Overheard, while thinking of Terry Shiavo

While eating some Zeek’s pizza and reading the local paper’s coverage of the Terry Shiavo dilemma today, I suddenly realized what the lyrics playing on the radio were saying:

No life’s worth more than any other
No sister worth less than any brother

…somebody please send us a prayer!

It’s crazy, crazy
We’re breathing in the same air
It’s crazy, crazy, crazy
Don’t tell me that you don’t care….

Well, no life’s worth more than any other, unless you’re on a feeding tube, apparently. Then your life’s just not worth saving. In this era of America’s Next Top Model and The Swan, who can bear the thought of another human being living in anything less than peak condition?

I wonder if the next reality televison series will feature some chipper show host who travels around the country putting disabled people and people with terminal conditions out of their misery. Call it, “The Terminator” or “Extreme Makeover: Death Edition.”

And, since this is an ARTS blog and not a politics blog, let’s get back to the music! Time for another round of Steve Taylor’s song “Lifeboat”, from On the Fritz:

TEACHER: Good morning, class!
CLASS: Good morning, Mrs. Aryan.
TEACHER: Today we’re going to play a game!
CLASS: Yeah!
TEACHER: This game is called Lifeboat. All together…
CLASS: Lifeboat!
TEACHER: Good! Lifeboat is a lesson in values clarification. Can you say values clarification?
TEACHER: Values clarification is where your little minds decide which lives are worth living and which lives are worth…ahem… not living. Now here’s how we play. A big ship just sank. There are five people on the lifeboat. But the lifeboat is only made for two. I’ll list the five people on the chalkboard, and you, class, will decide which three will be thrown overboard. Are we ready?
CLASS: Yes, Mrs. Aryan.
TEACHER: Good! First, there’s an old, old crippled grandfather. Second, there’s a mentally handicapped person in a wheelchair.
ALISON: What’s mentally handicapped?
TEACHER: It means they can never be a productive members of society. Third, there’s an overweight woman on welfare, with a sniffling, whimpering baby.
MAX: Is the baby on welfare, too?
TEACHER: Let’s not push Mrs. Aryan…
SYDNEY: Who else is in the boat?
TEACHER: A young, white doctor with blue eyes and perfect teeth, and Joan Collins. Now, class, take five minutes to make your decision. … Times up! Well class?
CLASS: Throw over grandpa ’cause he’s getting pretty old, Throw out the baby or we’ll all be catching it’s cold, Throw over fatty and we’ll see if she can float, Throw out the retard, and they won’t be rockin’ the boat
TEACHER: Very good! That was fun, wasn’t it?
CLASS: Yes, Mrs. Aryan.
TEACHER: For our next lesson, we’re going to do an experiment!
CLASS: Yeah!
TEACHER: We’re going to test the law of gravity, just like Galileo, by dropping two objects out the window–one heavy and one light– to see which one hits the sidewalk first. Now what shall we use for the lighter object? I’m thinking of something small and square…
CLASS: An eraser?
TEACHER: Good! And what shall we use for the heavy object? I’m thinking of something round and bouncy… Tommy, I haven’t given you permission to leave your sea…class, the bell has not rung. What are you… oohh! Class…put me down! Put me down this instant! Ooohhh! Ooohhh!
CLASS: Throw over teacher and we’ll see if she can bounce, We’ve learned our lesson–teacher says perfection’s what counts, She’s getting old and gray and wears an ugly coat, Throw over teacher and we’ll play another game of lifeboat
Throw over grandpa ’cause he’s getting pretty old
Throw out the baby, or we’ll all be catching it’s cold
Throw over fatty and we’ll see if she can float
Throw out the retard, and they won’t be rockin’ the boat, Yeah!

Yes, I’m feeling grim. And sad.

“Be anxious for nothing,” he says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

I’m trying.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • jasdye

    1) why:
    You’re surprised by Disney doing another ‘Toy Story’ with or without Pixar? They will bleed the life out of anything that they have copyrights for. And then they’ll necromance it.

