Terri Schiavo One Year On: Bioethics Gone Global

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As I write, it is almost one year since I regularly entered the London studios of CNN to comment, from a conservative European perspective, on the case of Terri Schiavo. Being a British bioethicist I had known of her for some years but as the denouement of the drama approached, the life-or-death outcome and the day-by-day court verdicts gripped not just the USA but news media around the world. I suddenly realized then that bioethics had gone global, and that triggered my own transition to CBHD.

At the fireside, not at the bedside

A year on, where are we? We hear from physicians that patients and their families are much more aware of the possibility of mental incapacity, and are more willing to consider in advance what action to take. Terri’s sad death may therefore have done some good. As a recent cbhd.org article commented, these sorts of decisions are better decided with the family at the fireside than in a crisis at the bedside.

In addition to the realization “It might be me” engaging individuals at a personal level, Terri Schiavo’s death has probably increased the grassroots feeling that we all have an obligation to be better informed about the basics of bioethics. On a nationwide radio program with me recently, the attorney for Terri’s parents commented that her death would be to end-of-life ethics what Roe v. Wade had been to abortion. I hope he is wrong, but we need to note demographic changes in America and their implications for the financing of health care.

More accessible

So far most ordinary folk have tended to react badly to the word “bioethics”. As somebody said, they see it as a word like “oncology” – vaguely medical, not very nice, and they’d prefer to leave it to the experts! We cannot afford that attitude any more, so as you will read inside, CBHD has been spurred to an additional emphasis on making the dignity view of bioethics more accessible to the church. The data, the framework, and the principles will be the same as our acclaimed approach to the academy, but the language will be more accessible.

And talking of accessibility, CBHD has moved into podcasting. Audio versions of articles are available for download from the website and there will soon be CDs available.

Please review and renew your support for CBHD as we seek with your help to take a more accessible Hippocratic and Judeo-Christian concept of dignity into a bioethics that has gone global.