A lady called Terri Shiavo is nearing the end of her troubled
life as I write this article. Today may be her last.
Terri Schiavo’s brain, according to doctors, has been in a “persistent
vegetative state” for over 13 years. Eleven days ago, at the
order of the courts, the hospital removed her feeding tube in
order to allow her to die.
The case has caused enormous controversy in America, not only
because there is serious debate as to whether Terri Schiavo’s
brain is truly non-functional, but also because of the battle of
wills between her husband and her parents, each of whom are on
opposite sides of the “right to die” debate.
This is no doubt a complex case within a complex area of ethics,
law and morality. There are no black and white answers to cases
like these, despite what fundamentalist religious groups might
like to claim.
Speaking personally, and looking at the Terri Schiavo situation
from a non-partisan spiritual perspective, I would say that, on
balance, the tube should have remained in and Terri Shiavo should
have been allowed to live. However, at the same time as saying
this, I acknowledge the legitimacy of the counter-argument;
namely, that preserving her life under these conditions may be
against what Terri Schiavo herself expressly wished.
My thoughts are as follows:
(1) In this specific case, nobody can pronounce with 100%
certainty that it is “impossible” for Terri Schiavo to ever
improve from her condition. Her brain is not “dead”, but rather
it functions at a very low level. Even though the probabilities
are low, it is nevertheless possible that improvement could
occur, or that a treatment might be developed within the next few
years that could help. Stranger things have happened.
(2) Far from serving no useful purpose, Terri Schiavo’s life DOES
serve a valid purpose, even in her present condition. There are
still parents and other relatives to whom Terri Schiavo means
everything. They still have love to express, and hopes to
maintain. Moreover, it does not appear that these hopes are
totally groundless. The body is a remarkable miracle and its
capacities for self-repair are not full known.
Whatever are the legitimate views and feelings of the husband,
the love of parents for their own child should not be discounted.
(3) Although it may be argued that Terri Schiavo once expressed
her wishes to NOT be allowed to live under these present
conditions, it can also be argued that the Terri Schiavo who made
that request is gone, perhaps forever lost deep within the
recesses of her own vegetated brain. The Terri Schiavo who lives
now is not truly the same person, but is arguably a REAL person
nevertheless. This person is able to breath by herself and there
is evidence that she seems to respond to people in the room. Her
body maintains itself in many ways, and seems to want to live.
(4) Events happen to each human being for specific spiritual
purposes, according to that person’s karmic destiny. The Eastern
spiritual traditions discuss this concept in terms of the karma
created in our previous lives. This can also be argued in the
Terri Schiavo case. Suffering is the one reality of all beings in
this manifest universe. Hence, by enduring this suffering, there
are heavy karmic debts being repaid, and great karmic merits
being gained for future lives.
In many ways, terminating the process also abruptly terminates
the spiritual process that was destined to unfold, leaving it to
complete itself in the next life.
(5) There is always the slippery slope to consider. When a “mercy
killing” of this nature is allowed in the case of Terri Schiavo,
it may not be long before it is applied more frequently and with
laxity. There are other people, equally severely handicapped in
many hospitals across America. The Terri Schiavo ruling makes it
just that bit easier to make this the rule rather than the
As stated, the Terri Schiavo case is no easy one. The thoughts
presented above are NOT of the Christian fundamentalist “right to
life” sort, which are based upon ancient and essentially
unprovable dictates. Instead, most of them are based more upon
compassion, and upon giving the benefit of the doubt where
possible. These life & death issues are so complex and various
that there are truly no “cookie-cuuter” solutions. Each situation
can only be taken upon its own merits, in the hope that wisdom
and compassion may be allowed to prevail.
Copyright Asoka Selvarajah 2005. All Rights Reserved.
Asoka Selvarajah is a writer on personal growth and spirituality,
and the author of “The 7 Golden Secrets To Knowing Your Higher
Self”. His work helps people achieve their full potential, deepen
their understanding of mystical truth, and discover their soul’s
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