    2) jeffrey:
    i think i coined the term ‘blogocosmos.’ if i did, you can use it too. if i didn’t, disney may own the rights and i may be ordered a subpoena soon.

    keep hope alive.

  • Why

    NOO! Disney please stop the maddness! Don’t do “Toy Story” unless you have the great minds at Pixar behind you.

  • Paul Marchbanks

    You didn’t enjoy Ratner’s The Family Man? An unexpectedly GOOD flick.


  • mark

    I wasn’t going to say this but since someone else mentioned the reality show I can’t resist.

    I love the wonderfully facetious idea and I immediately thought that Clint Eastwood should be the one to produce it so we could be sure that it would be free from propaganda.

  • upline

    This is a great thoughtful blog of what we are facing as a nation and as a people these many weeks. A family is pleading for their child’s life. A sister and brother pleading for their sister’s life. Who among us would do any different then them.

    They see in their daughter and sister a spark of life a spark of their daughter and sister that wants life. They are willing to care for her if only the husband and courts would allow them to do so.

    The husband is a person of interest. He claims his young bride and him discussed this and she would want to die rather than be kissed and loved by her mother/father and sister and brother. I do question a young couples timing of talking about this in their early marriage.

    He went on to have another love interest and children but no divorce and he will not give back the rights of Terry to her parents.
    Does he know how he is hurting her family? That grief is inhuman as it is not to mention the life of Terry.

    My ex mother in law God bless her, used to say, no one dies a minute before their time. She is right on this one. Terry was not going to live to be over 200 years old. I could almost predict that she would die before 200 years of age. So why rush it. She will die when she is supposed to. In this instant the decision whether she should be left to die should have been made at the time of the accident. If she had no future why did they keep her alive all these years? This is a little late in the game to decide to pull her tube and let her die of dehydration and starvation.

    There is a law I heard a nurse say that it is illegal to keep food and water from a disabled person. This nurse on the news was trying to put this before the courts.

    I can see not doing any heroic measures to save her if her heart stopped or her breathing. This could be considered no further medical intervention. But food and water is not medicine and consider medical internvention.
    Food and water is the basic need of us all. If anyone of us were taken off food and water this too would be our fate.

    I like the comment about the new reality tv show. Where does this stop, who is the next to vote whether a disabled person should be allowed to dehydrate and starve to death because they are not like the rest of us. What is the thing we call life. In order to life do you have to meet certain critia or your voted out?

    Terry Shiavo was not out of the loop of life or love from what I can see. She was wanted and loved and is still clinging to life.
    God bless her. Jesus touch her.
    What have we all learned from this?
    Don’t let us become an indifferent society of souless people.
    My wonder is if Terry’s husband had a good dinner tonight and a beer or two?

  • mark

    Thank you for the incredible discussion. Let me agree with Jeffrey that it is indeed uplifting to see so much thought put into word on a topic as frought with peril as this one, and no one is attacking anyone personally.
    I must disagree, politely , with everyone who thinks this is a complicated issue. Within what each of you have written nearly the entire subject has been covered. First, God has ordained the protection of innocent life. As a citizen of our country that means Terri’s life should be protected by our government as long as she is alive whether she wants to be or not. When a citizen takes someone’s life illegally they lose that protection and it is then the government’s job to take his non-innocent life, capital punishment. That’s why it is wrong to kill abortion doctors.

    There are times in history when God has determined that a nation should be destroyed. In the old testament He frequently, though not always, used Israel to accomplish this. Some of those nations, Sodom and Gomorrah being they prime examples, had no innocent lives in them. If they did, God didn’t destroy them. The same thing goes on today, the war in Iraq being an example, but of course there are innocent lives in all countries today so none are totally destroyed.

    As for Jeffreys questions, or points, situations like this will not come up when the church starts spending more time on the great commission and less time in the court room.

    Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.

  • Thom

    I’ve been working to stay civil, because I am not against anyone, but there seem to be some questions that this raises (such as why is death the only place we are leaving this to God-why isn’t the decision to live being left in his hands?) and I want to come to some understanding and resolution, not just rant at people. I am trying to keep the same attitude at Barbara’s blog(where, in spite of stating that I don’t think the feeding tube SHOULD be removed, some seem to be responding to me as if I had).

