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FIRST-PERSON: Marriage vows & Michael Schiavo

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–There are so many things troubling about the case of Terri Schiavo that time and space do not allow for the examination of them all. Suffice it to say that that the consequences of Terri’s demise, both intended and unintended, will be far-reaching.

One disturbing aspect of her situation is the absolute contempt for the sanctity of marriage and the vows that establish that unique relationship.

Traditional marriage vows include some version of the following: For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness, in health; as long as we both shall live, I pledge myself to you.

Unless Michael Schiavo’s vows included some provision for unfaithfulness in the event his wife could no longer fulfill his needs, intimate or otherwise, he had been committing adultery for some time -– even fathering two children out of wedlock.

The fact that Florida Judge George Greer ignored Michael Schiavo’s admitted adultery and allowed him to remain as Terri’s legal guardian is unconscionable. How can a man who is so cavalier about his marriage vows be trusted to act in the best interest of his so-called wife?

Media reports constantly intoned that Michael was Terri’s husband. As an aside, some mentioned that he was living with another woman. A few indicated the relationship had resulted in children. However, a conflict of interest was never even suggested.

It seems that the promises made to another person and before witnesses –- not to mention before God for those who believe marriage is sacred -– meant absolutely nothing. As soon as they were uttered they were forgotten.

Since Michael Schiavo felt justified in his adultery because his wife was incapacitated, should a spouse now feel comfortable to follow his lead if a husband or wife becomes a quadriplegic or is stricken with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease)?

While the sanctity of life received a blow in the Terri Schiavo case, so did the sanctity of marriage. And both were already in a fragile state.

Another disturbing aspect of Terri’s case has yet to occur. It is the book deal that Michael Schiavo is sure to sign.

Of course, we will be told his motives for writing a book are not financial. No, he will be doing it to help the thousands of people who are facing their own right-to-die scenarios.

Timing will be very important. If Schiavo inks the deal too soon, he will come off looking like he is calloused and uncaring. However, if he waits too long, he risks losing the momentum of publicity. Life is tough when trying to capitalize on your brain-damaged wife’s induced starvation.

But the book will be nothing new.

In 1920, “The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life,” was published in Germany. It was a treatise that outlined the legal rationale for allowing “death assistance.” It asserted that those who suffered from brain damage or mental retardation were already in a state of “mental death.”

The book’s authors, Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, argued that seriously ill patients should be allowed to give their consent to euthanasia. In the case of those unable to consent, a three-person panel should be allowed to make the decision.

Binding and Hoche emphasized the economic burden on society of keeping the “hopelessly ill” and institutionalized alive. The authors argued that euthanasia was the compassionate thing to do for all involved.

“The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life” provided the foundation for the Nazi philosophy that began with “mercy killing” and eventually led to the Holocaust.

It is troubling that even though Michael Schiavo had total disregard for his marriage vows, he was still allowed to act as Terri’s legal guardian. What is even more troubling is that he could profit from her death.

Terri’s demise and the manner in which it occurred have opened a Pandora’s Box that will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to close. And the consequences, intended as well as unintended, will be far-reaching, perhaps even more than many Americans can even imagine.
Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.

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  • Kelly Boggs