Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The Schiavo decision ignores the King Solomon precedent

By George Thomas - posted Tuesday, 12 April 2005

The question of continued life in a vegetative state for Terri Schiavo, or death by starvation, by order of the courts, will remain a controversial one. The arguments used in this case are similar to those used by pro-life and pro-choice advocates regarding the rights of an unborn fetus. According to the pro-lifers, the fetus is a living human being who will eventually be born. Abortion is murder because the unborn fetus is helpless to protect itself from its destruction. Likewise, the death through starvation of Terri Shiavo was the murder of a helpless human being who had no say in the matter - except the word of her husband, who claimed that death is what she would have preferred, if she could have communicated her wishes.

According to pro-choice advocates, a fetus has no mind or human will. Therefore, abortion is more humane if the unborn child is unwanted by the mother, or is likely to suffer enormous neglect and hardships in life when born into an environment of deprivation. It is more humane to engage in abortion if the mother bearing the fetus so wishes. Likewise, 15 years in a vegetative state is no life, and to allow more of the same is immoral.

Medical judgments are relevant in the Schiavo decision and in the abortion debate. The medical judgment, that there was no hope of recovery, was the basis of the argument by Michael Schiavo’s supporters. An enforced death through starvation was therefore justified. Similarly, medical judgments regarding the likely death of the mother, if the fetus is carried until birth, have been used to justify abortion. If a choice must be made between saving the life of the mother and the life of the fetus, it must be made in favour of the mother. But there was no such dilemma in the Terri Schiavo’s case. It was not a choice between two living beings where one life must be sacrificed.


Terri Schiavo’s legal husband, who for several years lived with another woman and had children by her, had nothing at stake in the decision. He had no children by Terri Schiavo. Hence, there was no physical bond between them. Nobody remains “married” under these circumstances. Yet, Michael Schiavo chose to remain her husband, when he could have obtained a divorce. No marriage existed, in reality, for the previous 15 years. Can a marriage continue to exist under circumstances where the wife is in a vegetative state and where the husband has maintained a de facto marriage and family with another woman for 15 years? It would be de facto bigamy. Or is it automatically dissolved, since in her condition Terri Schiavo was unable to divorce her husband? The law says a spouse’s rights over the fate of their partner precede the rights of parents over the fate of their adult child.

The judgment of both the State of Florida and United States Supreme Court was inexplicable. They should have consulted the precedent set in the judgment of King Solomon of the Hebrews from three millennia earlier before deciding in favour of Michael Schiavo’s position to end Terri Schiavo’s life through starvation. Recall that when two women both claimed a baby as their own, King Solomon offered to cut the baby in half and give each an equal share. The woman making the false claim agreed to Solomon’s solution, while the real mother asked that the child be given to the other woman, to save the child’s life. King Solomon thereby determined the identity of the true mother, spared the life of the child and restored the rightful bond between mother and child.

Whether it was in the best interest of Terri Schiavo to be given a quick death or to continue her “living death” is not the main issue. The main issue is, which family member had the right to make the decision of life and death for Terri Schiavo? King Solomon’s wise judgment set a precedent and shows that the people who loved and cared for Terri Schiavo were her parents and siblings, who wished to keep her alive. They will grieve for her a long time. Like the woman in the biblical story who preferred the child cut in half, the legal “husband” in this case did not have any emotional attachment to his "wife" lying in a vegetative state for 15 years.

Blood is thicker than a legal certificate. King Solomon would have ruled in favour of the parents.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Article edited by Leah Wedmore.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

15 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Raju G C Thomas is the Allis Chalmers distinguished professor of International Affairs at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His most recent book is as contributing editor of Yugoslavia Unraveled : Sovereignty, Self-Determination, Intervention, Lexington Books, 2004

Other articles by this Author

All articles by George Thomas

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of George Thomas
Article Tools
Comment 15 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy