Those are the watchwords from our Torah, and every Jew following the Schiavo saga should be mindful of them.
Jewish tradition values life above all else, and for some Jews, especially among the religiously observant, there’s no debate here. They would argue that, not facing imminent death, Terri Schiavo does not deserve to have her feeding tube removed.
Yet most observers agree this is a complex case, both morally and legally. So what is the Jewish response to Terri Schiavo?
Turns out, there is no one response. Thoughtful rabbis have come to divergent interpretations of Jewish law. Some maintain that a life is a life, and it deserves sustenance. Others look at Schiavo, knowing her cerebral cortex has “liquefied” (according to some doctors) and say this is no life. Polls indicate most Americans, and most Jews, agree with the latter, and do not support keeping the severely brain-damaged woman alive.
But beyond the medical debate, things took an unexpected turn when the Congress hurriedly passed new legislation, turning the whole terrible affair into a federal case. Literally.
As polls show, most Americans have cried foul, claiming figures like Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R- Texas) were manipulating the Schindler and Schiavo families’ agony for political gain. We don’t know if that’s true, and would prefer to believe these lawmakers acted upon nobler impulses.
But even if they had those impulses, we are troubled by Congress’ actions. Anytime there is a blurring of the line between church and state, Jews should sit up and pay attention.
There is no doubt that the blurring happened. Lawyers representing Schiavo’s parents argued that allowing Schiavo to die “jeopardizes her immortal soul.” The parents have aligned themselves with anti-abortion zealots like Randall Terry, a polarizing and intolerant figure if there ever was one.
Moreover, it’s hard to see the new law as anything other than federal intrusion in what should be a private family matter. At most this dispute should be left to state courts to adjudicate, as it had been. As we go to press, both a Florida court and appellate court upheld prior rulings supporting Schiavo’s husband. That could change any minute.
No matter how much each side may demonize the other, everyone recognizes the Schiavo matter as a tragedy. There are no villains at the heart of the case.
But its wider implications affect all, including the Jewish community. Our hearts go out to the Schindler and Schiavo families. Our eyes however must remain watchful of government interference with our freedoms.