For more than a decade, the story of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state whose husband and parents have battled over whether to withdraw food and water, has made international headlines. But millions of families around the world have quietly grappled with equally wrenching choices. Scores of Beliefnet readers have shared their personal stories of this agonizing decision-making, and we offer a sampling of their moving accounts.

Fifty years ago, when I was a teenager, I saw my father in a vegetative state for three months before he died. Thankfully, in those days, medical science could not keep him "alive" any longer. After he died, I heard my mother tell her sister, "You know, Charlotte, Will died three months ago." Terri Schiavo died 15 years ago.

I wonder, where is the Christianity in her blood relations, who seem to feel that there will be no life after death?

If a feeding tube equals artificial life support, doesn't that make bottle-feeding a baby also artificial life support? There is nothing wrong with artificial life support. I took care of a patient who was in the same condition as Ms. Schiavo. She was held in the hospital that caused her harm until the lawsuit was settled and then she was sent to a rehab center where they actually had hope for progress and did something to effect that progress and that patient did very well. Just because you fail to do something to sustain life does not exonerate you from being the cause of death to someone. There are such things as sins of omission.

My late husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer in July of 1998. He was 45 years old. The doctors said that even with chemo and radiation he wouldn't live more than a year. He made the decision to not have treatment. He said that quality of life was worth more to him than quantity. He was placed in a hospice program and was cared for at home. He had a DNR and only recieved care that kept him from having any pain. The last 45 days of his life, he could not eat. Everything that he drank was pumped back up because his digestive tract was blocked by the cancer. Mercifully he died at home on a beautiful morning in October. When I prayed for him, I asked God to make him well. Some people don't agree with me but as I see it, God did make him well. He's free of pain and suffering and in a much better place.

After my husband died, I chose to make a living will. I will not have someone else making the decisions for me, and I don't believe that you should place that burden on your family members in the first place. We are only here on this earthly plane for a short while, and no matter what we do, we all face death of this mortal body. That doesn't mean that we are lost. It simply means that we are on a contining journey that physical death is only a small part of.

My Mother-in-law was recently admitted to the hospital.She had pneumonia,and had been taking breathing treatments at home. she is 82. My husband and his brother knew that she would never want to be put on a ventilator,and even though we had her will and living will perpared and witnessed,it was never notorized.So,there it sat in the house.In my husbands absence,his brother authorized the Dr.'s to insert the ventilator.She was in and out for several weeks. They had to put in a heart cath,and was not expected to live. Not only did she live,she was moved to a nursing home to do rehab. She probably never will be able to come home again,but my point is God works in mysterious ways. The Dr.'s said she was a "MIRACLE".How often does one hear a Dr. say that? I thank the Lord everyday that she was put on a ventilator,because she is still very mentally aware and now she can interact with people her age.Still,if the living will had been inforced,she wouldn't be here right now. I still believe that ones wishes should be carried out,regardless of the emotional pain it inflicts on the rest of the family. After all, it is their decision and not the family's.GOd bless everyone who visits this site.

My husband and I discussed this issue and he told me that he wouldn't want to live on a machine. I never thought that I would be put into a situation where I would have to make such a decision.

But in 1994, my husband had a raging fever that was caused by kidney failure. The doctors had thrown their hands up and said there was nothing more they could do. He was put on life support.

I was in shock because he was only 42. The doctors came to me and asked me to remove him from life support. They gave me reasons why he should be taken off. I knew what he wanted, but I couldn't make that horrible decision. I took it to the Lord in prayer.

I didn't remove him from life support. Today my love is alive and well. I know the power of prayer. The Lord is still in the miracle-working business.

My grandmother had Alzheimer's for almost as long as I could remember. By the time I was 16, she was very sick, could barely speak, and somehow knew she was going to die. That Christmas, when my oldest brother and sister-in-law went to visit her, she told them that it was the last time she would ever see them...and it turned out true.

Near the end, around the last three weeks, she started to refuse food and water. My family saw that as a sign that she wanted to die, but my grandfather immediately had a feeding tube put in. While it gave her a few weeks of life, I have to wonder what her quality of life was. I saw her on Good Friday, the day before she died. While she recognized us and could make sounds, she just looked so bad that I wondered why this was happening.

I had read in the paper that morning about an old Catholic superstition that people who died on Good Friday would immediately go to Heaven. When she died on that Saturday, I just kept thinking "missed by one day."

Watching her die was agonizing for the entire family, and it's something I wouldn't wish on anyone. It was the catalyst in me finally losing my faith.

And I just kept wondering...were those extra weeks really worth it?

I have an elderly disabled relative in a nursing home. I had to have her involuntarily hospitalized because of self-neglect and self-endangerment.

Her quality of life has improved exponentially in the nursing home (which is just your run-of-the-mill, non-exclusive institution run by one of the regional medical centers). She gets balanced meals; much more socialization than she had when she was living by herself; intellectually stimulating activities like book club and current events discussions. She gets regular medical care; she has access to spiritual support. I would not say that her life was not worth living.

