Monday, December 17, 2007

New Jersey: Protecting Life from Conviction to Natural Death

This morning as I was preparing to go to work, I heard that New Jersey had outlawed the Death Penalty. I'm sure this will make most people on the Left happy. After all, we have to protect potentially innocent people from being killed. Sadly, this same protection doesn't apply to babies in the womb or to those who are in a persistent vegetative state. This protection only applies to those who have been adjudicated guilty of the crime of murder with heinous circumstances. I guess innocence is in the eye of the beholder. Someday, if I can stomach it, I will critique the late Cardinal Bernardin's "Seamless Garment Theory."

Here, sadly, is the link:,4670,DeathPenaltyNewJersey,00.html


Shaughn said...

As someone who gravitates heavily toward a Federalist style of governance, I support New Jersey's decision to make a decision on the death penalty (if that makes any sense). As it happens, I would happily vote against the death penalty and abortion in basically every instance except when the mother's life is at risk.

But! The mentioning of those in a persistant vegetative state caught my attention. I'd like to share my recent mulling of the issue, within the context of the recent Terry Schiavo case:

So, we have two suppositions about Terry Schiavo.

1) Her soul departed from her body the moment she reached what has been proven medically via autopsy to be an essentially non-responsive state and went wherever the Good Lord intended for her to go.

In that instance, the body, then, has become an empty vessel that mostly caused pain for her husband and her parents. They were not able to grieve properly and, harsh though it may sound, get on with life.

2) Her soul did /not/ depart from her body the moment she reached what has been proven medically via autopsy to be an essentially non-responsive state, and she therefore could not depart to wherever the Good Lord intended for her to go.

Put another way, her soul was held captive in a non-responsive vessel for a decade, causing pain on a daily basis for her husband and for her parents. They were not able to grieve properly and, harsh though it may sound, get on with life.

I hope and pray, of course, that the first instance was the correct one. Otherwise, I cannot even imagine the state of her soul at that time. Was it like a decade long sleep, and then release? Or a decade of anguish and longing for escape?

This issue, I think, chafes a great deal with those concerned with life issues in a way that most euthanasia and abortion cases do not. That is, active euthanasia, when the patient is in any way coherent amounts to either suicide or manslaughter. Abortion, excepting perhaps when both mother and child would likely die in the absence of the procedure, amounts to murder or manslaughter of an unborn child (over which states, not the Federal courts, have jurisdiction, but that is, as they say, an issue for another entry).

In the case of a patient in a permanently non-responsive state, however, the relationship between life and eternal soul becomes muddied. On the one hand, we are dealing with human life--something created by and blessed by God. On the other hand, we are dealing with an eternal soul destined for God knows what, which is in a state where it can no longer willfully move either further away from or closer to achieving God's will with God's help. (I'm trying very hard here to avoid theological debates in the comments section over free will.) Essentially, a soul held in a non-responsive body cannot sin. It also cannot participate in receiving the Eucharist, which must be received willfully, or any other sacraments. It cannot pray or worship. It can exhibit no virtue or vice.

All such a soul can do is wait for the sleep of death, when it can finally go where God intends for it to go.


Now, in the forum where I posted this meditation, some objected that I was, in essence, "playing God." I don't think allowing someone to pass who is in a non-responsive state is playing God, so much as allowing God to play the role He normally would play, were it not for the marvels of modern science.

Unfortunately, one can cast Schiavo's case in two radically opposing lights. We might say she was allowed to die once her feeding tube was removed, or we might say she was starved slowly. Ultimately, I think cases like Terri Schiavo fall well within the boundaries of what the Archbishop describes as "extraordinary measures" in Anglican-Catholic Faith and Practice, but I'm sure glad I'm not making the decision. I do, of course, appreciate vigorous debate on the subject.

Thank you for posting this news article, Father. Be well!


The Rev. Robert T. Jones IV, Psy.D. said...

Two points:

1. The problem with the position that equates abortion and the death penalty as equivalent vis a vis the issue of life is that in the case of the death penalty, the state is exacting a severe penalty for the taking of a human life. That the state has the authority to do this is evident from both the bible, Christian tradition, and English Common Law and the Civil Law. In the case of abortion, the life that is snuffed out is absolutely innocent, save original sin. The problem with the "Seamless Garment" theory advocated by the late Cardinal Bernardin and Pope John Paul II is that it blurs this distinction between punishment of the guilty and murder of the innocent.

2. As to the Schiavo case, it is important to understand the distinction between a persistent vegetative state and a persistent non-responsive state. In a persistent vegetative state it is possible for the victim to have some understanding of their surroundings. They may even respond to the call of their name and/or external stimuli in their environment. A persistent non-responsive state, on the other hand, is even more murky. If by non-responsive, you include coma victims, there is significant evidence to suggest that coma victims may in some cases be able to understand the things that are occurring in their environment. So, in either case, it is a very risky path to needlessly terminate their lives. In Schiavo's case, the autopsy really would say very little about what she may or may not known in any type of conscious awareness.

In each situation, innocent life must be protected at all costs. Therefore, if a person has been adjudicated guilty of a capital crime, justice, both legal and divine, demand that satisfication be made. In the case of abortion and those in vegetative states, it is critical that we stand up for these helpless ones who are not able to speak for themselves.

The Rev. Robert T. Jones IV, Psy.D. said...

By the way, it's not that I think that New Jersey does not have the right to abolish the death penalty, of course a state is able to determine what it considers appropriate punishments. I just think they made a poor decision.