. Whether her parents get her corpse back or Michael incinerates her corpse today while it still moves, laughs, grimaces, makes no difference at all.
If, on the other hand, her soul has not left her body, then Michael Schiavo is trying to murder Terri and the courts are going along with it.
There is no gray in this matter.
So, why do so many of those who support the removal of the feeding tube insist on using language that both denies and implies that Terri is “there”? For the same reason the evolutionists intentionally use distorting language. They want us to empathize with what it would be like to be in Terri’s state. But that isn’t possible.
If we were in Terri’s state, according to their own testimony, we wouldn’t be aware of it because we wouldn’t be in our bodies at all. We would either be somewhere else (assuming God exists), or we simply wouldn’t be (assuming He doesn’t). This whole argument is not just an attempt to deny Terri's personhood, it is actually much more subtle than that. It is an attempt to pretend that personhood is subject to evolution, that there are various grades, states, levels of personhood.
The assertion is interesting in one respect. The only individuals who have ever raised such an argument have been totalitarians.
Stalin believed there were kulaks and peasants. Kulaks exploited peasants. Kulaks were blood-sucking parasites (his phrasing) and had to be destroyed. Hitler, of course, believed in exactly this distinction, this caste system, even this phrasing, in reference to the groups he disliked as well. Hinduism accepts this kind of gradation among its people, insisting that ninety-five percent of the population exists in order to serve as slaves to the Brahmin caste of the enlightened five percent. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was built on a caste system of Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons, each level less human than the one above it.
The concept is absolutely ludicrous and completely at odds with the facts of Judeo-Christian truth. It is also in perfect harmony with the mindset created by modern science. Ever since the French Revolution, many proponents of science have explicitly attempted to destroy Christianity, the mother who gave science birth. Unfortunately, by attempting to supplant the system of thought that made science possible, scientists have been forced to adopt language that is self-refuting.
Science cannot determine intention, it can never be more than neutral on the subject. However, it also cannot conceive of the universe as purposeless nor is it able to create a purposeless language to describe it.
This is not surprising. Language embodies purpose. We communicate for reasons, not for randomness. It is not possible to describe the universe as lacking in purpose precisely because the use of language presupposes the existence of purpose. Because we are unable to describe a universe without a purpose, and because science cannot determine intention, we know there is an aspect of human knowledge which science cannot plumb. This fact enrages the humanistic rationalists no end. It means science is incomplete. It means God must exist.
We are told that the responses Terry Schiavo makes to her surroundings are random, not directed, that she cannot communicate. Many people have gone to great lengths to insist on this point over and over again for the last several years. Notice that this kind of insistence is rarely necessary when we view a corpse. By the very fact that these movements have to be interpreted again and again, by the very fact that we need to be constantly reminded that what we see is not real, we are reminded of the story of the adulterous man caught in the act by his wife. “Who are you going to believe, honey?" said the man as he looked up from his harlot, "Me, or your lying eyes?”
This debate has been an interesting intellectual exercise, in the sense that watching a man manipulate the placement of a pea beneath several small shells is an interesting intellectual exercise. But, as with the shell game, the point of the current debate is to take something by trickery that cannot be taken in justice. The question is a good one. Who are you going to believe?