The Rev. Larry Hollon
March 31, 2005
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Larry Hollon*
past few weeks have been rough for me. The spectacle surrounding the
Terri Schiavo case has evoked personal memories that cut deeply.
I’ve thought about this intensely, prayed about it and tried to put it in perspective.
years ago this July, my spouse, our daughters and I, sat for three
excruciating weeks at the bedside of our dying son and brother. It was
an experience I would not wish for anyone.
be clear, our circumstances were different from Ms. Schiavo’s. Matt had
prepared an advance directive. We followed his wishes.
condition was different from Ms. Schiavo’s, but the decision to not
intervene with extraordinary measures is the same emotionally
devastating decision, regardless of the circumstances. When House
Majority Leader Tom DeLay said that withholding a feeding tube was a
barbaric act, it was as if someone put a branding iron to my heart. It
was searing and insensitive.
Schiavo’s 15-year ordeal is over, but I know that as I write this,
parents, husbands, wives and children are sitting in a hospice, or a
hospital room, waiting as we did for a loved one to reach life’s end.
they are aware of the public debate that has raged during the months
leading up to Ms. Schiavo’s death. They have heard the inflammatory
rhetoric and have perhaps questioned their own decisions. As they
undergo their own private ordeal, they will look deeply at their
motivations, painfully evaluate negative characterizations about this
most sacred human experience, and struggle with difficult decisions they
must make about life support and palliative care.
kindest, most loving thing they can do may be to allow their loved one
to die naturally without intervening, but Rep. DeLay has framed this as a
deserve better. They deserve support, compassion, affirmation and
sensitive listening. They wait in agony, grasping to understand
circumstances that none of us is prepared for, trying to make a loving
decision under extraordinarily difficult conditions.
face stress now, and they will face it later. Bereavement following the
loss of a child can lead to mental illness, disintegration of
marriages, depression and abuse of alcohol and drugs, according to a
study conducted by the Danish Epidemiology Science Center and appearing
in The New England Journal of Medicine.
these families are not receiving compassion. They’re hearing words
tossed about such as “starvation,” “barbarism,” “euthanasia” and
loving parent wants to watch a child die. It’s not how life is supposed
to be. But rail as we might against the injustice of it all, it
happens. And there’s no way out of it but through it.
me, it was the most painful yet sacred experience I’ve ever been
through—and also the most confusing. I experienced a jumble of emotions
that went to the core of my soul. It was heartbreaking and spiritually
elevating at the same time. I never felt more alone, or more connected
to and loved by those around me.
became afraid of the dark, and yet I felt as close to the presence of a
loving God as I’ve ever been. As I read the Scriptures, they came alive
in a way I’d never experienced before.
not written publicly about this because it’s been too painful and too
private. But I write today after prayerfully reflecting upon the trauma
inflicted by the political debate surrounding Ms. Schiavo. It’s been
hurtful in more ways than the politicians will ever understand. Their
intervention—and that of the clergy who have given them theological
cover—is breathtaking for its insensitivity and lack of compassion.
politicians did not have to step into this broken family’s dispute.
They made an extraordinary effort to create this spectacle, betraying
their own claims about respect for the sanctity of life and the dignity
of all persons. And the clergy could have spoken of the need to offer
pastoral care and counseling to the family, of the fullness of life
under God and the great moral challenges that we face in circumstances
such as this. But that is not the path either group chose.
need serious discussion about end-of-life care, genetic therapy,
medical research and access to health care. If we had this conversation,
we would talk seriously about what makes for a life of quality. And we
would discuss the insight contained in the sacred writings and holy
scriptures of the world’s religions.
would talk about our responsibility to care for citizens with
disabilities and ensure their rights. We would talk about preventive
care and guidelines for end-of-life intervention. We would talk about
adequate funding for all of us to have access to health care.
And we would talk about holistic life, a life imbued with the sacred; life as body, spirit and soul.
family’s experience with Matt was not barbaric, it was sacred. For me
to remain silent in response to the intemperate language and political
grandstanding of the Schiavo case seems a betrayal of my son and the
awe-filled experience we shared together at his passing.
a March 23 op-ed piece in The Tennessean, Dr. Rubel Shelly, an ethicist
at Vanderbilt University wrote, “Perhaps death itself needs to be
reconsidered by all of us. It is not an absolute evil. Sometimes
the real evil lies in forcing someone to endure existence that is no
longer really life.”
a Christian, I believe death is not the end. It is a transition. I
believe with Paul that “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die
to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to
the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the
Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)
are Easter people, and that means in the darkness we look to the coming
dawn, and in the gathering light we see the renewing presence of a
loving God who calls us to heal the wounded, comfort the afflicted,
bring wholeness to the broken and to live a life imbued with sacred
value. Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
The end of life is not about politics. It’s about faith.
is general secretary of United Methodist Communications, the official
communications agency of the United Methodist Church. His personal
Weblog, “Perspectives,” can be read at http://homepage.mac.com/larryhol/iblog/index.html.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.