The news of the death of Terri Schiavo led me to pray for her family and for all of those who have been so movingly affected by her plight. Her life can be a symbol of reconciliation and healing, if we take a step back from confrontation and seek to listen to each other and engage with each other in a respectful way.
condensed a longer reflection on the Schiavo situation for a commentary on the
the website of The United Methodist Church,
That reflection, which will be
posted today, follows:
The past few
weeks have been rough for me. The spectacle surrounding the Terri Schiavo case
has evoked personal memories that cut deeply.
I’ve thought about this intensely, prayed
about it and tried to put it in perspective.
Four years ago this July, my
spouse, our daughters and I, sat for three excruciating weeks at the bedside of
our dying son and brother. It was an experience I would not wish for anyone.
To be clear, our circumstances were
different from Ms. Schiavo’s. Matt had prepared an advance directive. We
followed his wishes.
was different from Ms. Schiavo’s, but the decision to not intervene with
extraordinary measures is the same emotionally devastating decision, regardless
of the circumstances. When House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said that withholding
a feeding tube was a barbaric act, it was as if someone put a branding iron to
my heart. It was searing and
Ms. Schiavo’s 15-year
ordeal is over, but I know that as I write this, parents, husbands, wives and
children are sitting in a hospice, or a hospital room, waiting as we did for a
loved one to reach life’s end.
they are aware of the public debate that has raged during the months leading up
to Ms. Schiavo’s death. They have heard the inflammatory rhetoric and have
perhaps questioned their own decisions. As they undergo their own private
ordeal, they will look deeply at their motivations, painfully evaluate negative
characterizations about this most sacred human experience, and struggle with
difficult decisions they must make about life support and palliative care.
The kindest, most loving thing they can
do may be to allow their loved one to die naturally without intervening, but
Rep. DeLay has framed this as a barbaric
They deserve better. They
deserve support, compassion, affirmation and sensitive listening. They wait in
agony, grasping to understand circumstances that none of us is prepared for,
trying to make a loving decision under extraordinarily difficult
They face stress now,
and they will face it later. Bereavement following the loss of a child can lead
to mental illness, disintegration of marriages, depression and abuse of alcohol
and drugs, according to a study conducted by the Danish Epidemiology Science
Center and appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine.
But these families are not
receiving compassion. They’re hearing words tossed about such as “starvation,”
“barbarism,” “euthanasia” and “assisted suicide.”
No loving parent wants to watch a
child die. It’s not how life is supposed to be. But rail as we might against the
injustice of it all, it happens. And there’s no way out of it but through
For me, it was the most painful
yet sacred experience I’ve ever been through–and also the most confusing. I
experienced a jumble of emotions that went to the core of my soul. It was
heartbreaking and spiritually elevating at the same time. I never felt more
alone, or more connected to and loved by those around
I became afraid of the dark, and
yet I felt as close to the presence of a loving God as I’ve ever been. As I read
the Scriptures, they came alive in a way I’d never experienced
I’ve not written publicly
about this because it’s been too painful and too private. But I write today
after prayerfully reflecting upon the trauma inflicted by the political debate
surrounding Ms. Schiavo. It’s been hurtful in more ways than the politicians
will ever understand. Their intervention–and that of the clergy who have given
them theological cover–is breathtaking for its insensitivity and lack of
The politicians did not
have to step into this broken family’s dispute. They made an extraordinary
effort to create this spectacle, betraying their own claims about respect for
the sanctity of life and the dignity of all persons. And the clergy could have
spoken of the need to offer pastoral care and counseling to the family, of the
fullness of life under God and the great moral challenges that we face in
circumstances such as this. But that is not the path either group chose.
We need serious discussion about
end-of-life care, genetic therapy, medical research and access to health care.
If we had this conversation, we would talk seriously about what makes for a life
of quality. And we would discuss the insight contained in the sacred writings
and holy scriptures of the world’s
We would talk about our
responsibility to care for citizens with disabilities and ensure their rights.
We would talk about preventive care and guidelines for end-of-life intervention.
We would talk about adequate funding for all of us to have access to health
And we would talk about holistic life, a
life imbued with the sacred; life as body, spirit and
My family’s experience with Matt was not
barbaric, it was sacred. For me to remain silent in response to the intemperate
language and political grandstanding of the Schiavo case seems a betrayal of my
son and the awe-filled experience we shared together at his
In a March 23 op-ed piece in The
Tennessean, Dr. Rubel Shelly, an ethicist at Vanderbilt University wrote,
“Perhaps death itself needs to be reconsidered by all of us. It is not an
absolute evil. Sometimes the real evil lies in forcing someone to endure
existence that is no longer really life.”
As a Christian, I believe death is not
the end. It is a transition. I believe with Paul that “We do not live to
ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and
if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we
are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7,8)
We are Easter people, and that means in
the darkness we look to the coming dawn, and in the gathering light we see the
renewing presence of a loving God who calls us to heal the wounded, comfort the
afflicted, bring wholeness to the broken and to live a life imbued with sacred
value. Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the
The end of life is not about politics.
It’s about faith.