    But in regards to your followup comment. Wow. I had not even thought of those questiones yet. Even more to think about.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    FWIW, I deeply appeciate the fact that you’re discussing this respectfully with each other and not launching missiles at each other.

    I, too, am still asking questions and exploring the issue, as it is indeed very complex. But my conscience is crying out at the thought of Terry being denied food and water while her own family wants to save her, and while we cannot truly know what she would say given healthy, whole faculties. And I recoil at the present crisis because of this: the precedent it sets will nudge us further toward deciding we can decide the fates of others lives based on their “quality” instead of nudging us in the direction of appreciating and improving and ministering to those who are suffering.

    Perhaps most disturbing of all: How many of those actively protesting Terry’s present crisis have ever gone out of their way to personally minister to someone in Terry’s condition? It’s so easy to jump on a political bandwagon and wave a flag or shout a slogan. But what about the long hours Terry spent before this crisis? How many were visiting her and contributing to her quality of life, influencing her desire to live, before it came to this? And how will protesters be involved after Terry is saved (if, indeed, she is)?

    I’m asking these questions to myself as much as anyone. Do I really have the right to rant about this?

  • Thom

    Yeah, I was reading about that this morning.

    It should be noted, as I said at Barbara N.’s blog, that I think it’s definitely wrong that they have removed the feeding tube when so much is going on in attempting to resolve the situation. They should keep the feeding tube in until there is resolve at least from the courts and government.

  • Steven D. Greydanus

    FWIW, allegations from three of Terri’s nurses that Michael Schiavo has opposed Terri’s rehabilitation and (one nurse says) seems even to have made repeated attempts on her life via insulin overdoses:

    One nurse speaks out:

    The nurse’s 2003 affidavit:

    Two more nurses speak out:

  • Thom

    Yes, I was not arguing that we can kill anybody. A lot of people keep responding to me on this topic as if I am decided that she should die. I have made no such claim. I *have* asked questions.

    Thanks to what I have seen of the husband, I am leaning against his side of this issue.

    I would disagree, however, with:
    “Second, food and water, however they are delivered, are not extraordinary or a medical procedure. They are a basic and fundamental human right.”

    How they are delivered is an issue. If the person would be unable to eat without mechanical assistance, that’s different from an immobile person who can swallow on their own. At any other time in history, Terri would not have lasted 15 years before a debate on the ethics of her death. That’s why the following is something that needs to be resolved.

    “Besides disallowing Terri to be fed, Michael has also allegedly disallowed therapy that was helping her to recover, disallowed photos in her room that could provide visual and emotional stimulus, and insisted that she remain in her room and not be brought out into the common area to spend time with other patients and visitors. Essentially, he seems to have been fighting any possibility of her recovery for a long time.”

    Someone was telling me that therapy very likely could have gotten her to a point where a feeding tube was not needed, yet he fought this? That is wrong on many levels.

    I’m asking questions, not giving answers…not arguing for her death. That is all.

  • Steven D. Greydanus

    “Thom’s point is that it’s a bit hypocritical to think that God respects life when he asks the Israelites to slaughter innocent women, children and pregnant women, and to take the virgins back home to essentially be sex slaves.”

    I’m not sure that’s Thom’s point at all.

    In any case, MY point — and I think you and I, Kevin, agree on this — is that the OT accounts of divinely sanctioned mayhem (regardless what we make of them) have no bearing on our moral duties to our fellow man today.

    Like I said, the standing order is “Thou shalt not kill,” and (the age of revelation being now closed and no people on earth currently enjoying the special direct guidance claimed for the Israelites in OT times) no one today has permission to deliberately and directly kill another innocent human being (whether they ever did is another question).

  • Wasp Jerky

    “If God told the Israelites to wipe out the inhabitants of a particular city, then one may conclude that they had the right to do so.”

