Updates for Saturday, April 2nd [2005]

A Death Culture

4/2/2005

Dear Friends,

I have spent the last week in awe following the tragedy of Mrs. Terri Schiavo. Let me offer my perspective on the story, should you not have fully understood prior, so that I can bring into ease my opinions and observations.

In the year 1990 Mrs. Schiavo, a saintly young woman who ate upon a scarce diet causing her to be bulimic, fell victim to a form of heart failure that rendered her mind and faculty totally incapacitated. By all natural means the woman would have died there, however the advances in this modern study of science intervened the fate of God's hand and brushed it to one side. Through insidious procedures, the woman with a dying mind had her body inserted with tubes, plugged with holes and strapped to machines, to keep the body living, as a mechanical creature or an automation. Where her mind could not cause her to, machines sustained her. This reminded me much of a book I read shortly before my time trip, of the abominable Frankenstein, where men of science created life of the dead flesh.

Her husband and family watched the progress in hope that one day the soul of Mrs. Schiavo, which can only be expressed in the form of her faculty and reason, could be resurrected. However, after 15 years the woman showed no more function than a longcase clock for which there tolled no particular time. Mr. Schiavo made clear in court that his wife's wishes would not have been to be unnaturally kept alive in such a state, and the court created an order allowing to have her "feeding tube" removed, causing her eventual starvation and hydor metakomisi of her body to complete the process of death.

Her parents, however, wanted the daughter to live, even if as a zombie. Deluded & believing her to be capable of thought, they would not suffer the murder of their daughter, & hired some doctors to contest the daughter's plainly visible condition. So it stood before the court, on two cases the husband removed the feeding tube and on two cases the parents appealed the decision upon some supposed emergency. The court appointed a medical officer to determine the condition of Mrs. Schiavo, concluded her to be in a "persistent vegetative state", and that her cerebral corta was filled not with the brain matter, but with cerebrospinal fluids, meaning the organ containing much of the individual's reason has begun to fall apart into a fluidous mass. While I don't know the full extent of what this means, I do know the brain and matter of the head, from my own limited understandings of medicine, influence heavily the function of thought, & no spirit could bear much thought possessing a chamberpot full of mud, although that spirit would be in better faculty than one laying within this woman's head. Upon this hearing, the third and final time, Mrs. Schiavo's tube was removed, and she died some 13 days later after much national debate. It would be injudicious to pass forward my full perspective without divulging how I felt about this brand of medicine, so let me tell you this...

We know, from what we see & feel, that the animal body in it's organs and functions is subject to derangement, inducing pain, & tending to it's destruction. In this disordered state, we observe nature providing for the re-establishment of order, by exciting some salutary evacuation of the morbific matter, or by some other operation which escapes our imperfect senses and researches. Mother nature brings on a crisis, by stools, vomiting, sweat, urine, expectoration, bleeding, &c, which, for the most part, ends in the restoration of healthy action. Experience has taught us, also, that there are certain substances, by which, applied to the living body, internally or externally, we can at will produce these same evacuations, and thus do, in a short time, what nature would do but slowly, and do effectually, what perhaps she would not have strength to accomplish. Where, then, we have seen a disease, characterized by specific signs or phenomena, and relieved by a certain natural evacuation or process, whenever that disease recurs under the same appearances, we may reasonably count on producing a solution of it, by the use of such substances as we have found produce the same evacuation or movement. Thus, fulness of the stomach we can relieve by emetics; diseases of the bowels, by purgatives; inflammatory cases, by bleeding; intermittents, by the Peruvian bark; syphilis, by mercury: watchfulness, by opium; &c.

So far, I bow to the utility of medicine. It goes to the well-defined forms of disease, & happily, to those the most frequent. But the disorders of the animal body, & the symptoms indicating them, are as various as the elements of which the body is composed. The combinations, too, of these symptoms are so infinitely diversified, that many associations of them appear too rarely to establish a definite disease; and to an unknown disease, there cannot be a known remedy. Here then, the judicious, the moral, the humane physician should stop. Having been so often a witness to the salutary efforts which nature makes to re-establish the disordered functions, he should rather trust to their action, than hazard the interruption of that, and a greater derangement of the system, by conjectural experiments on a machine so complicated & so unknown as the human body, & a subject so sacred as human life.

