Once in a while I try to read something that has the stack decked against it in my head. In one of the biggest Right-To-Life cases of the past few years, the death of Terry Schiavo, my mind is at best riding the fence, and my opinions skew from both sides to something in the middle. That's why I to read Fighting For Dear Life (copyright 2006, Bethany House), by David Gibbs, the attorney for Terry's parents. But I'm still skewed.
The author has the unique position of having spent time with Terry and her family. The public wasn't allowed to see much of the interaction because of various legal blocks made by her husband, Michael Schiavo, and so we collectively had no idea how alert she was or not, how coherent she was or not, how alive she was or not. Rightly or wrongly, this case didn't get as much scrutiny or soundbite publicity as other cases have over the last decade or so.
Where many cases are "tried in the media", this one was tried more by what was left out. The book that Gibbs writes is trying to show that other side for the first time, trying to breathe some life literally and figuratively into Terry Schiavo for the world to experience. In doing that, he does a wonderful job – there's a real humanity that can be shared in the tears and angst of parents simply fighting for a daughter's life, and in a daughter whose life has evidently meant so much to so many.
But the problem I've had from the beginning is the demonization of her husband, Michael, and Gibbs continues some of that from the opening pages. It read to me more like Michael was on trial than anything else, and I'm not sure that was fair. Should this have happened? Should Terry's feeding tube have been removed? I don't know, to be honest. I think this goes beyond black and white to a grey area we too often want to avoid.
And putting the parents' wishes for their daughter above the husband's wishes for his wife – giving both sides the benefit of the doubt, both parties wanting what was best for Terry – I would like to err on the side of the marriage. I think that's biblical, and I don't think he dropped the ball in doing what he felt was right. The cards stacked against him by his own possibly poor or impatient choices may have been used to skew the perspective, but I still want to give him the benefit of having tried to do right by his wife.
Was there something wrong here? Probably. Was the right decision made? Maybe not. But to demonize one side over the other is in effect victimizing again, adding to the muddle instead of helping clear a way for peace and healing. In the end, it might have been the fight itself that had the most devastating impact on the family, I think.
All that to say – I think Gibbs has written an excellent first-person account of what went on inside the walls, sharing life we weren't allowed to see. He shares similar stories where the sure-to-die to indeed recover – holding out hope, prayer, and persistence are all good things, and he lifts them up admirably as examples of what could've happened here if Terry had been allowed to have that opportunity. But again, there's the temptation to question and demonize a husband caught in the unimaginable place of losing his love, his partner, his friend, too.
So while I think this book goes far in sharing the family's side, it also continues to skew towards their anger and tendency to blame, and the the skew against her husband is too pronounced and uneven, leaving me to wonder if real forgiveness and repentance on all sides is possible if the story ends here.