03/24/05 — Local religious leaders, lawyers, weigh in on case

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Local religious leaders, lawyers, weigh in on case

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 24, 2005 1:56 PM

Goldsboro-area ministers, attorneys, and medical professionals have opinions of their own when it comes to the Terri Schiavo case.

The Rev. Art Evans of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church believes that the issue is a matter of faith.

"As a propounder of faith," Evans says, "it's a difficult situation." He says the case should prompt Christians to re-evaluate their commitment to their faith.

"The Christian practice is that faith in God determines the outcome of whatever we're engaged in," Evans says.

"We believe in the providence of God. No matter what happens in life, everything moves toward God's perfect will," he adds. "Do we believe that God can sustain her, or must we rely on life-support systems?"

Evans said the Schiavo case had been discussed in Bible study at his church.

"I think most of the congregation believes that it's a faith issue that needs to be exercised, as opposed to a law issue," Evans said. As for the debates in court and on the floor of Congress, "It perhaps should not have gotten that far."

Evans said, "It goes back to whether or not we trust God enough to have the last word. Would we allow God to have the last word, or would we allow our emotions to get the best of us?"

Evans says "The headline says it's a matter of life and death. It goes back to that old argument, 'Who is responsible for giving and taking life?'"

During his work as a minister, the Rev. Glenn Everett, the pastor of Daniels Memorial United Methodist Church, has seen families' struggle to make the right decisions about a loved one who is seriously ill.

"A living will takes the burden off of the family," he said.

Everett's opinions about the Schiavo case are "very mixed at this point, because I don't have all the facts." But, he said, "Who has the right to take away life?"

Because Ms. Schiavo did not have a living will, the family doesn't really know what she wanted, he said.

David Brindle of New Hope Friends Meeting says that the Quaker denomination does not have a clear-cut response to the issue.

"My guess would be in our congregation that their opinion of it varies," Brindle says. "You might have as many opinions as there are people here."

Brindle says that Quakers have traditionally been pacifists, and have clear convictions on war, peace, the death penalty and abortion. But, he said, "We don't have a central body through which we make pronouncements."

He says people not directly involved in the case may not understand the points of view of Schiavo's parents and husband.

Brindle said he believes that there is more than one issue at stake.

"You have to talk about not just quality of life, but nature of life itself and value of life itself. Life has value whether or not its judged by other people if it's the quality that it ought to be."

Local lawyers provide another view of the issue.

Former city attorney Harrell Everett said that the Schiavo case should have been left to the state courts itself to make any determination.

"To me," Everett says, "the bill passed by Congress and signed by the president is probably unconstitutional" because it dealt with a specific individual. Everett also says he doesn't believe Congress has the inherent jurisdiction under the Constitution and Separation of Powers to pass such a bill.

Everettt said the Schiavo case points up the necessity of creating a living will. A living will is a document in which people who are competent and able to make decisions for themselves leave instructions to the people who would be caring for them if they become unable to care for themselves or make a life-and-death decision.

"The primary consideration is being sure that you have an individual that you name and feel comfortable with carrying out your wishes," Everett said.

Tim Finan, the current city attorney, says the Schiavo case is "the greatest reason, in a very tragic way, of why everyone should have a living will. He said the dispute is about each side trying to say what she would have wanted. A living will would have prevented the argument, Finan said.

"It's a shame that it's become such a political issue," Finan said. He said he regrets that, given the conflicting stories regarding Schiavo's condition, that "they cannot find a way for all of the family members, with the medical people, to try to determine what is best at this point. It's a very sad situation."

"Everybody needs a living will," Finan said, "not only if you to tell folks what you would want to happen, but also to avoid having probably very well-meaning relatives arguing about this, being on TV, and going into the court system. It's just very hard on everyone, and folks shouldn't wait until they're 95 years old. Everyone should have one."

Dr. Jim Stackhouse of Goldsboro Medical said a living will helps people understand what the person wanted and it helps those people convince others of that person's wishes.

Another document that can help in such situations is a health-care power of attorney, Stackhouse said. It covers the wishes of a caretaker. For example, if a woman is caring for a husband who has Alzheimer's, and she becomes incompetent, the power of attorney would have allowed her to designate someone ahead of time to make decisions.

Living wills and health care power of attorney documents can be obtained from lawyers, libraries or even downloaded from the Internet, Stackhouse said. Normally, the documents are notarized, and many people have them registered the same as deeds and wills.