Meanwhile, in Texas
I’ve been following a news story out of California these past few days. It is the tragic story of a young girl who went into the hospital for a routine tonsillectomy and suffered complications that left her, according to multiple doctors, brain dead.
Since there was no hope of recovery the hospital wanted to take the girl off life support but the family has been vigorously opposing this move. They obtained a court order keeping the plug from being pulled and they have been frantically looking for a facility that will take the girl and keep her alive. The anguished family has been on TV pleading for help.
Meanwhile, in Texas, there is the story of a young woman who is also on life support. She too has been declared brain dead. In this case her husband, citing discussions he had with his wife where they agreed they would never want to be on life support, wants to pull the plug and allow her to die. But the young woman is pregnant and Texas law prevents pregnant women from being taken off life support. She has become sort of a comatose incubator.
Two similar cases, two opposite wishes from the grieving families, both denied by law. Your heart has to go out to both families. Yet ethical questions abound. Who is right? Who gets to decide? Judges? Family? Doctors? Should states set blanket laws for all circumstances without regard for case-by-case factors? Who gets to decide what “alive” means? What factor, if any, does quality of life and/or cost of prolonging life play?
I’ve done some searching on the internet for opinions on these cases. To no great surprise there is a large chorus of opinions, nearly all of them quite sure they know what should be done. Also not surprising, there are quite a few Christians very sure they know what to do. In fact, being certain about complex questions is sort of an evangelical distinctive. We have the Bible, God’s answer to everything, and are sure that, if we study it hard enough, we will be able to discern the answer to every situational question going.
Ethics are good and having a consistent ethical philosophy to live by makes good sense. But I think it also makes sense to answer “I don’t know.” to many complex ethical questions. Even if our belief in inerrancy has us believe that the Bible is an answer book for every possible situation we might face, which I don’t think it does, we must always admit that as we try to discern those answers our own understanding is far from inerrant.
So what would you say to the two grieving families? The only Bible verse that comes to my mind is that we want to “weep with those who weep.” We want to support families as they face their tragedies, and also as they face bewilderingly different legal situations in their wishes and desires. We want to be long on grace and love and slow with easy answers or lectures on what God’s will is. People who grieve need our love, not our theology lessons.