Terri Schiavo and Life
The Monitor's View, The Christian Science Monitor
Across America, tens of thousands of people share a similar medical diagnosis as Terri Schiavo. And every day, families face agonizing decisions about what's best for their loved one's welfare. Like Terri's family, they might not agree on the best course to take.
All of these families need compassion. They're in the unenviable position of having to make life-and-death choices on behalf of others - "playing God," as the saying goes.
More likely than not, they're also confronting their own fundamental questions about life itself. Like the abortion issue, "right to die" cases - as that of Schiavo's is being cast - challenge people to consider the meaning, purpose, and source of life.
A public debate along these lines intensified in America with the Roe v Wade abortion ruling in 1973. It's escalated further since then as science and medicine explore frontiers like cloning, stem cells, and genetics, while the "right to life" movement redefines itself more broadly as a "culture of life" effort.
It's promising for a society to be grappling with such issues as the definition and quality of life. But so many of these efforts limit their focus to the human body only, probing deeper and deeper into its physical makeup.
The late Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish theologian and rabbi who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., emphasized the need to push beyond "a mechanical view" of individuals. As one considers the Schiavo case, now racing through the federal appeals process, it's worth pondering Rabbi Heschel's observation:
"It is a distortion to characterize the life of man as moving toward death. …