At the end of this month, Terri Schiavo will be ten years dead. But she is far from forgotten. Everyone reading these words knows the story, and everyone has an opinion. What began in 1990 as a private tragedy—a vivacious young woman stricken in the prime of life with a severe cognitive disability—became a source of profound cultural division, as likely to spark debate today as when the case first broke into the public’s consciousness.
Why has her story remained so potent? Part of it has to do with the high-profile and vituperative legal and public-relations battle between Terri’s husband, Michael, and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. Still, most heated public controversies run their course and fade into history. But not this one. Since her death, Terri has become a symbol of deep-seated conflicts in our country about the nature of human life and what role we have in controlling it—or ending it.
Even though Terri’s case had nothing to do with abortion, she quickly became mired in the “pro-life” versus “pro-choice” argument. True, abortion opponents strongly supported the Schindlers’ effort. But they were not alone in defending Terri’s life. For example, the disability rights movement—generally secular, distinctly liberal in political outlook, and hardly pro-life on the abortion issue—also vociferously opposed Terri’s dehydration (which precipitated her death). So did some progressives, like Jesse Jackson.
Read more: First Things