End-of-life issues continue as a matter of public discourse and personal reflection following the March 31 death of Terri Schiavo—the 41-year-old Florida woman who suffered severe brain damage in 1990 and for 15 years lived in what doctors called a persistent vegetative state.
Her death came two weeks after the controversial removal of the feeding tube that kept her alive and thrust her husband and legal guardian Michael Schiavo and her parents into a seven-year legal battle that is now causing the U.S. Congress to re-visit end-of-life issues. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans oppose lawmakers’ intervention in the Schiavo case.
The Episcopal Church’s General Convention has adopted several resolutions regarding end-of-life issues, including a 1991 resolution regarding prolongation of life (Resolution number 1991-A093 http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_60370_ENG_HTM.htm) The Convention, which meets every three years, has not commented specifically on the Terri Schiavo case.
“Christians are not ‘vitalists’ who believe that life must be maintained by medical technology for as long as possible,” said Dr. Cynthia B. Cohen, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; chair End-of Life Task Force of General Convention, 1997-2000 and parishioner at St. Alban's, Washington, D.C.
“As the Anglican bishops declared at Lambeth in 1998, artificial nutrition and hydration amount to a form of medical treatment. Pumping a synthetic protein compound into the intestine is vastly different from feeding a person with a cup and spoon, the End-of-Life Task Force of the General Convention pointed out,” she said.
Cohen said that such treatment becomes "extraordinary" and not morally required when it offers no reasonable hope of overcoming a terrible condition such as irreversible coma.
ENS seeks its readers’ comments and observations on how end-of-life and prolongation and related issues are viewed.
The ENS staff will appreciate any and all responses, ideally prior to April 5.
Please send responses to [email protected] including “Call for Comment” in the subject line. Thank you.