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Euthanasia and Terri Schiavo

Responses by the American public and ethical/religious groups to Terri's process of dehydration:

2005-MAR-18 to the date of her death, MAR-31

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Terri Schiavo's incapacitation and dehydration death process have captured the attention of the American public as no other human interest story has in recent years.

bullet The impact of video: Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times News Service discussed "the power of an image to raise an issue, foment debate and inform convictions." After Terri's feeding tube was removed for the third and final time, clips from videos made a few years previously were repeatedly shown on many TV shows. 1 They seem to show Terri responding to her mother's attention. Those who promote Terri's right to life maintain that these clips show that Terri could be rehabilitated. Some physicians and others who feel that Terri should be allowed to die with dignity suggest that the videos are deceptive, having been carefully edited from hours of video which show Terri as unresponsive, expressionless, incurable, and untreatable. Bellafante compares the impact of these videos with the repeated showing in 1996 of movies of JonBenet Ramsey in beauty-pageant regalia. She writes that those movies "lent an air of perversity to the child's parents." She also draws a parallel with that of Senator Edmund Muskie who appeared to be crying at a podium in New Hampshire in 1972 while he was campaigning for the presidency. Many believe that this one photograph terminated his candidacy. Muskie acknowledged moisture on his face, but said it came from melted snowflakes. 2
bullet Vigil by the public: Eight days after Terri's feeding tube was removed, about 200 protestors conducted a vigil outside of the hospice in Pinellas Park, FL, where Terri is dying. Almost all are conservative Christians who believe strongly that Terri should not be allowed to die. A few were demonstrating in favor of Terri's right to die. On the evening of Easter Saturday, 2005-MAR-26, Terri Schiavo's parents asked the 60 protestors outside the hospice to go home and pray for Terri at Easter services. Brother Paul O'Donnell, a Roman Catholic Franciscan monk, is the parents' spiritual adviser. He suggest that the protestors: "Be with your children. Hold them close and cherish every moment you have with them."

Two demonstrators were arrested on MAR-26, after making a symbolic attempt to take water for Terri's nourishment into the hospice. They were arrested as had 31 earlier demonstrators who had taken similarl action. 3
bullet Reaction to the Congressional action: Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist, quoted a CBS News poll released on MAR-23 which found that 82% of the American public was opposed to Congress and the president intervening in Terri Schiavo's case. 74% felt it was all about politics. She quoted Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT/4) who commented that: "This Republican part of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy, They are going to be repercussions from this vote." She refered to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX/22): "...Even as he exploits this one sad case, DeLay has voted to slash Medicaid by $15 billion, denying money to care for poor people in nursing homes, some on feeding tubes."
bullet Reactions by visitors to this web site: From many dozens of Emails which this web site has received:
bullet Many very conservative Christians appear to be angry at the impotence of the President and Congress at not being able to force the reinserting of Terri's feeding tube.
bullet Many religious and social conservatives appear to be concerned about Congress:
bullet Giving Federal courts additional powers,
bullet Interfering in states-rights.
bullet Interfering with personal decisions.
bullet Interfering in family matters by attempting to overrule a spouse's decision.
bullet Many religious and social liberals appear to be concerned about governments adopting the beliefs of religious conservative and imposing their will in a very personal area -- end-of-life matters. They wonder if their wishes will be considered if they should find themselves in Terri Schiavo's situation.
bullet However, these Emails are probably sent by those among our 300,000 or so weekly visitors who are most concerned about Terri Schiavo. Their beliefs may not be representative of all visitors.
bullet A Roman Catholic appeal: Mary Ann Kreitzer, President Catholic Media Coalition (CMC) wrote: "We deplore the court-ordered execution of Terri Schiavo...The Governor of Florida is the chief law enforcement officer of the state. President Bush is the chief law enforcement officer of the country. A judge may not nullify state and federal laws that protect the right to life of citizens. These two men have the authority and the obligation to protect Terri from an activist judiciary determined to kill her. If Terri is dehydrated to death, no incapacitated citizen in the United States will be safe. We ask President Bush to sign an Executive Order to reinsert the feeding tube and send in Federal Marshals, if necessary, to see that it is done. We call on Governor Jeb Bush to take Terri into immediate protective custody under the Department of Children and Families. We call for a Grand Jury to be impaneled to investigate allegations of criminal abuse and neglect by Michael Schiavo and bias and judicial malfeasance against Judge George Greer." 5
bullet A Protestant Evangelical appeal: Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council wrote: "There is compelling evidence that key facts of Terri's case have been ignored by the judicial system. Judge Greer dismissed any motion for basic tests despite over 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals contending that Terri's condition should be reevaluated, and that Terri could respond favorably to therapy. Until these troubling questions, and numerous others, are answered, to err on the side of life is a good motto to keep in mind." 6
bullet Americans United for Separation of Church and State: Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of "Americans United" described phone conversation involving Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). They addressed members of the Family Research Council -- a conservative Christian group. Lynn wrote: "Religious Right leaders are determined to run all of our lives, from the moment of conception through the end of life...Frist and DeLay have wrapped sanctimonious language around political posturing. They are using Mrs. Schiavo's personal tragedy in Florida to burnish their credentials with an increasingly powerful component of the Republican Party. It's a sad, cynical political ploy....I find it appalling that top leaders of Congress are using the Schiavo tragedy to nurture their Religious Right base. I am confident that the American people do not want their personal lives subjected to interference from Congress and their Religious Right allies." 7
bullet Interfaith Movements:
bullet A group of interfaith religious leaders issued a statement on 2005-MAR-26 through a liberal group, the Center for American Progress. It said, in part: " does it come to pass that a spouse's anguish and a spouse's devotion to the expressed wishes of his loved one can be disparaged and discredited by religious figures acting in league with reckless politicians?....Sadly, we understand all too well how this can come to pass. We see clearly how an excruciating family drama—involving the understandable grief of the parents as well—is being manipulated for narrow partisan advantage. We, the undersigned religious leaders, hold that compassion and respect for a family's private decision making, respect for the rule of law, and respect for medical expertise are things of great value—are in fact moral goods that we jettison only at our peril."

