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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

In the Schiavo Debate, the Face of America

Intervention by Bush and Congress Raises International Interest

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; 9:00 AM

The Daily Telegraph of Australia calls it "The right-to-die case gripping America." The Terri Schiavo case is also gripping the rest of the Western world.

In Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, the legal struggle over the medical care of a Florida woman who has lived in a "vegetative state" for the past 15 years is a complex dilemma that took a uniquely American flavor when President Bush and Congress intervened.

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The strongest voices in support of keeping Schiavo alive are religious. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano (Italian) describes yesterday's federal appeals court decision denying an appeal from Schiavo's parents to reconnect a feeding tube as "another sad station" on Terri Schiavo's "personal Calvary," or her ordeal of faith.

"There is no possibility that she can lead a 'normal' life," another Vatican editorial, translated into Spanish by Yucatan.com, begins. "Therefore, Terri Schiavo, must die." The editorial denounces the lower court decision as "absurd."

Likewise, Islam Online, a news site based in the United Arab Emirates, rejects what it calls the "irreligious philosophy prevalent in the West, which measures the value of life by one's contributions of production and creativity in and towards society."

The Europe Council on Fatwa and Research, a Dublin-based group of Muslim clerics, is quoted as saying that Islamic law absolutely forbids euthanasia:

"The patient, whatever his illness, and however sick he (or she) is, shall not be killed because of desperation and loss of hope in recovery or to prevent the transfer of the patient's disease to others, and whoever commits the act of killing will be a deliberate killer. The Qur'an confirms without a shadow of a doubt that homicide is absolutely forbidden, as Allah Almighty says: ('And take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law.')"

Even in Europe, "where physician-assisted death is far more commonplace than in the United States," the Schiavo case has "struck a chord," according to Deutsche Welle.

"European countries like the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium allow physician-assisted death in various incarnations. In Holland alone, about 2,000 people die through assistance from their doctor each year," the German public broadcast network reports. "But Schiavo wouldn't be one of them.

"Dutch laws, like those in Switzerland and Belgium, require that the patient clearly and insistently request death," says DW. "Schiavo, had she ever requested death should she fall into a vegetative state, did not insist on it."

DW reports that "socially liberal groups" such as the Union of Protestant Churches in Germany and the German Medical Association "have not recommended removing Schiavo's feeding tube."

The German newsweekly Spiegel Online says, "For the most part, socially liberal Germany tends to side with Schiavo's husband, who has been fighting for the right to let his wife -- a vegetable for the past 15 years -- die."

The discussion in Germany has been intense. On a popular evening news program, one commentator said that the Schiavo case should send a message to everyone to "write down what you want to happen when you want to die but can't." The conservative daily Die Welt on Tuesday called making a living will "the requirement of the hour."

But it is President Bush's "decision to step in that has many scratching their heads," said Spiegel Online.

"Despite Bush's efforts to avoid turning the case into a precedent, his involvement is problematic. Essentially, Schiavo's family managed to get America's increasingly influential religious right to push her case under the noses of Congress and onto the radar of the nation's born-again Christian president. One can't help but wonder if this means that US laws can be changed for those with enough political pull to present themselves as exceptions."

In London, the Mirror tabloid calls the congressional intervention in the Schiavo case "another stark sign of a dangerous fusing of politics, morals and religion in the era of George W Bush."

In a survey of the French press, Le Nouvel Observateur quotes one commentator sarcastically congratulating Bush, "the keen defender of the death penalty and domestic firearms who launched two international wars that killed tens of thousands of people for his sudden attachment to human life."

The commentary in Latin America, where the Schiavo story has been getting less attention than the frail state of Pope John Paul II, has not been so outspoken. Still the coverage has tended to be critical of those attempting to preserve Schiavo's life. "U.S. politicians and lawyers prolong Terri's agony," reads one headline in Bolivia.com

In Colombia, the editors of El Tiempo (Spanish) denounce the U.S. Congress for turning the case "into a crusade that would break with the principal that a law cannot benefit one person in particular."

Raúl Trejo Delarbre , a columnist for Cronica de Hoy (Spanish) in Mexico City, says that the litigation over Schiavo's care has "completely destroyed" the boundaries between private and public life. He observes that on the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation Web site, started by Schiavo's parents, one can buy a CD with original songs recorded by an Australian singer, Wayne Galley. The singer, Trejo adds, "is thinking of writing a screenplay about Terri Schiavo."


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