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Fla. judge’s pastor: removal of Schiavo’s tube would be unethical

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–The pastor of the Florida judge involved in the Terri Schiavo case has spoken out, saying that pulling the disabled woman’s feeding tube would be tantamount to murder.

“This isn’t about letting someone die; this is about causing someone’s death. There is a huge difference,” William E. Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., wrote in a column posted on the Florida Baptist Witness website.

Florida Judge George Greer is an inactive member of Calvary Baptist, where Rice has served as pastor for five months. Greer has ordered Schiavo’s feeding tube be removed Friday. Rice, though, says removal of the tube would be unethical.

“Like evangelicals across the world, we are horrified at the thought that a handicapped woman could be, in effect, starved to death before a watching world,” Rice wrote, noting that some have questioned Calvary Baptist’s commitment to pro-life issues. “Like many pastors, I am not an expert in the law. I cannot debate the variances of custody rights, or even debate the medical analysis of a Persistent Vegetative State versus a Minimally Conscious State.

“But I know right from wrong. I know what God thinks about human life. I know there is only one way to describe the prospect of starving a woman to death because she cannot feed herself. It is wrong.”

Schiavo is the woman at the center of a “right-to-die” case that has captured national interest. In 1990, she suffered brain damage after her heart stopped. She could improve were she provided rehabilitation services, her supporters say, although her legal husband, Michael, has refused to do so in recent years. Although Michael Schiavo says his wife would want to die, no written request from Terri exists. Meanwhile, he has lived in recent years with his girlfriend, with whom he has fathered two children.

For years now the parents of Terri Schiavo have been in a legal battle with Michael Schiavo over whether Terri should live or die.

In a recent interview with the St. Petersburg Times newspaper, Greer spoke of his frustration with Calvary Baptist’s stance on the Schiavo case. He said he no longer donates to the church.

Apparently, the fact that the church supports the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper was instrumental in Greer’s distancing himself from the church. The Witness — the newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention — has supported Schiavo’s parents in keeping their daughter alive.

“Clearly this is a tortuous case,” Rice wrote. “But it is precisely such moments when morality and truth must serve as our guide. Terri Schiavo is not on life support. She is not dying. Good evidence exists to suggest that she is responsive. All she receives is food and water, the same as you and me. Are we to conclude that she is less than human because she cannot feed herself? Can a month-old child feed himself? Is an elderly patient stricken with some debilitating disease and unable to feed herself suddenly less human? Do we now use an IQ test to determine if someone possesses the right to live? Isn’t that God’s choice? Only God can give life, and only He should take it away.

“Tread carefully if you think this is simply about a dying woman being allowed to die peacefully. Remember when we were told that Roe v. Wade was simply about helping women who had been raped or whose lives were imminently threatened? Today few abortions fall into that category, but millions of human lives have been sacrificed upon the altar of selfishness. And the slide down the slippery slope continues.”

While the Schiavo case has many legal complexities, Rice asserted, it is ethically clear-cut.

“This case seems complex but it is as simple as four words: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ If you need a compass for this complex case, you’ll find it there. As we all know, the Sixth Commandment means it is wrong to murder — to take the life of an innocent person without just cause. If I were the nurse in that hospice center and the directive were given to me to discontinue feeding a living human being and watch as he or she starved to death, I couldn’t do it. I’d rather get fired, resign, or do something else.

“… Her name is Terri. She can open her eyes. She watches a balloon as it crosses the room. She listens to music. She responds to her mother’s loving attention. She has something very precious, she has life; something only God can give. Her name is Terri and she matters to God. She should matter to us.”

Rice compared Schiavo to another woman — his mentally impaired sister, Sharon.

“My brother and I watched our parents care for her and somehow we learned an intuitive almost unspoken lesson,” Rice wrote. “Her life is valuable, as valuable as that of her two brothers, both active in ministry. Whatever difference exists between her IQ and mine, imagine the gap between mine and God’s! Yet He loved me and valued me so much that He would send the Jewel of Heaven to buy me back. He made me and redeemed me and that is the heart of our conviction about human life — everyone matters to God.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the Schiavo case “as shameful a case as I can recall.

“Terri has been denied rehabilitation and the ordinary comforts of life — including her husband’s refusal to permit medication for her parched lips — as he has relentlessly sought to kill her by denying her hydration and nutrition,” Land told Baptist Press. “I am outraged as an American, as a Christian, as a human being and as a Southern Baptist, because Judge Greer, the chief legal culprit in this case, is regrettably a member of a Southern Baptist church.

“I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to lift up Terri Schiavo and her parents in prayer and to seek the Lord’s intervention in this case. We also should do everything in our power legally to avert this terrible tragedy of a court in the United States of America allowing a woman to be legally starved to death.”

The entire column by Calvary Baptist Pastor William Rice can be read online at http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com/3995.article
With reporting by Joni B. Hannigan.

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  • Michael Foust