Sunday, March 27, 2005

VIA CHIEF, by way of The Left Coaster, here is an article from the St. Petersburg Times by a very talented reporter named Wes Allison. Allison's piece deals with the larger moral, ethical, religious, scientific, and constitutional questions raised by the Terri Schiavo affair, questions addressed only peripherally by the media in the past 10 days.

Good journalism does not just report what's happening, it asks why it's happening, and attempts to find the experts who will be able to provide some of the answers. Good journalists also turn widely accepted assumptions on their heads, and get us to see perceived truths from a completely different angle.

Wes Allison is an excellent journalist. Throughout this legal battle, supporters of reconnecting Terri Schiavo's feeding tube have used religious faith as the justification for their insistence that Ms. Schiavo should be allowed to keep living. They cite biblical authority and Christian doctrine to claim that God is on the side of life, and that Christians in particular are obligated to stand up for the sanctity of life. Yet, the underpinnings of these people's certainty that Terri Schiavo's condition could improve comes from science, not religion. And religious belief -- Christian religious belief in particular -- does not lead inevitably to the conclusion that keeping Terri Schiavo alive at all costs, regardless of her awareness or her ability to think, feel, or communicate, is the only way to value life.

All of which [makes] the Rev. Frederick Schmidt, an Episcopal priest and theologian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, wonder: Why [i]sn't letting Schiavo die a Christian option, too?

"I think the religious right is captive to a medical, scientific description of life that equates merely to survival," said Schmidt, director of spiritual life and formation at SMU's Perkins Graduate School of Theology.

"But Christians can say no, life is broader than that . . . and to let someone go under these circumstances is perfectly appropriate."

Wes Allison takes an exquisitely nuanced and sophisticated look at these questions and numerous others raised by this case. When the right to life and the right to liberty conflict, which should come first? When does life begin and when does it end? The answer is not as simple as you think. The same Catholic church that now defines life as beginning at conception used to define life as beginning at "quickening" (the point where the woman feels the fetus move), which happens between 16 and 18 weeks into the pregnancy (according to the University of Michigan's medical school website; the St. Pete Times article says 40 days).

The article is fairly long, but it has to be because it raises and tries to answer so many difficult and complex questions. But you will come away from it with entirely new ways of looking at these issues, as well as a renewed appreciation for truly original and superior journalism.

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