I had to develop an advance directive for her. It's on file at her care facility, I review it with staff every time I have a care conference, and every year I review it with her. It specifies that if she suffers some sort of devastating illness with no reasonable chance of recovery, doctors not take extraordinary measures to resuscitate her or otherwise prolong her life, but that she be given palliative care for as long as she is alive.

One of the good outcomes of my having to write out an advance directive is that my mother and I had a good talk about our own expectations for treatment (DNR if the situation is hopeless; palliative care only.) So now we're both empowered to communicate the other's wishes to physicians. Really, folks...work out that advance directive right now.

A very close friend of mine was in a horrible automobile accident and was left paralyzed from the neck down and after the best doctors money could buy (as money was not an issue with his family) determined there was nothing that could be done now--or in the future (bones destroyed, nerves shredded and torn and worse) and there he lays--trapped in his body and can't move a thing but his eyebrows and his mouth--not even his head.

Is God going to heal him?

From what I've seen, heard and read, there's about a 99.9 percent chance there will be no healing from God, and a 100 percent chance there will be no healing from the doctors.

This man wants to die--to move on, and if not for modern science, he would be dead in no time and his prayers of death would be answered.

Of course, modern science can keep him alive (playing God if you will) for years--maybe decades.

So, where is the humanity in this?

I can only hope that if I'm ever in the same situation as Terri that those who love me have the compassion and ability to let me die rather than forcing me to continue as a mindless doll to feed someone's empty dream of my recovery. I have legal documents in place to try to ensure that I'm not kept alive as a vegetable, but we're all now witness to what good rights and documents do when someone ties them up in court.

...My soul the light of my life and my reason for living elected to stop eating after he became bed-ridden and blind and had to go on a feeding tube, as he fought a terminal illness. He died one week later. While I'd have given anything for him not to have been terminally ill, there is no way that I'd have forced him to continue the feeding, knowing that he could never improve. I watched the fear and pain and frustration he faced as his world and control grew ever smaller and his quality of life became nil. And I saw the peace that his decision to stop eating brought him. His last week was the first truly peaceful week he'd had in 6 months.

Stop the parading. Stop the grandstanding. Let the woman's poor body die.

I was shocked several years ago when hospice officials encouraged a friend to withold nutrition from her young daughter. She had extremely severe cerebral palsy, then at age 6 suffered a devastating seizure that left her with the mind of a 6-month-old, they estimated.

A feeding tube had been surgically implanted because she had no gag reflex. I researched the witholding issue and was further surprised to learn that this was OK with the Catholic Church. I would have thought that the Catholic Church would bend over backwards and then some to keep a life alive.

My friend was insulted by the suggestion of not feeding her daughter. A few months later, the girl was taken out of the hospice, because, contrary to what the doctors had said, she didn't die within 6 months. She lived more than 2 more years before she died. If they had starved her, would that have been murder? It's a gut-wrenching situation.

God Bless Terri

Because of this case, I am changing my trust to include feeding and hydration were I in similar situation, after having consulted with my family. No judge or estranged family member will decide my fate.

I take care of a young woman who relies on a feeding tube and also has a tracheostomy. She can't speak or do sign language; she can't walk. She is incontinent. She is profoundly mentally retarded.

My job is to watch over her while she sleeps to see if her trachea tube needs suctioning. She can suffocate if it gets clogged with mucous. I feed her water and cereal and get her up in the morning and bath her. She is not comatose. She can awaken and will interact with people by smiling and holding their hand. She can also laugh but doesn't make a sound. She can see but may not have the capacity to process visual information very well.

She does seem to have a love for music. She really enjoys concerts and listening to the radio. It is easy to discern what her musical tastes are by her reactions to different types of music. I think she has a spiritual connection to music.

Besides the fact that she needs a feeding tube and breathes through a tracheostomy, she is very healthy and strong.

I think she is a beautiful person. Her brother is also disabled but not as severely. Her parents were profoundly affected by her and her brother's disability. They believe God used this to call them into the ministry.

My father went into the hospital on Dec. 30 for observation, and by Jan. 3 his kidneys started shutting down. Fortunately, on the 2nd my father signed his living will, in which he stated he wanted no extraordinary measures taken including a feeding tube.

On Jan. 5, he was having difficulty breathing and my mother opted to put him on a respirator so he would not die an agonizing death with the understanding that if he didn't get better within a few days, he would be taken of from the respirator. We also made the decision to not continue with dialysis because he did not want it.

By Jan 6, we knew that he wasn't going to get any better and what life he would have had if we continued treatment would not have been what he wanted. My mother, brother, and I decided that we would have the respirator removed on the 7th, understanding that while he would be kept comfortable, he could live for days and in that time would not be given any sustenance. Fortunately, my father passed away only moments after they removed the respirator. What boggles my mind is that some Christians are so against death and dying. If we are Christians, then death is just the beginning.


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