The Anglican Communion's Orwellian Odyssey

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 6 April 2005 0 Comments
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Comments from my E-Mailbox on the Schiavo Case:


Dear Friends,

The following are excerpts from the voluminous mail I received on the two columns dealing with the issues around the Terri Schiavo case. Thank you. I will in the future to print responses from my readers when the volume of mail merits it.

-- John Shelby Spong

John Ripley from Beamsville, Ontario, Canada, writes:

I agree with much of what Harry Cook writes though I find the tone of his article very strident. In February I took a trip to Florida and listened to my car radio. The vitriol I heard on the airwaves was appalling. Hates seem to run very deep. There is no room for intelligent debate, just the emotional tirade of the radical right. Cook's article comes close to a liberal rant in my book. Its aggressive tone does not speak to me in the spirit of Christian love. There are too many shades in gray in human intercourse to have simplistic solutions to our problems.

Jack Olsen, via the Internet, writes:

Why are we wasting precious resources? We're keeping her from "God's Kingdom" artificially at huge cost while we're denying basic services to abused and neglected children because we "can't afford it." Put the money into the abused kids and give them the things that will break the cycle of hopelessness. Don't keep me on some feeding tube when my mind is already gone and divert resources away from my son, who has this wonderful life ahead of him and may need some help along the way with the ghosts of his past.

Ed Spire of Houston, Texas, writes:

As to knowing what God wants - I feel that Harry Cook sidestepped that question. The point is that anybody can think they have been told by God what God wants and who is to say who's credible and who isn't? Stating that brain death ends life can carry no weight for those who believe in an eternal soul and its attachment to a living body. To say that we are being unmerciful to Terri by "denying food and water" in this case is just silly. No one denies Terri food or water - she can have all she wants. But she cannot eat by herself. She can't even ask for help. By anyone's standards, opening a hole in the body and piping in pre-chewed food is an extreme measure and not taking such an extreme measure would only be characterized as "withholding food and water" by extreme people who are out of touch with reality.

Anne Dawson, a clinical social worker, from Birmingham, Alabama, writes:

Terri is not starving to death...she cannot swallow at all and would drown if offered water or an ice cube...the feeding tube is not putting food in her stomach, only electrolytes and nutrients, she can't enjoy the taste of food or even chew it. Her cerebral cortex is gone and with it her cognitive abilities...meaning that she cannot think at all.

It's a sad day for America for Congress to vote for us to allow them to walk into our front door and tell us what is and is not good for us. This has happened because those people who have agendas wanted to get that "on the record" as they say in the congress and by a president who espouses less government involvement in our lives.

Ann Reed on the Internet writes:

I find the essay by Harry Cook admirable and generally believable. However, I wish that he (and many others) would stop mis-quoting Emerson and I also wish that he had not equated PVS with brain-dead. Still I thank him for his enlightened and well-put convictions.

Zaheer from Karachi, Pakistan, writes:

I am a non-Christian subscriber with an immense interest in Religious Philosophy. As a staunch supporter of euthanasia, my own take on the Schiavo matter is that the tube removal will lead to a prolonged and, probably painful dying process, while euthanasia's purpose, to my mind, has always been to allow a quick death to end the suffering of the patient. I cannot seem to equate the process being suggested with the philosophy. By linking and blurring the issue to seem like a clear euthanasia decision when, in reality, a political agenda is the over-riding factor.

Paula Zurcher via the Internet writes:

Wonderfully inspiring article by Harry Cook. Suppose Terri is still alive when her parents die, do they think the tube should be removed then? A friend of mine near the end of her life said to me, "I love death!" I asked her why? She answered, "It's so democratic."

E. Sauer from Plymouth Meeting, Pa, writes:

As Roman Catholics I suspect that Terri's parents not only love her, believe she is "in there" and may fear her immortal soul is in danger of damnation...even the Pope was quoted as commenting that removing the feeding tube is tantamount to artificially taking her life without anyone commenting that inserting the tube in the first place could be ascertained as artificially interfering with "God's will" and "the time to die."

Mark Boyd from Michigan writes:

Could you please tell me where Harry T. Cook's church is located? I hope he is close to where we live. I have my fingers crossed.
-- Harry is Rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 340 N. Main Street, Clawson, Michigan, 48017. JSS

Aaron H. Schechtman of North Miami Beach, Florida, writes:

The fanatics look at the scenes presented by the family on videotape and weep. A chief weeper is the physician, who is interpreter-in-chief of the videos (never having examined the woman in question) Dr. Bill Frist, who seems to be thinking ahead to run for the presidency when GWB leaves his second term. The fanatics are swarming over the scene and a lot of evidence is contaminated, ignored or deliberately missed.