We therefore call for an end to the selective morality that has been exhibited in connection with the tragic case of Terri Schiavo." 8
bullet C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance wrote a personal note about Terri Schiavo's life: "Profound questions disturb me. Are there no limits on the intrusive reach of this government?  Where will Washington go next?  Do claims of both religious and political authority give a government the right to invade the spheres of personal autonomy and religious independence?  How long will the American public wait for such questions to be answered."

"Dear friends, all of us would do well to step back from the bedside of a woman caught somewhere between death and life, divorce our political initiatives from this realm of personal and familial pain, pray for the peace of Terri Schiavo and her family, and after taking a hard look at how we feel about politicians who are willing to manipulate even personal pain in an effort aimed at political gain, decide what we are going to do about our democracy." 9

bullet Conservative Christian Attorneys: The Pentecostal Evangel, a publication of the conservative Christian denomination, the Assemblies of God interviewed some conservative Christian lawyers who are active in pro-life issues on the topic of euthanasia. They responded:
bullet Jeffery Ventrella of the Alliance Defense Fund said: "One of the threats is a philosophical definition of life in terms of functionality and personal expectation, rather than as a gift of God. When the husband in the Terri Schiavo case received court permission to remove the feeding tube from his brain-damaged wife, it was a form of privatized lethal force. Always in the past lethal force was publicly administered after very careful procedures were in place. Now we’re trying to privatize them with euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. If life is to be worth anything it must be sacrosanct, not subject to a sliding scale of personal whim or preference."
bullet Walter Weber of the American Center for Law and Justice said: "The Schiavo case, in which a disabled person was in the process of being starved, is representative of a large-scale phenomenon in this country. A lot of people are being eased out of hospices, hospitals and nursing homes. The only time it becomes an issue is when the family is in dispute."
bullet Dennis G. Brewer. also of the American Center for Law and Justice, said: "It’s sad to say, but euthanasia will someday be legalized. There’s already a thrust for it legislatively. We shouldn’t allow for exceptions because hard cases make bad law. But some doctors are already deciding when the quality of life is over. A lot of it goes on without being prosecuted." 10
bullet Disabled rights groups: Nina J. Easton of the Boston Globe wrote about the involvement of disability rights groups in the Terri Schiavo case. She writes: "Disability activists have latched onto the Schiavo case in recent years as a way to press for federal review of decisions by third parties to withhold life-sustaining treatment for people who cannot give their own consent. 'State courts tend to devalue people with disabilities'," said Marilyn Golden, policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. Golden argues that since the mid 1970s, courts have expanded the ability of family members, doctors, and judges to speak for patients who cannot speak for themselves.

Easton continues: "Disability groups and Christian conservatives first found common ground in the dispute over Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the self-styled promoter of physician-assisted suicide who aided in the deaths of severely ill patients. After protesting outside Kevorkian's home, antiabortion groups offered donations to the newly formed Not Dead Yet, but were turned down because members didn't want to get involved in the abortion battle. ''Now we have a bylaw against pro-life contributions,' said Diane Coleman, [spokesperson for Not Dead Yet]. But while disability groups want to keep their distance from social conservatives, they are actively hostile toward groups on the left, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, that have supported right-to-die cases." 11

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References used:

  1. Videos of Terri Schiavo can be seen on the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation website at:
  2. Ginia Bellafante, "How pictures move a debate," New York Times News Service, 2005-MAR-26.
  3. Oakland Ross, "Schiavo drifts towards death," Toronto Star, Toronto ON, 2005-MAR-27, Page A2.
  4. Maureen Dowd, "Republicans have become 'a party of theocracy'," New York Times. Published by Toronto Star, Toronto ON, 2005-MAR-27, Page A17.
  5. Mary Ann Kreitzer, "Press Release...from CMC President," Catholic Media Coalition, 2005-MAR-22, at:  This is a temporary listing.
  6. Tony Perkins, "Schiavo ruling: Erring on the side of death," Family Research Council, 2005-MAR-22, at:
  7. "Americans United Blasts Congressional Leaders' Promise To Push Religious Right Agenda. In Closed-Door Briefings, Frist, DeLay Cement Ties With Religious Right On Schiavo Case, Judges, Abortion, Marriage, Church Politicking, Ethics Complaints," Americans United, 2005-MAR-23, at:
  8. Rev. William G. Sinkford, "Religious Leaders Call for an End to Selective Morality in Washington," at:
  9. C. Welton Gaddy, "Personal reflections on Theresa Schiavo's Life," Interfaith Alliance, 2005-MAR-21, at:
  10. "A matter of life and death," Assemblies of God, USA, at:
  11. Nina J. Easton, "Rights groups for disabled join in fight," Boston Globe, 2005-MAR-23, at:

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-MAR-27
Latest update: 2005-MAR-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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