    So if God tells me to kill someone, I can? I guess that explains why so many abortion doctors have been murdered and why so many homosexuals have been beaten to death. Thom’s point is that it’s a bit hypocritical to think that God respects life when he asks the Israelites to slaughter innocent women, children and pregnant women, and to take the virgins back home to essentially be sex slaves. I’m sorry, but God said so just doesn’t quite cut it here.

  • Steven D. Greydanus


    You say “I am having a hard time assuming God wants us to prolong every life (including my own).”

    The issue is not whether we have a duty to prolong every life. The issue is whether anyone has a right to take away food and water from someone who is not dying in order to starve/dehydrate her to death.

    If God told the Israelites to wipe out the inhabitants of a particular city, then one may conclude that they had the right to do so. As far as I know, God hasn’t told anyone to starve Terri Schiavo to death. The standing order is “Thou shalt not kill,” not “Leave none of them alive.”

    Oh, and here’s another one: “Depart from me, for I was hungry and thirsty, and you did not give me to eat and drink… As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”

    No, it’s not always morally necessary to provide every possible extraordinary medical procedure that could conceivably forestall the death of a terminally ill or injured patient. None of that, though, applies to what is happening here.

    First, Terri is not terminal — she is not dying, other than being starved to death at the moment.

    Second, food and water, however they are delivered, are not extraordinary or a medical procedure. They are a basic and fundamental human right.

    The fact that Terri needs to be fed (not even necessarily that she needs a feeding tube, because I understand she could swallow if she were hand-fed, but Michael allegedly hasn’t allowed this) does not make it any less obligatory that she be given food and water.

    A feeding tube is not “fighting nature.” A feeding tube is HELPING nature. Terri’s stomach and digestive tract are perfectly capable of digesting her food and sustaining her life; she just needs help getting it there.

    Whether or not Terri is aware and interacts with others, and I tend to believe that she does, doesn’t alter the fact that she is a living human being — speaking Christianly, a bearer of Imago Dei whose human nature Christ took to himself in the Incarnation. We must never mistake the term “persistent vegetative state” for anything but a very limited metaphor; no human being is ever morally equivalent to a vegetable.

    Besides disallowing Terri to be fed, Michael has also allegedly disallowed therapy that was helping her to recover, disallowed photos in her room that could provide visual and emotional stimulus, and insisted that she remain in her room and not be brought out into the common area to spend time with other patients and visitors. Essentially, he seems to have been fighting any possibility of her recovery for a long time.

  • jystewart

    In case you were wondering, the song’s by Michael Franti & Spearhead.

  • Thom

    I am trying to figure out why I am so torn on this, while folks on both sides see it so clearly.

    I mean, over on Barb’s site, people are talking like you have to be either an idiot or evil to not see it as clear as they do-and the same for those siding with Terri’s husband.

    It’s overly simple to talk like Terri is just in a situation of paralysis or a deformity or whatever. The evidence of interaction on her part is borderline (everything I watch seems like it could be wishful thinking on the parents part-I have not seen any footage that actually looks like she is aware of who or what is truely happening around her).

    In any other time, Terri would not have survived this long, she requires a feeding tube. If she can survive without it through regular means, then we are not fighting nature.

    This is messier than people are willing to give…and noone seems willing to explain to me where we get this “all life is precius to God” notion, that God would be against letting Terri pass into death.

    I look in the Bible, and I see nothing to indicate that God wants life protected at all costs. I do see God calling for the slaughter of every man woman and child and animal of a country and expressing disappointment when His people let infants, women and older children (and farm animals) live. God seems pretty willing to throw lives and souls away in Scripture…so I am having a hard time assuming God wants us to prolong every life (including my own).

    And yet her husband is a whole other set of issues and frustrations. All his motives are selfish near as I can tell. The only thing I can understand is the pain of having a spouse who you will never get to have an actual conversation with ever again. And yet, he didn’t wait or hold out for anything. He went on his merry way…far to callous.

    It’s just not as easy for me to see how cut and dried everyone else seems to want to make it out as.