No one should doubt that Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, should have had the legal right to decide on her health care and her living will. Michael Schiavo’s legal rights, as Terri’s spouse, and the sacredness of his marriage supercede the legal rights of her family of origin. However, just because a person has the legal right to do something, doesn’t mean that what he does is “right.”
Our laws give people in our country the legal rights to make decisions for minors, elderly parents or spouses in a dependent situation. However, coupled with this power is the responsibility to do what is good for that person. The legal rights given to a spouse requires that he put the good and welfare of the spouse before his own. Moreover, the sacredness of marriage demands that a spouse make a loving and selfless decision.
Although he had the power to make the decision, Michael did not make decisions based on what was “right and good” for his wife. Michael claimed that he wanted his wife to die with dignity. She did not. Webster defines dignity as “the presence of poise and self-respect.” According to her autopsy, Terri died of dehydration since she was not given the liquids that she could have used to keep her lips, mouth, and internal organs hydrated to maintain function. Dignifying a life means giving a person the basic needs of life, and it means giving a person the opportunity to die naturally, not enhancing her death from withholding liquids.
Likewise, Terri died estranged from her parents and family because they disagreed with Michael’s directives. They were only allowed guarded visits since it was feared that they would try to give her something to eat or to drink and prolong her life. Michael had the power to grant Terri’s parents their wish to care for Terri until her natural death. He chose not to grant her parents this request.
Against the will of her parents and family, Terri was cremated and buried without a funeral that her parents could attend. Her tombstone was clearly marked with what her husband wanted engraved, “I kept my promise.” Michael’s choices and rights, as her husband trumped all others. Michael may have utilized his legal rights but he erred gravely with respect to his God-given rights.
Unfortunately, the same can happen with any one of us, unless we carefully use our God given rights.
Terri’s death should serve as a wake up call for all of us. Just because we have the legal right to do something, does not mean that what and how we do it is just. This is true whether it be the rights over our own bodies or the entitlement we have when we are entrusted with the care of others. May God help us to do what is right with the responsibilities we have.
+Gregory John Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)