Most clerics say Terri Schiavo should have been spared and that the government should have butted out.
By JEAN JOHNSON
Published April 2, 2005
The Terri Schiavo case drew international attention. But beneath the political debate and family discord, the issue of whether it was right to remove the 41-year-old's feeding tube, a matter of life and death, touched a deeply religious nerve.
Not surprisingly, many members of the clergy in Hernando County, including Gary Osborne and Jim Keller, opposed the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube.
Osborne, pastor of the Berean Assembly in Brooksville, said he was "shocked that the husband would push as hard" as he did "since he has moved on with his life," referring to Michael Schiavo, who is living with another woman.
"It's bizarre," said Osborne, who was concerned because Terri Schiavo's case was not just a clear instance where she was being kept alive by a machine.
"I don't think it's right to starve her," Osborne said earlier this week.
If there were a document attesting to Schiavo's wish not to be kept alive by heroic actions, Osborne said he would have agreed with honoring her wishes.
"But this is a sticky and difficult decision because ultimately you hate to take anyone's life."
Schiavo died Thursday morning, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed. Her death came after a long, tortuous legal and political battle on the part of her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, and siblings to have the tube reinserted.
Keller, pastor of Fellowship Wesleyan in Spring Hill, said he would have preferred to see the Schindlers become their daughter's caregivers and have the feeding tube reinserted.
"If there was a living will, I would feel differently," said Keller, 60. "I've been passing out living wills to my entire church."
Not everyone sees the case in black and white.
"The Missouri Synod is traditionally prolife, even in abortion considerations, but this is a tough one," said the Rev. Milton Lehr, pastor of Forest Oaks Lutheran Church in Spring Hill.
"First of all, politics and government got into it and it seems to me that years ago, without all these things to prolong life, (people) were allowed to pass on quietly and it seemed to be the way to go," Lehr said. "But now these miraculous procedures make things difficult."
Lehr said he didn't know the value of prolonging her life after all these years with no response. The Lutheran church is for life, Lehr said, but only if the person in question can have a life of high quality.
Quality of life means different things to different people.
"I believe in the sanctity of life, and whatever degree of awareness (Terri) has, how are we to determine whether she would be satisfied with that?" asked the Rev. Ray Favichia, pastor of Heaven's Gate Christian Fellowship in Spring Hill. He opposed withholding food and water from Schiavo.
Favichia also expressed discomfort with the role of the courts and the government; so did Florence Butler, a lifelong Roman Catholic.
"The president and others involved should be quiet because it's not a public concern," said the 84-year-old Maryland transplant. "It's private, and they're taking it too far."
David Pardue, 55, pastor of Christian Church in the Wildwood, is just as passionate about his beliefs.
"The government needs to stay out of our lives," said Pardue, who has led his church for 25 years. "Biblically speaking, I believe Christ gave us insight while he talked about the question of paying taxes: Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God."
But in the Schiavo case, the line between the two has been blurred, and that has implications for the future, Pardue said.
"I believe life and death are not for politicians; it's best left in God's hands," Pardue said. "Biblically, I struggle with the politicians' making laws that allow us to take life and wonder how long it would be before they tell us when to die. I strongly, strongly resent what's happening.
"We've been fighting government in the front end of life and now (there are those) who want to include them in the back end, which is God's," Pardue continued.
"One hundred years ago, we would not be having this discussion. This has much broader ramifications than Terri Schiavo. There's a lot of concern about Big Brother wading into this."