Just a Vegetable?

(The Nationalist, 13 May 2005)


Do you remember the case in the United States a few weeks ago where a young woman, Terry Schiavo, who had been in hospital for many years became the centre of a controversy about keeping chronically ill people alive? It was said of her that she was in ‘PSV’ – medical shorthand for what is called a ‘Persistent Vegetative State’. It struck me, on hearing that phrase, that it was a propaganda term, not a descriptive one. It made a judgement about a person, a human being like ourselves, that she was just a vegetable.

Three things struck me about that:

The first, and the least important, is that it was a strange vegetable that, when told that her feeding tube was going to be withdrawn, was able to say, ‘I want’, and ‘I love’.

The second was how truly evil it was that they were going to be withheld from her until she died. In fact, she died of thirst, as a result of the deliberate denial to her of one of the most elementary requirements of human life – water, not elaborate medical treatment, just water.

The third was to ask what kind of people we are that we decide that a person, one of our own species, can be declared a vegetable, and therefore written off as a loss.

Whose need was being met by that judgment and decision? It wasn’t hers. Was it our desire, living in a society where everything is disposable, to be rid of a person who was seen as a burden? Was it that she was an offense to our valuation of a person by their productivity? Was it that we saw her as an untidy mess to be cleared up? The needs being met by the decision to terminate her life were someone else’s.

The Christian faith sets a high value on every person, regardless of their age, intelligence, health, education, social status, or whatever. It holds that every person is made in the image and likeness of God and has been redeemed by Jesus Christ, and is therefore to be valued without ambiguity.

In his recent inaugural homily, Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘We are not some casual, meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary’.


For those in a hurry: A string tied to a bird’s foot will keep it grounded just as effectively as a chain. (Saint Francis de Sales)