When Jesse Jackson appeared at Terri Schiavo's hospice 12 days after her feeding tube was removed, protesters cheered, "This is about civil rights!" Indeed, the Schiavo debate was framed almost entirely in the language of individual rights—and not only the inalienable right to life versus the "right to die."

Religious-freedom rights became core for lawyers and supporters of Schiavo's parents. As a devout Roman Catholic, they said, Schiavo would have wanted to comply with Vatican directives to keep the tube in place. They also argued that her religious rights—and rites— were violated when a judge ruled that she could only receive Holy Communion (a drop of wine) once after the tube removal. When Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski returned for a second Communion, police warned him that he would be arrested.

"What court really has the authority to tell someone they can't have a religious rite?" Paul O'Donnell, one of the Franciscan friars assisting Schiavo's parents, asked The Washington Post.

Attorneys for Schiavo's parents also argued that Schiavo's right to privacy was violated—a judo move on one of the main rights invoked by Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, in removing her tube.

Thousands of newspaper and wire service headlines declared the debate as being over the "right to die." Such language is deceptive, says columnist Thomas Sowell. "If the tragic case of Terri Schiavo shows nothing else, it shows how easily 'the right to die' can become the right to kill."

"I firmly believe in the right of individuals to make their own medical-treatment choices," Michael Schiavo's attorney. But "Terri is not making her medical choices," responded National Review's Rich Lowry. "Choices are being made for her, perhaps … ...

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Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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