Accessibility links

Breaking News

Religious Views of the Terry Schiavo Dilemma

Terri Schiavo has died 13 days after her feeding tube was removed. The tube was removed March 18th by a court order sought by her husband, Michael, who contended his wife was severely brain-damaged and would not want to be kept alive artificially in that state.

But her parents have maintained their daughter would want to be kept alive. And many of their supporters felt it was morally wrong to leave her to die. VOA's Deborah Block spoke with prominent members of various faiths in the United States to find out where they stood on the Schiavo case and the right to life.

The controversial case of Terri Schiavo has prompted many people to think about when life ends, who should decide when its over, and whether an individual has the right to choose not to live under certain circumstances.

The Roman Catholic Church says removing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was wrong. Cathy Cleaver Ruse is with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

"She wasn't dying, while she was being fed. It is rather a case of how we treat and what obligations we have to disabled people who cannot communicate. We have an obligation to provide basic care for people, even people in a persistent vegetative state. That basic care includes providing food and water as long as it provides nourishment rather than some sort of burden to the patient," says Cathy Cleaver Ruse.

Ms. Cleaver Ruse says the Catholic Church believes all human life is sacred and should not be terminated.

"This notion that there has to be a certain quality of life before you have a right to life is utterly rejected by the Catholic church. It stems from a very dangerous idea that there are some lives that aren't worth living," says Ms. Cleaver Ruse.

At the International Buddhist Center in Wheaton, Maryland, Chief Monk Bhante Uparatana agrees. He says removing Terry Schaivo's feeding tube is a serious offense.

"Even though she is brain-damaged, that is still a life. You want to protect that life. If someone take off that life it is a sin, it's a kind of murder,” says Bhanta Uparatana.

Johari Abdul-Malik, an Imam at the Dar Al-Hijra Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia says there is debate among Muslim scholars as to what exactly life is. He says if a person is conscious even if they don't have bodily functions, then they are considered alive. But there is also another school of thought if the person is considered brain-dead.

"There are some scholars who would say, as long as society is prepared to care for a person who may be considered to be in a brain-dead state, but they have enough function to keep themselves alive, then another school would say as long as there are resources to support them, keep them in that state until they can no longer support themselves," says Johari Abdul-Malik.

He says according to Islamic law, life and death decisions are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

"It is based on the parents, if the person is a minor, or if they are an adult, that decision is made by a consensus of their children, along with an Imam and medical advice," says Johari Abdul-Malik.

If a feeding tube is considered medical treatment, but it's not curing the patient, some Jewish scholars say the tube may be removed. That's because the person can no longer feed themselves, and are in process of dying. Rabbi Gary Fink of Laurel, Maryland, is a reform Jew.

"So what we do as rabbis is try and weigh the value of the sanctity of life with the value of compassion for an individual, a family, and to try and figure out as best we can how we can live consistently with God's will. For some that means to impose all mechanical and human means to keep someone's physical self-alive. For others it means to remove artificial surgical impediments to life and allow God's will to take its course," says Rabbi Fink.

And like some people of other faiths, he sees no clear-cut answer as long as questions remain as to the definition of life.