The Legacy Left By Terri Schiavo

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - April 06, 2005
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Terri Schiavo had a purpose in life. It was revealed quite clearly in her final months, weeks, days and moments — as she lay on her deathbed in a hospice room. Schiavo did not understand the national upheaval swirling about her. She was oblivious to the anger and the endless legal wrangling that ultimately failed to prolong her life.

In the end, I imagine, she passed quietly from one world into the next, finally at peace.

What have we learned?

• That the cacophony of extreme views can drown out the quiet common sense of American citizens, especially when the issue turns emotional. The struggle took on a life of its own as the rhetoric became increasingly shrill. People ceased to be individuals with differing viewpoints. They morphed into broad symbols — the demon, the angels of mercy and of course, the martyr. So it is to the credit of all Americans that most ignored the clamor, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth, and stuck to the basic issue — a family’s responsibility to a loved one.

• We learned that politics can attempt to trump the rule of law, but ultimately the law wins. Religion can buck against the rule of law, but the law wins. We live in a country ruled by secular law, and most Americans believe that is the way it should be. Americans do not want to slide into theocracy because then democracy loses. There are no villains among the family of Terri Schiavo. Her parents and her husband may stand on opposing sides of a great divide, but they are all in pain. One may argue with this, but I believe it was love that drove the actions of both Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers. And it was love gone bitterly off course that fractured the family that once stood together. When they took their argument to the courts there was an understanding that one side would win and the other would lose. That delicate contract did not hold up when the issue of Terri’s life and death became a public spectacle. A huge majority of Americans were deeply offended by the intervention of Congress and of activist groups into what should have been a private family matter.

• But that said, there is another thing we have learned from this tragedy. And that is most of us have unfinished business we must take care of. We need to talk about what we all fear most — death — even though there is a huge reluctance to address something so final. But it is absolutely essential. The conversation needn’t be morbid. Our focus should be on dying well, and avoiding the heartbreak of a family torn apart.

I am looking at a poll that shows a staggering 77 percent of people have discussed end-of-life issues with their families — all because of Terri Schiavo. This young woman has moved millions to face their fears and confront the inevitability of their death.

That is Terri Schiavo’s legacy to us all.

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