October 25, 2003
by Terry Schlossberg
Terri Schiavo, a resident of Florida, has been in the news recently because food and water have been restored to her after being removed. The facts of her situation are quite unsettling. We in the church should be grateful that a civil government official acted to do what Scripture charges government to do: protect the innocent.
Mrs. Schiavo is reported to have suffered substantial brain damage when she collapsed thirteen years ago and experienced cardiac arrest. Since then her husband and her parents have been in a long struggle over her treatment. Her situation came to light recently because her husband sought an order to remove the tube providing her with nutrition and hydration. She was not on a respirator and her general health was good. She was in a hospice and was being provided no treatment or therapy, although her parents wanted an opportunity to see if she could swallow so that she could take nutrition orally instead of by tube. Permission for that was denied.
|She is not in a coma. She is alert and responsive. She can communicate, although her ability to do that is limited. She expresses emotion appropriately. She is disabled.
Several articles have reported various descriptions of Mrs. Schiavo’s condition. Many of us are naturally interested in knowing about how well or poorly she is doing after all this time. However, a discussion of her condition is irrelevant to the morality of a decision about providing her with life-sustaining food and water. (She is not in a coma. She is alert and responsive. She can communicate, although her ability to do that is limited. She expresses emotion appropriately. She is disabled.)
For a couple of decades the provision of food and water has been considered "extraordinary" medical care. Following her collapse, Mrs. Schiavo had a simple gastrostomy tube inserted to provide her with life-sustaining nutrition and hydration: food and water. Without it she could not survive. She is not dying, but denial of food and water would kill her.
On Wednesday, Oct. 15, the tube through which she is fed was removed. Six days later, because of the intervention of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the tube was reinserted and Mrs. Schiavo once again is receiving food and water. This was truly an unusual incident of heroic action. Mrs. Schiavo shows obvious signs of the deprivation, however. Her condition as a result of the deprivation has not yet been reported.
The means of sustaining life was removed from a woman who was disabled but not otherwise dying. The result of denying food and water to anyone is slow and painful death. It is direct killing, and it is immoral. And Christians ought to stand unequivocally against denying food and water to anybody. Our Lord charges us all with the duty to protect the innocent and vulnerable members of our community.
It is important for all of us to be able to distinguish between what is truly exceptional and unwarranted treatment of those who are clearly at the end of their earthly lives, and what is needed simply to sustain life that is not dying. A strong note for the affirmation of life was struck when Governor Bush used the processes available to him to save this woman’s life. She is one of us.