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February 24, 2005 Edition

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• Guest commentary: Terri Schiavo: A revealing visit

Similarities: Pope and the president on freedom

photo of George Weigel
The Catholic 

George Weigel 

Commentators have noted parallels between President George W. Bush's second inaugural address and President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural.

What struck me, however, was the remarkable similarity between the president's second inaugural and Pope John Paul II's second address to the United Nations.

Pope's address

Here is the pope in 1995:

"We are witnessing an extraordinary global acceleration of that quest for freedom which is one of the great dynamics of human history. This phenomenon is not limited to any one part of the world; nor is it the expression of any single culture . . . [Its] global character . . . confirms that there are indeed universal human rights, rooted in the nature of the person . . .

" . . . we do not live in an irrational or meaningless world. On the contrary, there is a moral logic which is built into human life and which makes possible dialogue between individuals and peoples. . . .[thus] it is possible for mankind's historical journey to follow a path which is true to the finest aspirations of the human spirit.

"We have within us the capacities for wisdom and virtue. With these gifts, and with the help of God's grace, we can build . . . a civilization worthy of the human person, a true culture of freedom . . . And in doing so, we shall see that the tears of this century have prepared the ground for a new springtime of the human spirit."

President's inaugural

And here is the president in 2005:

"The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world . . . Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery . . .

"We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability . . . [but] because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul . . . History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty . . .

"Renewed in our strength - tested, but not weary - we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

Universal laws

There are some very large ideas in play here, briefly:

1. There is a universal human nature. However different human beings are, there is, at bottom, a common humanity composed of common characteristics, longings, aspirations, and temptations.

2. There is a universal moral law inscribed in this common human nature, a moral law we can know by reflecting on those common human experiences.

3. This universal moral law teaches us the dignity of the human person, from which we can deduce certain political truths: basic human rights are inalienable; government exists to protect and advance those rights; rights imply responsibilities.

4. That moral law and those political truths set a horizon of achievement in history. The defense of freedom is a moral obligation, not simply an exercise in self-interest. The goal of advancing freedom's cause throughout the world is not a romantic pipedream but a moral imperative built into the human condition - by, biblical people will insist, God himself.

Agree on freedom

Much ink has been spilled over the differences between the Bush administration and the Holy See on the prudence of invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. Some have wondered how the administration and the Vatican could work together in the future.

Here is one part of the answer: because the world's leading political power and the world's leading moral authority are both committed to the defense and advance of freedom in the world, against so-called "realists" who insist that "stability" is the goal in world politics.

Even given that common commitment, there will be disagreements over the prudence of this or that policy; that's inevitable. Still, that fact of life doesn't mitigate the importance of agreement on these four large ideas, which boldly challenge the conventional wisdom of the unrealistic realists in the name of a moral "logic" accessible to all.

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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Terri Schiavo: A revealing visit

Guest commentary 

Fr. Frank Pavone 

She is not dying. She has no terminal illness. She is not in a coma. She is not on life-support equipment. She is not alone, but rather has loving parents and siblings ready to care for her for the rest of her life. She has not requested death.

Yet a battle rages regarding whether Terri Schindler-Schiavo should be starved. She has sustained brain injuries and cannot speak or eat normally. Nevertheless, the only tube attached to her is a small, simple, painless feeding tube that provides her nourishment directly to her digestive system.

Her legal guardian is her husband, who has another woman by whom he has children. He wants Terri's feeding tube removed. He could allow her to be cared for by her parents and siblings, and get on with his life, but he refuses.

Visiting Terri

I have had two opportunities to visit Terri, most recently on the first Sunday of February.

I have been able to talk to her, listen to her struggle to speak, watch her focus her eyes and smile and attempt to kiss her parents. I have prayed with her, blessed her, and assured her that she has many friends around the country and around the world who love her.

News articles have recently characterized Terri's situation by saying that some want to "keep her alive against her husband's wishes." But Terri is not dying. What does "keeping her alive" mean, if not the same thing as keeping you and me alive - that is, by giving us adequate food, shelter, and care?

Act of violence

Some say that Terri's family should "let her go." But this is not a matter of "letting her go," because she isn't "going" anywhere. If she is deprived of nourishment, then she would slowly die in the same way any of us would slowly die if we were deprived of nourishment. It is called starvation.

If courts permit that to happen, then why should that apply only in Terri's case? Countless others would follow, their deaths described as "letting them die" instead of "killing them."

How to help

At the present time, there are two simple things you can do. Educate your neighbors about this situation. Visit our Web site, www.priestsforlife.org, and click on the "Terri Schiavo" link.

Second, contact anyone you know in Florida and ask them to encourage their governor and state legislators to continue doing everything possible to save Terri's life.

Fr. Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life.

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