When the mother and father of Terri Schiavo enacted to replenish her body with the food of life, they kept living the organs of a corpse, surely only a society and culture obsessed with death could justify making living what would naturally be dead. It is good mercy on our fellow person not to play experimentally with what medicine cannot accomplish, not for 1 year and most definitely not for 15, but to instead have deeply impressed on our minds, the real limits of this art, & that when the state of a patient gets beyond these limits, the doctor's office is to be a watchful, & quiet spectator of the operations of nature, giving them fair play by a well-regulated regimen, & by all the aid they can derive from the excitement of good spirits & hope in the patient... and once the faculty of mind has left the patient, to not treat the human body like an experimental creation or chemical machine, but to let it be laid to rest, assuming the possibility of the faculty to return is, within reason, not possible. I have no doubt, that some diseases not yet understood may in time be transferred to the table of those known, and that it is with good reason that we use all our powers to keep these bordering the line of death and life alive as well we can. But, I would rather leave the restorative development to the slow hand of accident, than hasten it by guilty experiments on those who put their lives into the hands of science. The only sure foundations of medicine are, an intimate knolege of the human body, and observation on the effects of medicinal substances on that... keeping those who are incurably gone on the verge of life and death is the rejection of such foundations, and fraught with error and inhumanity.

What also dismayed me during the recourse of these events was the public's reaction. The public, particularly those calling themselves Republicans and Catholics, called for the decisions of the judges to be challenged by the governors and legislators. The sound division of powers in our government is a foundation for liberty, freedom, &c, & I see it as important not only to the order we have been founded upon, but the Constitution itself. If the governor can intervene in the judge's decision, then can not the President intervene in the Supreme Court's decisions, will not the army taking law into their own hands, and can not Congress deride with one motion any decision made by any of the courts, higher and lower? How is it that we have a government of limited powers, if we believe it is okay for those in one office to make all the decisions of all the other offices? If that is indeed the case, we have not a Republic as these "Republicans" would seem to believe, but a Monarchy.

It amazes me to see these men espousing the "culture of life" using ungodly science to worship the dead. May Terri Schiavo's soul rest now that it has finally met the hand of God, as all do irregardless of the best efforts of man to prevent it.

It seems as if the moment Terri Schiavo died, the death-obsessed media loomed over yet another figure, the Supreme Pontiff has stricken ill and is on the verge of dying. Of this matter I have little to say, besides that it is good to see Rome in resignation, and that it is showing it's age, through both it's Papal leader & it's general decline throughout the ages. Otherwise the event seems to be of little consequence, to me or to anyone else for that matter. Daniel says he would like to see the "Pope-mobile" escort the coffin in the Pope's pending funeral procession, to which I had little to add.

I must go my friends, but I will send more word soon. I salute you at all times with affection & respect.

- TH. Jefferson

Editor's Notes:

Not to be forgotten, Thomas Jefferson's birthday is today, he turns 262... although Jefferson's birthday is in a bit of dispute. Jefferson was born in the old calendar system (Julian system) on April 2nd, and that is the date on his tombstone per his instructions and likely the date he recognized as his own birthday. However during Jefferson's life the new calendar system became adopted, which adjusts his birthday 11 days forward to April 13th, the current national holiday of Jefferson's birthday. Either way, happy birthday TeeJ! (also wish your author a happy birthday, as I was also born on April 2nd)

Today's update, on Terri Schiavo, sums up my thoughts on this media farce in a lot of ways, but you might be surprised to know that at almost half of this update is in Jefferson's own words. In a letter to Dr. Caspar Wistar on June 21rst, 1807, then-President Jefferson expressed his "unlearned" outlook on the nature of medicine, where he reiterated several times that he believed medicine should act in knowledge of a real cure or a reasonable treatment. If it can't, the job of the medical practitioner shouldn't be to experiment on the ailing person, but to comfort them as best as possible to see if the ailment passes. I believe, from this, that Jefferson would not have supported keeping someone alive like Schiavo who had no chance of recovery even after 15 years of science keeping her body balanced between life and death, more than enough to determine if it was reasonable to keep her living. Whether the family wants to deny it or not, the woman suffered cortial death, she had no consciousness and was effectively braindead in every regard except for a few that keep her organs moving.


At left, a healthy human brain, at right, Terri Schiavo's brain, filled with brain and spinal fluids and mostly dead.

But if you want to work out Jefferson's ideas on medicine, here is the letter where he discusses his beliefs. I've removed a paragraph where Jefferson poses a few questions before getting back on-topic, besides that paragraph this letter is whole.

