(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Terri Schiavo died last Thursday, ending a long contested personal and political battle over her right to die. The feeding tube was removed almost two weeks earlier from the 41-year-old woman, who had spent 15 years in a vegetative state.
The legal battle between her husband, Michael, and her parents was put to rest when the federal courts adhered to a decision refusing to allow Schiavo’s parents to block an order to remove the feeding tube. Although much of the public is relieved that Terri can now rest in peace, there are many moral and ethical legacies that her life, and death, will leave us with.
In light of the fight over Terri’s right to die, or right to live, depending on which side you look at it from, the public has become more aware of the living will. A living will is the popular name for a written statement of your wishes for health care should you no longer be competent enough to take part in decisions about your own medical treatment. Had Schiavo had one, there may have been a lot less strife and feud within her family.
“I have had these discussions with my mother, and it’s always been deeply ingrained in me that we feel that once it’s our time to go, it’s time and there should be nothing artificial in our bodies to keep us alive,” said George Washington University senior Erin Maguire. “The time that somebody becomes so sick, it’s already so emotional for the family, and I think it’s horrible that these fights cause so much more unrest. I think [a living will] just makes things easier and less complicated.”
“I think they’re important. I’d definitely get one. My family and I already talked about what our wishes would be, so it would be very clear what we would want if something did happen. And we’ve all made it clear that we wouldn’t want to go to the lengths that some others have,” said Georgetown University senior Matthew Stewart.
This debate has taken on even more meaning in light of the passing of Pope John Paul II, who died just a day later. As the leader of the Catholic world, the Pope took a traditionally conservative stance, denying that families had any moral right to end artificial health care measures to keep patients alive.
“The administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act,” he said in a speech last March to a Catholic conference in Rome. He insisted that denying such treatment would be no different than “euthanasia by omission,” he said.
Last week, as he clung to life, he agreed to the use of both feeding and breathing tubes to keep him alive.
The debate over Schiavo’s life created a severe moral and political schism in the already divided country. Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay voiced his strong opinion against the final legal decision to remove the feeding tube. Recent controversy has broken out due to the fact that DeLay’s father was privately removed from life support in 1988, and the Congressman has now become a strong advocate for political intervention.
Governor Jeb Bush, of Florida, also represented the conservative community, many of whom were outraged by the outcome of the case.
“Many across our state and around the world are deeply grieved by the way Terri died. I feel that grief very sharply as well,” Bush said. “I remain convinced, however, that Terri’s death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society.”
Following her death, an autopsy was performed on Terri Schiavo’s body, but the results will not be released for several weeks. In a continued feud with Michael Schiavo, her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, requested to have their own medical expert present at the autopsy. This request was denied. Legal power was also given to Schiavo in the decision to have her body cremated. Both parties held separate memorial services for their loved one.