- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

Who would have thought that the life of one unassuming Florida woman could move the hearts of millions? Certainly not Terri Schiavo herself, who died yesterday, 13 days after the removal of her feeding tube. Those who chose to gather outside her Florida hospice perhaps prayed for a miracle to happen — that perhaps Terri would survive long enough for something to be done. In the end, however, Terri was human and succumbed to her forced starvation and dehydration as any human would. Is there a miracle in her passing? Maybe not. But surely in these last two weeks the nation bore witness to the miraculous power of a single life.

Supporters of Michael Schiavo’s campaign to remove his wife’s feeding tube often cited poll numbers that seemed to suggest a majority of Americans agreed with their view. The more cynical seemed to enjoy the idea that this was a poor political decision by the Republicans. Notwithstanding the media and political circus, fundamental societal issues have been raised that now the country cannot ignore. Politics may have motivated certain participants on both sides, yet it is our judgment that however Americans viewed this extraordinary case, on the whole their reasons were genuine and entirely apolitical. To dismiss this as just a political game is to miss a chance to discuss these issues as they continue to play out in our daily lives. We suspect states will be revisiting laws that govern both guardianship and government authority over life in the years to come. Mrs. Schiavo’s death does not signal the end of the discussion — it begins the discussion.

We sympathized with those who found constitutional reasons to fault congressional intervention in a state case. It should be remembered, however, that Mrs. Schaivo’s condition, as well as the laws governing that condition, had moved beyond certainty. It wasn’t that those who wanted to keep Mrs. Schiavo alive simply disagreed with the Florida court’s ruling; it is that the many ambiguities and distortions of fact, which the laws couldn’t cleanly account for, demanded a second look from a higher authority. The default position of government should be to always err on the side of life, or what President Bush described as “a presumption in favor of life.”

Unfortunately for Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and Mr. Schiavo, the case is not quite over. Both parties will wait expectantly for the results of Terri’s autopsy. Since the procedure should be able to help determine the severity of Mrs. Schiavo’s brain damage, as well as answer other lingering questions surrounding her collapse in 1990, the autopsy should go forward. We hope the people who cared for her in life, which includes both family and strangers, will find some closure in the coroner’s report. It will then be for the country to address the questions raised from Terri Schiavo’s life and death.

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