By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
Less than a week after the death of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman caught in the middle of a legal battle between her husband and parents, professors and students are left analyzing the ethical and moral issues involved in the case and determining what they would want done in their own lives.
Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years while her husband, Michael, fought to have her taken off a feeding tube and allowed to die. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, fought to have her remain on the feeding tube. The case has been in the courts for more than a decade, only recently escalating when Schiavo’s feeding tube was taken out March 18 despite efforts by her parents to appeal to courts and Congress. Schiavo died Thursday after 13 days without food or water.
Dr. Perry Reeves, professor of chemistry, said the case reminded him of his own personal decisions about using scientific means to keep a family member alive.
“I think it’s an incredibly difficult issue,” Reeves said. “I think the whole question is what are extraordinary means used to keep people alive? Was a feeding tube extraordinary means or not?”
Neal Coates, assistant professor of political science, said the question of extending life has been magnified recently with the death of Pope John Paul II, who did not take any extra means to prolong his life.
“The Terri Schiavo case is sad for the family and friends,” Coates said. “It is instructive for the rest of us on how we treat people who cannot take care of themselves. Americans were reminded through the Terri Schiavo case that Americans in general and Christians specifically do care about life.”
Reeves said what probably helped split public opinion on the issue were the pictures and video of Schiavo shown on television where she appeared to be responding. The question that remains, he said, is regarding how brain damaged she actually was. An autopsy was conducted on Schiavo’s body at her husband’s request, and results will not be available for several weeks, according to CNN.com.
Coates said the main issue of the Terri Schiavo case was not whether one should have a living will, but whether her true wishes were being carried out. He said people were asking how the husband was able to retain the authority to make the decision, and many did not believe he was following Terri’s wishes.
“People didn’t think that she wanted to have food and water taken away from her,” Coates said.
He said if Michael Schiavo had been as willing to talk to the media as Terri’s parents were, the case would have cleared up much sooner.
Reeves co-teaches a class on biomedical ethics and said the Schiavo situation was similar to ones discussed in the course. He said the best practical advice for students to take away from the case is to let people know what they desire for situations such as Terri’s, and the best way to do that is to write them down.
Reeves said there is no easy answer to whether people should preserve someone in a vegetative state or coma or take them off life support and let them die.
“People say God gives life and God takes life, but we intervene on that every day,” he said. “For instance, if someone has a severe bacterial infection, should they be given antibiotics or not? When should you decide to intervene?”
Dr. Jeff Childers, associate professor of Bible, ministry and missions, said he appreciates the instincts of anyone who favors life and those who do not choose one side over the other because snap judgments on the issue are bound to be ill-advised.
“My personal plea is for, especially Christians, to spend a little more time on what they believe and why and how that relates to their faith,” Childers said.
He said the Terri Schiavo case is only a representative of hundreds of others of cases that occur every day around the country.
He said he doesn’t think the bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush on March 21, allowing the federal courts to step into the matter, will have much influence on legal battles such as those the Schindler’s fought because it is very specific for the state of Florida and for Terri. This law will only set a precedent if it is broadened to cover a greater area of the country and a greater number and variety of people, he said.
“Congress has been criticized, perhaps justly, for trumping a state court’s decision,” Coates said. “If Congress is going to step in, Congress becomes not just the supreme body in the land but the only body in the land.”
Childers said Christians should be less ready to jump on a political bandwagon and making hasty decisions because the issue is extremely complex.
He said Christians’ allegiance is not to America or Democrats or Republicans, but their primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God.
“Deep, prayerful reflection is called for and deep suspicions of the political agendas of those on either side of the issue,” Childers said.