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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Friday, March 18, 2005  

"An unjust law is no law at all"

Latest on the Terri Schiavo case: Judge Greer orders her starvation to commence * Feeding tube reported removed.

Updates: The Corner * Blogs for Terri * Terri's Fight * Life News

* * *

Peggy Noonan:

Bill Frist and Tom DeLay and Jim Sensenbrenner and Denny Hastert and all the rest would be better off risking looking ridiculous and flying down to Florida, standing outside Terri Schiavo's room and physically restraining the poor harassed staff who may be told soon to remove her feeding tube, than standing by in Washington, helpless and tied in legislative knots, and doing nothing.

Issue whatever subpoena, call whatever witnesses, pass whatever emergency bill, but don't let this woman die.

* * *

Bravo, let her husband finish her off, says Ivy League bioethicist.

* * *

[W]ho dares say you have no right to commune with your gravely ill child? To comfort your child? To pray for your child? Who dares say you have no right to hope that she will recover no matter what the doctors say? Who dares say you have no right to comfort, commune with and pray for her even if you have given up hope? Yes, the woman is mortally ill. Who dares say that her life is therefore worthless, to be cut off at her husband's whim?

The rabbis speak often of the crucial religious obligation of visiting and comforting the sick. They derive the requirement directly from what they call the "greatest principle of Torah," a certain verse in Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." God himself is said to have visited ailing Abraham. When you visit sick people, your most important duty is to pray for their recovery. Such an act matters profoundly not only to the sick but (as a positive religious obligation) to the visitor, and the society he represents. "He who visits a sick man," Maimonides writes, "is as though he would take away part of his sickness and lighten his pain." Who dares deprive parents of that right?

-- "Terri Schiavo's Life," David Gelernter

* * *

One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

… A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust…

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law…

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers…

-- "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr.

* * *

The New Pantagruel editorializes in favor of civil disobedience on behalf of Terri Schiavo if legal recourse to save her life fails:

As Terri’s family and millions of people know, the State is wrong. There is a higher law. If last ditch efforts in the Florida Legislature and the United States Congress also fail, and the administration of Governor Jeb Bush fails in its duty to uphold the higher law, those closest to Terri—her family, friends, and members of their communities of care—are morally free to contemplate and take extra-legal action as they deem it necessary to save Terri’s life, up to and including forcible resistance to the State’s coercive and unjust implementation of Terri’s death by starvation. The Christian community and all people of good conscience, rather than accepting the State’s actions with the small consolation that “everything that could be done was done,” should acknowledge the true horizon of morally acceptable responses, and should actively encourage and support all such responses when taken by those with immediate responsibility for Terri’s care and wellbeing.


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