updated 3/21/2005 2:49:57 PM ET 2005-03-21T19:49:57

The Vatican criticized the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, saying Monday she should not be treated like a broken “household appliance,” while Orthodox Jews said keeping the brain-damaged woman alive was tampering with the process of death.

Others argued that regardless of the outcome, the decision should not be reached through the political process.

Spiritual authorities around the world had differing views on the Florida case, underscoring the agonizing moral dilemma presented by the tug-of-war over Schiavo’s life.

While the Roman Catholic Church opposed the withdrawal of nutrition, Orthodox Jews said the feeding tube should never have been inserted in the first place. Islamic scholars, meanwhile, are divided on how the case should be handled.

Court-appointed doctors say the 41-year-old woman is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Her husband says she would not want to be kept alive in that condition, but her parents insist she could recover with treatment.

Vatican weighs in
Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed Friday after her husband sought a court order, but on Monday, her parents appealed to a judge to order the tube reinserted after Congress passed a bill allowing them to petition a federal court. President Bush signed the bill less than an hour later.

The Vatican condemned the withdrawal of the feeding tube in its newspaper Monday.

“Who can judge the dignity and sacredness of the life of a human being, made in the image and likeness of God?” L’Osservatore Romano said in a commentary Monday.

“Who can decide to pull the plug as if we were talking about a broken or out-of-order household appliance?” it said. “Who can, before God and humanity, pretend with impunity to claim such a right?”

But according to Rabbi Noam Zohar, an expert on Jewish bioethics from Bar Ilan University in Israel, Orthodox Judaism draws distinctions between letting someone die and causing their death.

“According to mainstream Orthodox Jewish law, it is not only permissible but requisite to remove artificial impediments to the death process because it is not permissible to place these there in the first place,” Zohar said, adding that this applies only if there is no hope of recovery.

Playing politics?
Opinion in the Muslim world was mixed.

“Islamic scholars and scientists have two different opinions in this case. Some say that ending the life of a person in a hopeless condition is considered murder and is forbidden, while others say that it could be done if the physicians assure that the patient is clinically dead,” said Safwat Hijazy, a prominent Egyptian Islamic cleric.

Even influential Islamic religious organizations are split over the issue, said Abdul Rahman al-Jaray, professor at King Khaled University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Some European commentators said activists from across the American political spectrum were merely using the Schiavo case to advance their agenda.

“Conservatives against liberals. Abortion opponents against abortion rights advocates. The religious right, which fights for the Ten Commandments in public buildings, against the liberals, who want to keep a separation between church and state. They all want to use Terri Schiavo’s fate for their own purposes,” German newspaper the Berliner Zeitung reported in a Monday story in the news section.

U.S. government actions called 'absurd'
In the Netherlands, the first country to have legalized euthanasia, the case is seen by some as government interference in private decisions.

Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 after her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. She can breathe on her own, but has relied on the feeding tube to keep her alive.

When a similar case arose in the Netherlands in the late 1980s, the Dutch courts ruled that feeding tubes are medical therapy and thus it is up to doctors to decide whether to withdraw treatment.

“It’s absurd, the way America is treating this issue,” said Walburg Dejong, spokeswoman for the Dutch advocacy group the Society for Voluntary Euthanasia. “We couldn’t imagine that our prime minister would fly into The Hague and say, ’I’m going to sign a new law to fight this issue.’ It’s a professional thing between the doctor and the patient and the patient’s family — not for the government to interfere.”

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