Thank God She Is Dead

February 10, 2009

Eluana Englaro, 38, force-fed without purpose or meaning since 1992, has died. While her injury was no doubt a tragedy, her death should marked by humanists as a triumph of reason and celebrated by those who believe in an afterlife. "Death is a messenger of joy," to paraphrase Baha'u'llah, for with it comes the "joyful tidings of reunion." The greatest tragedy, today, is not that she has died. It is that so many have fought so hard against allowing nature to take its course.

Even more so than in the case of Terri Schiavo in the U.S., the rhetoric in the Italian woman's case clearly demonstrates the lack of basic human dignity afforded to women by far too many in society. This is misogyny at its worst. This is the classic dehumanization of half the globe's population. What else can you call it when the most powerful man in that society refers to the patient as merely an "organism"? ("... amazed that doctors who have vowed to save human lives can take part in the act that will surely lead to death, even cruelly by depriving the organism of food," said Silvio Berlusconi over the weekend).

Granted he technically recognizes that she is/was a member of the human species, but certainly the range of his statements over time make clear that, to him, and countless others, the "female of the species" might as well be called the "lesser of the species." (i.e. 1, 2). This is not just about Silvio Berlusconi. This is about recognizing that women are not simply baby-making machines ("Eluana is alive, and she could have children"); this is about recognizing that all women deserve the respect, dignity, and opportunity enjoyed by men (of all colors) around the world.

"For the world of humanity possesses two wings: man and woman. If one wing remains incapable and defective, it will restrict the power of the other, and full flight will be impossible. Therefore, the completeness and perfection of the human world are dependent upon the equal development of these two wings."

'Abdu'l-Baha, in Promulgation of Universal Peace, p318

When our language blames women for rape (explicitly or implicitly), when men's prejudices and fears foster a hostile workplace environment, when our justice systems refuse to allow women the right of self defense in the face of (sexual) violence, when women are denied the right to choose their own medical treatment – then we are breaking that wing, again and again.