For the last six weeks, coverage of Terri Schiavo has been ubiquitous. Articles in newspapers, editorial comments and talk radio all ask, “How did we come to this?”

Many of the writings and many of the people expressing themselves over the airwaves give the impression of true surprise and shock. They all seem to be searching for the cause, the reason that explains this situation. I would suggest that they look in the mirror.

As a society, we have made a conscious decision to “step away” from some of our most deeply held core beliefs. One small portion at a time, we’ve sacrificed our authority to confront and decry such treatment.

Forty years ago, we were capable of making value judgments. We believed that some behaviors were superior to others. Not only did we believe this, but we were not shy about announcing it. Thrift was superior to extravagance, hard work better than indolence. Cohabitation was frowned upon, out-of-wedlock pregnancies were family embarrassments, and a man living with one woman while remaining married to another was an adulterer.

I’ve heard people ask, “Why would we allow Michael Schiavo, a person who obviously has “moved on” with his life, control the medical treatment of a woman he no longer feels married to?” We are told that he is her husband, regardless of his current lifestyle. After all, in a non-judgmental society where no value set is superior to any other, we may not use his behavior as a measuring tool to determine his fitness as Terri’s health-care decision maker.

Thirty-five years ago, we believed that the most helpless among us were deserving of the most protection. We have moved away from the celebration of the individual and supplanted this with a celebration of groups. The collective is now paramount. Individual rights are routinely trampled in order to bequeath rights to all types of special groups. Hiring practices, college entrance and scholarship awards are just a few areas now that are dominated by a trend that ensures the participation of certain groups in approved percentages. In all of these areas, achievement used to be dependent solely on effort, preparation and accomplishment. This is no longer the case. The special nature of the individual has been superseded by the importance of the collective interest. The individual no longer has stature in society.

Little more than 30 years ago, our society held the philosophical belief that all life was sacred from conception to death. In 1973, we stepped away from that belief as well. Over the ensuing years, we’ve incrementally moved from “only during the first trimester” to “as long as the head is still inside, it isn’t really alive yet.” We’ve spent so much time and effort during the last 30-plus years employing the euphemisms and contorted definitions we’ve invented to convince ourselves that abortion isn’t really murder, that we’ve lost the authority to be outraged when murder is committed before our very eyes. We’ve established long-standing precedent – allowing one human to decide the fate of another based on nothing other than convenience.

Ponder these statements, and you will reach the same inescapable conclusion that I have: We are all responsible for the conditions that culminated in the tragedy that is Terri Schiavo.

It has been said that in order for evil to triumph good men need do nothing. We refused to complain when sections of society decided to no longer accredit value judgment. Our tacit agreement to accept all value systems as valid and all behaviors as acceptable has left us incapable of voicing serious objection to Michael Schiavo’s actions as caregiver to his forsaken wife, while lying in the arms of another woman.

Our acceptance of the ascendance of the importance of groups, at the expense of the celebration of individuality, has resulted in no legal protections for a helpless, hapless woman. Her group is not large enough, or radical enough, to merit judicial attention.

Our negligence, as portions of our society consistently devalued the preciousness of a human life, has resulted in our inability at this late date to influence our society to value this person’s life. The sheer numbers of people who can be now heard crying, “This is murder!” makes you wonder why there were not 500,000 people at the last Right to Life March as opposed to 5,000. No doubt these people had tee times, dinner plans, shopping trips or other important social gatherings that could not be rescheduled or interfered with.

Terri Shiavo is the first to befall this fate. The first is always the most difficult. Once this poor woman passes on, our attention will return to Iraq, Michael Jackson, Social Security and the price of gasoline. The next incident of this type will garner little media coverage, and even less outrage. Ask any person involved with ministering to prisoners. They will tell you the murderers always say, “The first one was the most difficult; each subsequent killing came more easily than the last.”

The Terri Schiavo situation is our clarion call. If we allow this to pass from our memory without demanding a complete re-evaluation of what we will stand for, and not stand for, as a nation we will have no reason to cry, “How did we come to this?” when the next atrocity occurs.

The eminent Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase “defining deviancy down.” We have reached the point in our society where the purposeful starvation of a helpless human being can be requested by a bigamist, approved by an activist judiciary and cannot be halted by the greatest deliberative body on the planet. Look what we have wrought!

Bill Wavering
Master Planner
Arkansas Army National Guard

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