DEAR SIR,

I have a grandson, the son of Mr. Randolph, now about 15 years of age, in whose education I take a lively interest. His time has not hitherto been employed to the greatest advantage, a frequent change of tutors having prevented the steady pursuit of any one plan. Whether he possesses that lively imagination, usually called genius, I have not had opportunities of knowing. But I think he has an observing mind & sound judgment. He is assiduous, orderly, & of the most amiable temper & dispositions. As he will be at ease in point of property, his education is not directed to any particular possession, but will embrace those sciences which give to retired life usefulness, ornament or amusement. I am not a friend to placing growing men in populous cities, because they acquire there habits & partialities which do not contribute to the happiness of their after life. But there are particular branches of science, which are not so advantageously taught anywhere else in the U.S. as in Philadelphia. The garden at the Woodlands for Botany, Mr. Peale's Museum for Natural History, your Medical school for Anatomy, and the able professors in all of them, give advantages not to be found elsewhere. We propose, therefore, to send him to Philadelphia to attend the schools of Botany, Natural History, Anatomy, & perhaps Surgery; but not of Medicine. And why not of Medicine, you will ask? Being led to the subject, I will avail myself of the occasion to express my opinions on that science, and the extent of my medical creed. But, to finish first with respect to my grandson, I will state the favor I ask of you, which is the object of this letter.

[...]

This subject dismissed, I may now take up that which it led to, and further tax your patience with unlearned views of medicine; which, as in most cases, are, perhaps, the more confident in proportion as they are less enlightened.

We know, from what we see & feel, that the animal body in it's organs and functions is subject to derangement, inducing pain, & tending to it's destruction. In this disordered state, we observe nature providing for the re-establishment of order, by exciting some salutary evacuation of the morbific matter, or by some other operation which escapes our imperfect senses and researches. She brings on a crisis, by stools, vomiting, sweat, urine, expectoration, bleeding, &c., which, for the most part, ends in the restoration of healthy action. Experience has taught us, also, that there are certain substances, by which, applied to the living body, internally or externally, we can at will produce these same evacuations, and thus do, in a short time, what nature would do but slowly, and do effectually, what perhaps she would not have strength to accomplish. Where, then, we have seen a disease, characterized by specific signs or phenomena, and relieved by a certain natural evacuation or process, whenever that disease recurs under the same appearances, we may reasonably count on producing a solution of it, by the use of such substances as we have found produce the same evacuation or movement. Thus, fulness of the stomach we can relieve by emetics; diseases of the bowels, by purgatives; inflammatory cases, by bleeding; intermittents, by the Peruvian bark; syphilis, by mercury: watchfulness, by opium; &c. So far, I bow to the utility of medicine. It goes to the well-defined forms of disease, & happily, to those the most frequent. But the disorders of the animal body, & the symptoms indicating them, are as various as the elements of which the body is composed. The combinations, too, of these symptoms are so infinitely diversified, that many associations of them appear too rarely to establish a definite disease; and to an unknown disease, there cannot be a known remedy. Here then, the judicious, the moral, the humane physician should stop. Having been so often a witness to the salutary efforts which nature makes to re-establish the disordered functions, he should rather trust to their action, than hazard the interruption of that, and a greater derangement of the system, by conjectural experiments on a machine so complicated & so unknown as the human body, & a subject so sacred as human life. Or, ifthe appearance of doing something be necessary to keep alive the hope & spirits of the patient, it should be of the most innocent character. One of the most successful physicians I have ever known, has assured me, that he used more bread pills, drops of colored water, & powders of hickory ashes, than of all other medicines put together. It was certainly a pious fraud. But the adventurous physician goes on, & substitutes presumption for knolege. From the scanty field of what is known, he launches into the boundless region of what is unknown. He establishes for his guide some fanciful theory of corpuscular attraction, of chemical agency, of mechanical powers, of stimuli, of irritability accumulated or exhausted, of depletion by the lancet & repletion by mercury, or some other ingenious dream, which lets him into all nature's secrets at short hand. On the principle which he thus assumes, he forms his table of nosology, arrays his diseases into families, and extends his curative treatment, by analogy, to all the cases he has thus arbitrarily marshalled together. I have lived myself to see the disciples of Hoffman, Boerhaave, Stalh, Cullen, Brown, succeed one another like the shifting figures of a magic lantern, & their fancies, like the dresses of the annual doll-babies from Paris, becoming, from their novelty, the vogue of the day, and yielding to the next novelty their ephemeral favor. The patient, treated on the fashionable theory, sometimes gets well in spite of the medicine. The medicine therefore restored him, & the young doctor receives new courage to proceed in his bold experiments on the lives of his fellow creatures. I believe we may safely affirm, that the inexperienced & presumptuous band of medical tyros let loose upon the world, destroys more of human life in one year, than all the Robinhoods, Cartouches, & Macheaths do in a century. It is in this part of medicine that I wish to see a reform, an abandonment of hypothesis for sober facts, the first degree of value set on clinical observation, and the lowest on visionary theories. I would wish the young practitioner, especially, to have deeply impressed on his mind, the real limits of his art, & that when the state of his patient gets beyond these, his office is to be a watchful, but quiet spectator of the operations of nature, giving them fair play by a well-regulated regimen, & by all the aid they can derive from the excitement of good spirits & hope in the patient. I have no doubt, that some diseases not yet understood may in time be transferred to the table of those known. But, were I a physician, I would rather leave the transfer to the slow hand of accident, than hasten it by guilty experiments on those who put their lives into my hands. The only sure foundations of medicine are, an intimate knolege of the human body, and observation on the effects of medicinal substances on that. The anatomical & clinical schools, therefore, are those in which the young physician should be formed. If he enters with innocence that of the theory of medicine, it is scarcely possible he should come out untainted with error. His mind must be strong indeed, if, rising above juvenile credulity, it can maintain a wise infidelity against the authority of his instructors, & the bewitching delusions of their theories. You see that I estimate justly that portion of instruction which our medical students derive from your labors; &, associating with it one of the chairs which my old & able friend, Doctor Rush, so honorably fills, I consider them as the two fundamental pillars of the edifice. Indeed, I have such an opinion of the talents of the professors in the other branches which constitute the school of medicine with you, as to hope & believe, that it is from this side of the Atlantic, that Europe, which has taught us so many other things, will at length be led into sound principles in this branch of science, the most important of all others, being that to which we commit the care of health & life.

