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After Terri

As I write these words, Terri Schiavo is still clinging to life, disproving the specious and irrelevant claim that nearly 20 years ago she made a casual statement about not wanting to live “hooked up to machines.”

The claim is specious because it is nothing more than hearsay evidence from the man most determined – for whatever his motivations – to see her die.

It is specious because it was consistently countered by many people who knew Terri better and longer than her husband, Michael Schiavo.

It is specious because Michael Schiavo had moved on with his life, found a new woman he referred to as his “fianc?,” lived with her for 10 years and raised two children with her.

It is specious because Michael Schiavo not only had emotional reasons to deprive Terri of life, he had possible financial motivations.

It is irrelevant because Terri has never been hooked up to machines.

It is irrelevant because people’s minds change about all kinds of things over 20 years – including issues of life and death.

And the fact that Terri hung on as long as she did, defying the claim that she was physically frail, suggests strongly she had a will to live. The truth is she had no business ever being placed in a hospice – a place for terminally ill patients – and being shut off from light and stimulation and visitors, particularly a place partly owned by the very people trying to rob her of life.

It is a national disgrace that this woman was killed in this barbaric manner with the whole world watching.

It is a national disgrace that our political system failed her.

It is a national disgrace that our judicial system betrayed her and denied her justice.

But it’s clear now no one is coming to Terri’s rescue.

Now it’s time to consider life after Terri.

Now that time is no longer our enemy, when we are no longer racing the clock, will we as a society review our laws to ensure this abomination never happens again to anyone? Will we ensure that innocent lives cannot be snuffed out because of the wishes of estranged spouses and corrupt judges? Will we remember the roles played by public officials who could have made a difference?

There’s still time to stop the cremation of Terri’s body so unbiased forensics teams can determine, to the best of their ability, what caused Terri’s injuries.

There’s plenty of time to investigate Judge George Greer’s campaign contributions from the attorneys representing Michael Schiavo for possible ethics charges.

There’s plenty of time now for us to reflect on the moral cowardice of those who could have stopped the victimization of Terri but yielded instead to the exigencies of political expediency.

Terri’s death can either help redeem us from the path we have chosen or it can hasten us down that path.

In Nazi Germany, the death camps started for the disabled and mentally retarded. It’s clear that in America we’ve begun calculating the quality of life rather than observing the sanctity of life. While Terri’s life has raised a national debate, it’s hardly the first time we have allowed the innocent to die because of court rulings that had little to do with the law or the will of the people.

Think Roe v. Wade.

As I write these words, Terri Schiavo is still suffering – still clinging to life. But I take some comfort in believing, in this Resurrection season, she will soon be in Paradise. The rest of us, however, will be left behind here to think about what could have been and what should be.

What lessons will we learn?