By Rabbi Zvi Konikov
My last column sparked much conversation. Some people were especially attentive when I drew the parallel of taking action to end a life as opposed to not taking that action, even if the end result is the same to the not too distant past Terri Schiavo situation.
Jewish law tells us that every individual human life has absolute, not relative, value. Had I been guiding people in the case of Terri Schiavo, I would remind those involved that Jewish law says we must do everything we can to preserve and prolong life, regardless of its so-called "quality." Taking an action that will shorten life is tantamount to murder, even if that person will die anyway within a few hours or minutes.
When I was asked if it really did make a difference, I explained that it does, indeed, make all the difference in the world. We have no control over the greater issues of life and death as there is a higher authority who decides these things. What we do have, though, is control over our own actions. The action of taking an innocent life can never be justified - certainly not by the arrogant notion that we can place a relative value on a human life.
No person ever gets "suddenly" lost in the forest. First a person is walking on the trail; then he strays one step off it, than another and then a third. Eventually, he finds himself many miles off trail, deep in the forest.
Can anyone imagine Terri Schiavo's husband being granted judicial dispensation to starve his brain-damaged wife to death 20 years ago? If that could happen with such little outrage, where will we be on "right to die" and "right to kill" issues 20 years from now?
The Terri Schiavo case and others like it demonstrate that when we lose sight of the divine, absolute value of life, the change is at first hardly noticeable. Only the weakest, most defenseless lives are affected ... people like Terri Schiavo and others who no longer have a voice. But that first step is, in many ways, the most crucial one. Unless the trend is halted and reversed, it will lead to a second step and a third and before long, we will be deep in the barbaric woods where everything is relative, where the right to life is entirely relative to power, wealth and physical strength.
As I mentioned in last month's article, unless life has absolute value, it ultimately has no value. And unless we accord absolute moral significance to our actions, they are ultimately of no moral significance.
Rabbi Zvi Konikov is director of Chabad of the Space and Treasure Coasts, 1190 A1A, Satellite Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.