I dare say, that by this time, you are sufficiently sensible that old heads as well as young, may sometimes be charged with ignorance and presumption. The natural course of the human mind is certainly from credulity to scepticism; and this is perhaps the most favorable apology I can make for venturing so far out of my depth, & to one too, to whom the strong as well as the weak points of this science are so familiar. But having stumbled on the subject in my way, I wished to give a confession of my faith to a friend; & the rather, as I had perhaps, at time, to him as well as others, expressed my scepticism in medicine, without defining it's extent or foundation. At any rate, it has permitted me, for a moment, to abstract myself from the dry & dreary waste of politics, into which I have been impressed by the times on which I happened, and to indulge in the rich fields of nature, where alone I should have served as a volunteer, if left to my natural inclinations & partialities.

I salute you at all times with affection & respect.

- TH. Jefferson

I scoured Thomas Jefferson's literature to see if he had something nearly as eloquent to say about the Pope dying and also spent a bit of time researching Jefferson-era papal history (the French Revolution was of great concern to Jefferson, so Rome's involvement there would've dictate a lot of Jefferson's ideas of the papacy). However I came to the realization that Jefferson, well, probably wouldn't care much, living in a nation that was founded in rejecting the ideas of the imperial Roman Catholic Church. Jefferson has an acute hatred for the farce of organized church rule, particularly when it is organized on such levels that promote power and corruption, so he definitely wouldn't like the Pope. However in Jefferson's time Popes Pius VI & VII were at odds with his intellectual arch-nemesis, Napoleon Bonaparte. Jefferson's hatred for Napoleon would temper any ill-feelings he had with the church, as he hated Napoleon with a vitriol that few people could duplicate. Likewise the Enlightenment Era was bringing the rule of Rome to it's knees, which resulted in the loss of many papal states, lesser territories, and overall power and control. Modern Rome has considerably weak political influence compared to the Rome of Jefferson's age, so there is very little cause for concern... while today a lot of people still worship within the boundaries of the Catholic church, few people understand it to be a supreme body like it was for so long in Europe up until a couple of hundred years ago. The development of democracy and republicanism has debased organized religion from the seat of political power, religious attitudes may dictate policy but rarely can papal interests directly involve themselves in the legislative process of any given nation. Up until these dying days Pope John Paul II has been stuck giving out his opinion and little else on international affairs. Let's hope it stays that way with the next Pope that is chosen.

A short note, just minutes after I decided to post this, I learned Pope John Paul the second had indeed died, I am glad it didn't drag out forever like Terri Schiavo's death did.


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