I was always intuitively and viscerally upset whenever women who had suffered miscarriages would lament well-intentioned people having attempted to console them with the words, “You can try again.”
Like Job’s “friends”, such people unfortunately misunderstood the nature of the situation so profoundly as to be unable to offer a meaningful response to those suffering this loss.
Having understood it intuitively, I also wanted to try to understand as rationally as possible why saying, “You can try again” is so inappropriate.
That is when I came upon this compelling paragraph by bioethicist Robert Spaemann who tackles various intellectual positions that would seek to eject members from the human family.
The philosopher Robert Spaemann has taught me to understand how there are two kinds of dignity. First, there is the universal dignity that all persons have by virtue of being human. This is also discussed within bioethics as fundamental human equality. Secondly, there is dignity that accords with a person’s particular worthiness owing to the virtue of an office, rank, or moral excellence.
Some healthcare professionals purport to have such neutrality and objectivity so to be inclined to treat every person equally according to the first kind of universal dignity characteristic of all human beings.
But persons, being persons, have a natural regard for both kinds of dignity.
Today marks the 11th anniversary of the 2010 plane crash in which 96 people, including Poland’s then president Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, died.
They were en route to commemorate the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre in which more than 20,000 Poles had been murdered by Soviets.
Those on the flight composed an official delegation and so many of the other crash victims were political, church, and military leaders in Poland.
I still remember a religious sister guiding me toward a monument commemorating victims of the crash in the Lublin cemetery. She whispered, “Some do not refer to this as the Smolensk disaster but rather as Katyn the Second.”
Sixteen years ago, Terri Schiavo died.
I remember that when she was in the news, I heard the term “vegetative state” for the first time. It immediately struck me as a completely inappropriate term for any person since it explicitly dehumanizes someone by applying an incorrect analogy. Initially the adjective meant, “endowed with the power of growth” but it has come to denote exactly the opposite in public bioethics – that a person is incapable of any significant growth or development. We do not tolerate those who would dehumanize others by calling them cockroaches, so we ought not tolerate the dehumanizing language that refers to persons as “vegetables.”
When I think about Terri Schiavo, I think especially about the impact that her life and death had on my friend Taylor Hyatt. She wrote this great piece several years ago titled, “13 days that changed my life: Remembering Terri Schiavo.”
In the piece, Taylor reflects on how Terri’s story captivated her when she was in Grade 7.