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March 31, 2010

Jason Poling: Terry Schiavo, five years on

The Rev. Jason Poling is Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.

Five years ago, Terri Schiavo was pronounced dead more than 15 years after a heart attack put her into a persistent vegetative state. The battles leading up to that conclusion originated in a struggle between her husband Michael Schiavo and her parents Robert and Mary Schindler over who would determine proper care for her; they eventually managed to involve all three branches of the federal government, and hastened the political demise of Sen. (and Dr.) Bill Frist's once-promising Presidential candidacy.

As I watched the story unfold like a slow-motion car wreck, I was struck by the difficulty of the ethical issues involved. Does a feeding tube constitute "extraordinary measures" used to sustain life? Some liken it to the technological intervention of a ventilator, while others consider it basic nutrition and hydration which no-one could humanely deny. Did the widely disseminated videos of Schiavo reflect genuine intelligent response to people known to her or simply an involuntary reaction to external stimuli? Was Schiavo a living human being, or simply a metabolizing organism? Did she begin to rest in peace five years ago, or twenty?

The profound ethical questions raised in this case will continue to be debated, as well they should. But as long as they are unresolved the more pressing question for most of us is how a situation like Schiavo's is to be handled. Schiavo's autopsy revealed that she had indeed suffered massive and irreversible brain damage, but decisions about her care had to be made without this evidence. Absent a clear advance medical directive, does her husband make decisions for her? Do her parents have the right to trump her husband? Do the courts have the right to trump both? Congress?

Every day difficult medical decisions are made without certain knowledge about what will happen, or what would happen if a different path were taken. And every day these decisions are made among differences of opinion as what the “right” — or at least best — choice is. At the end of the day someone must make the call, and we as a society must have ways of ensuring that the appropriate person is making these decisions when the patient is unable to and has not authorized someone else to.

Among the most important things we learn from Scripture about the nature of marriage is that every wedding involves two funerals. “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Jesus commented on this verse, “So they are no longer two, but one” (Matthew 19:6). When I officiate at weddings I always point out that from that day forward the people being married are entering into a change in the very essence of their being: no longer will either be himself or herself apart from the other. (I then sign the marriage license, and hope to snag a few crab balls on the way out. They then spend the rest of their lives working that out.)

What surprised me the most about the controversy over the Schiavo case was that the same people who ordinarily defend traditional understandings of marriage — people who in the course of pastoral ministry and teaching emphasize to couples (and their parents) the importance of “leaving and cleaving,” who encourage couples to work out their problems rather than running to their parents, who really do believe that the two become one — were the ones who wanted Terri Schiavo’s parents, rather than her husband, to make decisions about her medical care. No doubt if the roles had been reversed, they’d have been taking loud and strong stands on the right of a husband to make decisions for his disabled spouse, and decrying efforts by the government and her parents to remove the feeding tube.

Obviously it’s possible (and sometimes necessary) to petition a court to transfer decisionmaking authority from the party who would ordinarily hold it if that person can be demonstrated to be incompetent or malicious. Some argued the latter was the case for Michael Schiavo, although a more sympathetic reading of the situation would understand him as someone who came to terms with the loss of his wife and wanted to achieve closure for the both of them by allowing the completion of a long dying process. In the end he didn’t even make the decision; he petitioned the court to make the decision on his wife’s behalf according to her wishes as he understood them.

I’ve had the difficult privilege of walking alongside people as they made end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. Sometimes I haven’t agreed with their decisions personally. But I’m not the decider. If it’s true in other areas surely it’s true in this one: Sometimes people think they’re doing God’s will, but they aren’t. Yet amidst all the difficulty of making these decisions, and of caring for those making them, I rest secure in the knowledge that God is both infinitely just and infinitely merciful. As we approach Easter I’m reminded that no harm any of us does to another is beyond God’s capacity to redeem.

Comments

As per INS Rules- Green card holders can loose their permanent resident status if they remain outside of the US for more than one year.
They also loose their status if they frequently travel outside US. Many times they face harassment at the hands of immigration officers at US airports- and even at INS offices when they visit there just because they frequently travel outside US.
It is at the discretion of immigrant officer at point of entry to declare any returning resident as abandoned his residence.
This Rule can be highly discriminatory and harsh.
We have to respect human rights- and for humanitarian reasons I suggest that US residents may be freely allowed to travel abroad without any restriction. There is no harm if they travel abroad for long time for legitimate reasons.
They may be allowed to return any time – even after 5 years of stay abroad-because there may be retired seniors as residents. They have no jobs in US. If they do not travel aboard to make some legitimate money- they will depend upon US welfare system and they will be burden on US economy. If such a resident visit abroad to make some legitimate money- and remit some money to his family in US and also pays taxes- he is benefiting US.
Moreover- biggest issue here is to win hearts and minds of all categories of immigrants- make them love US and make them loyal to US.
I therefore request you to change this harsh Rule and let all green card holders freely travel abroad as many times as they want.
Let them stay abroad for as long as 5 years or even ten years
There is no harm in allowing them to travel just as US citizens can travel abroad freely...
If INS wants to check whether or not they still maintain their residency- let them make rule that all green card holders should file their tax returns and pay taxes.
This one rule alone should be sufficient to retain their green card but no restriction on overseas travel.

THE rule relating to green card holders returning
within 6 months was made when US economy was booming and US job market required manpower to fill the jobs.
At this time - US economy is in near recession- there are
not many jobs - and many jobs are outsourced.
So let green card holders work abroad- contribute to
taxes and this is also time to change rules.
Let green card holders work abroad just like US citizens.

I request Congress and Senate to pl introduce legislation-bill to change rules.

At present green card holders can apply for citizenship after 5 years physical presence in USA.
THIS rule is now outdated and needs new consideration with change in times.
Some green card holders have to spend time abroad on business
or income generating activity.
therefore pl introduce new legislation to permit green card holders to apply for citizenship without need for physical presence in USA- provided- they have a home in USA and have paid taxes for last 5 years.

Terry Schivaio, Shameless acts by the Religious Right , The Republican and President Bush.People has to protect themselves from Religious nuts her husband sure did.

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About Matthew Hay Brown
Matthew Hay Brown writes and blogs about faith and values in public and private life for The Baltimore Sun. A former Washington correspondent for the newspaper, he has long written about the intersection of religion and politics. He has reported from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, traveling most recently to Syria and Jordan to write about the Iraqi refugee crisis.
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