Jeffrey Parton, DVM writes:

I am a veterinarian, own my own animal hospital, and practice high quality small companion animal medicine. As someone who has the legal ability to euthanize my patients that are suffering and have no hope for recovery, I feel I can address this topic with some understanding. Compassion knows no species boundaries. There is indeed a "time to die." I have comforted clients wrestling with the painful choice of when that time is. When I have no doubt in my mind that the time has come but the client is hesitant, sometimes all I have to do is ask one simple question, "Are you keeping your pet alive for THEIR sake or for YOUR sake because it is too painful to let go?" To me that seems to be a prolonging of a grieving process that has already been going on for 15 years.

A nurse who asked that her name not be posted writes:

I am a nurse who many times has had to deal with life and death issues. I myself do not want intervention when my time comes. I am not afraid to enter the next life. I hope my family will let me go and not try to keep me alive with machines. It is a tragedy that we keep individuals alive for the sake of the family. Medicine is a wonderful thing but there must be limits. Today's medicine is also money motivated with no regard for the individual's right to die. Even if we put in writing that we do not want extraordinary means used to keep us alive, the family can overturn this desire. In many ways physicians are to blame. They many times give false hope. I wonder sometimes if people keep their family members alive out of some sort of guilt.

Dawn, via the Internet writes:

Amen to Harry Cook's guest column. When modern medicine first began, these same folk who are clamoring for Ms. Schiavo to be forced to continue to live, opposed modern medicine as against God's wishes and accused the practitioners of idol worship, i.e. of playing God. When prisoners refuse to eat, forced feeding through methods similar to those employed for Terri are regarded as "cruel and unusual punishment." It isn't God keeping her alive, but selfish parents who won't let her move on to the next higher form of existence, just to satisfy their own needs. Most people are not afraid of death, they are merely afraid of the dying process.

Maria Evans, via the Internet, writes:

Harry Cook has managed to express exactly how I feel about all this from a spiritual side. When people are on the journey from this world to the next, "light and the tunnel" seem to be common themes. For 15 years this poor woman could have been trapped in the "tunnel" with the light at the other end but no way to get to it because they won't let her go. I am a physician and unconscious people who "return" talk about this feeling of being trapped while they were unconscious, of alternating dark and light, fueled by a variety of medications which also promote hallucinations. If I were this poor woman and my family loved me they would joyfully let me go to the light so I can fulfill my "next mission."

Karen Morgan from Canton, New York, writes:

I sent an e-mail out this week with the direction to please "respong" to me as soon as possible. I like to think that I did this subconsciously. I enjoy your weekly "letters" enormously.
The message from Harry Cook was very helpful to me. I was beginning to think I was some sort of monster when I shared my feelings with others, as their look of horror and their response indicated they thought I was some sort of uncaring person. I can now be assured that my thoughts and feelings are neither cruel nor unchristian.

Royce Riley from Texas writes:

I'm a retired United Methodist minister. I'm in agreement with Harry Cook that this is nothing but a smoke screen. It takes the heat off of Tom DeLay for a few days; helps the Social Security issue to cool; keeps us from talking so much about Iraq. It is certainly a ploy to appease the right wing Christians and their pro-life position. I wondered why Bush could rush back to Washington to sign this bill when we had more people put to death in Texas prisons during his term than at any other time. Also, how can he sign that bill while he's sending thousands of young men and women to war and the threat of death?

Don George from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, writes:

There is a fundamental misconception about life that has dominated our thinking for over two thousand years. This is the belief that life consists of a body containing a "soul" which leaves when the body dies. Therefore, we must do all we can to keep the body "alive" as long as possible. The Oriental concept that we are primarily "souls" which periodically need to occupy physical bodies in order to function in a physical environment is a more reasonable view than our Western Christian idolatry of the body. When a body is no longer a viable vehicle, it is discarded so the "soul" can move on. They destroy the non-functional physical body with fire and release the "soul." We preserve and idealize the body.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, she has been forcibly kept in the "prison" of a body that is no longer viable. I can imagine Terri crying out for 15 years, "Let me go, let me go, I don't want to stay here," but nobody heard her. That is spiritual torture.

Linda Byrd, via the Internet, writes:
If I put myself in Terri Schiavo's place, what would I want? I've thought about it a lot since visiting the nursing homes as a lay Eucharistic visitor for my church. I don't want to be a forgotten person with no control over my life. With no children to "look after me in my old age" that's exactly what will happen.

Mervyn Scott of Oshawa, Ontario and Karen Scott of Bensheim, Germany write:

While we support some of Harry Cook's arguments, we find them problematic. Reports in the press and on TV have stated that Ms. Schiavo is neither brain dead nor on life support systems. Furthermore, we cannot justify starvation as a way to terminate her life.

Brent Weinert, via the Internet, writes:

Thank you for this article. I am glad I am not alone. I am tired of being called anti-Christian for believing that this is the humane thing to do.

Rob Hirschman from Saginaw, Michigan, writes:

It felt so good to have someone tell the truth about this whole fiasco. The politicians that have involved themselves in this were shown to be first class hypocrites. Harry Cook's comments about God and our ability to understand God without any absolute proof were exactly what I have always felt.




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