What is at Stake in the Euthanasia Wars

When American Terri Schiavo was allowed to die a slow and painful death by starvation under court order, it marked a turning point in the battle over euthanasia. Just as Roe v Wade was a watershed case in the abortion wars, this case meant a radical new turn for the worse in the way we deal with those in comas or those who are disabled.

A new book has been written about this case (which I will soon review), but an interview with the author is a good precursor to the real thing. Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink had editor Wendy Cloyd interview David Gibbs about his new book, Fighting for Dear Life. Entitled “Author of Terri Schiavo Book Calls the Ordeal: ‘Moral Insanity’” this interview lays out the seriousness of this case, and why it matters to all of us.

The background is this. Bob and Mary Schindler asked attorney David Gibbs in 2003 to help them save the life of their disabled daughter Terri. Bob made this request of Gibbs, “If they end up killing my girl, would you make sure everybody knows what they’ve done?”

Says Gibbs, “I think about standing there with Mary Schindler and watching her see her daughter for the last time. Watching Terri slowly die before her eyes and watching Mary sob and shudder and pray and talk to Terri. Standing there I thought to myself, ‘No mother in the United States of America should ever have to live through what is this lady going through’.”

This episode had a profound impact on Gibbs: “I felt that this story had to get out for the sake of people understanding that it’s not just Terri Schiavo. There are thousands of people who die every year in Florida from having their food and water removed.”

Many questions arose in this tragic case. Was Terri really brain dead? Was she actually in a persistent vegetative state (PVS)? Was she alert or comatose? How could something like this happen in the United States? Replies Gibbs, “Well, that was one of the incredibly troubling things about Terri’s case. If she had been an animal, she would have been more protected under the law than she was as a person. Michael Schiavo would be in jail if he did to a dog what he did to his wife. If she’d been a terrorist, she would have had international law and greater protection. If she been a convicted mass murderer – someone that had done horrible crimes against society – the Constitution, under the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, would have protected her.”

He continues, “And tragically, Terri’s battle found, if you will, this gap in our law. She wasn’t an animal, she was a woman. She wasn’t a terrorist, she was a citizen of the United States. She wasn’t a convicted killer, she was an innocent woman. And unbelievably, she had less protection than those other elements. That’s one of the moral insanities of this: ‘How could that happen?’”

The Schiavo case is simply part of an ever-increasing slippery slope, where the sanctity of life is further eroded. Indeed, “now you’re sitting on that incredibly slippery slope as to what standards and what decisions are to be used to gauge whether people live and die. When you sit and look at this, you can obviously see the danger because it’s an ever-shifting scale.”

Gibbs is asked what we can do to turn things around. Three things are mentioned:

“Number One: Clearly, we need to get the laws changed in this country to better protect citizens. I believe that Terri’s case has exposed a huge group of people that are vulnerable. Number Two: We are in a judicial crisis. We have judges doing what is right in their own eyes, as opposed to the more traditional approach of trying to look to common law, absolute authority literally interpreting the Constitution as opposed to inventing it as we go.”

The third may be the most difficult. “Number Three: I don’t think you’ll see a change in the legislative realm or the judicial realm until you see a change in the hearts and minds of the people. We’ve grown cold toward the disabled, we’ve grown cold toward senior citizens and we’ve grown cold toward people that God refers to in Matthew chapter 25 as ‘the least of these’.”

Indeed, we have become hardened and coarsened as a people, and our ability to think clearly about these life and death issues continues to deteriorate. We need a moral and spiritual awakening, along with social, political and judicial change. A big ask, but vitally needed if we are to prevent further atrocities like this from occurring.

Stay tuned for my review of the important book!


[794 words]

One Reply to “What is at Stake in the Euthanasia Wars”

  1. I fully agree with David Gibbs in that we have deteriorated in our attitudes towards the elderly and people with disabilities. We really need to foster a mindset in Australia of honour, dignity, value and care for these ones. I nurse them often. I remind myself of the many years they have invested into our society making their families and Australia what it is today. We should honour the elderly for that.
    And people with disabilities – they cannot advocate or care for themselves. As human beings I think it is tragic if we don’t give these more vulnerable ones the utmost care. We give ourselves the best. Let’s help them access the best.
    Mieke de Vries

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *