Sunday, April 03, 2005

What is a "culture of life"?

Slate are currently running a series of very interesting letters between a liberal and conservative Catholic debating the historical legacy of the Pope. The letter linked to above was of particular interest to me, because it touched on a theme that I have been thinking about recently given the suffering of the Pope and the furore over the Terri Schiavo case.

President Bush earlier in the week gave his support to those who wished to create a "culture of life". This seems to be a meaningless phrase. It suggests that life, in itself, is a desirable end, totally devoid of quality or meaning. Simply put, the main objective on this planet is to survive. The conservative Catholic claimed that the Pope would have supported such a blanket stance. Yet in his dying days, he specifically repudiated such thoughts.

It is believed that the Pope refused to travel to hospital, because there he would have been placed on life support. Church doctrine refuses to allow life support to be switched off. In the words of the Vatican, however, the Pope has been serenely waiting for his meeting with his Father, and was prepared for his death rather than to suffer with indignity.

This, to me, seems to be an integral part of a true celebration of life. If life is nothing more than a struggle for survival, then it does become devoid of all meaning. Where is the joy in caring for friends? Where is the joy in excitement, travel, danger, discovery? Why, indeed, do we not go and find our own individual plots and just fend for ourselves? Life is precious because of the opportunities it opens to us.

The announcement of the Pope's death was very cleverly managed by the Vatican, who proved adept at managing the news cycle. Yet the significance of the announcement of the death was the dignity with which it was portrayed. There is much to question about the Pope's historical legacy. In my opinion, politically he used his influence for good; but in questions of culture, his influence is far more questionable, and some may even suggest morally corrupt.

However, the dignity of his death should restore some intellectualism and nuance to the debate regarding pro-life in all its forms. Sitting with friends the other day, we all agreed that were we in Terri Schiavo's situation, we would want the feeding tube removed. Similarly, if I had been the Pope, I would not have wished for life support. Our time on this earth, for whatever reason, is limited. Once we realise this fact we are able to achieve much more than if we simply try to live forever. “I am happy and you should be happy too. Do not weep.”