Video: Schiavo’s faithful followers

By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/24/2005 1:36:21 PM ET 2005-03-24T18:36:21

Supporters of Terri Schiavo are guided by faith. Their pursuit to save Schiavo, who her parents say is a devout Roman Catholic, are continuing into Holy Week and propelling her life into the center of a passionate national debate.

From the vigils to the lawyers and even the politicians — all are raising challenging questions about life and death, right and wrong, faith and politics.

But why has Schiavo's life galvanized so many people? Analysts say her case is an extension of the abortion debate — a highly charged, emotional subject influenced by religious beliefs.

For Methodist minister Robert Schenk, who's kept a steady vigil outside Schiavo’s hospice, religion is the central theme of this debate. His side says the focus should be on saving human life.

“The way we treat the disabled is no different than the question of how we treat the unborn or how we treat the elderly,” says Rev. Schenk.

It's a sentiment that reached all the way to Washington in an unprecedented way this week.

“As the House convenes this Palm Sunday the Florida courts are enforcing a merciless directive to deprive Terri Schiavo of her right to life,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., during House debate over the weekend on a bill to allow federal courts to review the decision to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube.

But according to the latest NBC News poll, while 62 percent of Americans say faith plays a major role in their marriage and raising children, only 36 percent say faith plays a major role when making medical decisions.

“Most Americans are not at the point where they believe medicine is entirely about faith,” says John Green, a professor of religion and politics at the University of Akron in Ohio.

Even among the faithful there are differing views.

“Myself and many others believe that this would not be euthanasia, but would just be the removal of an artificial block to the natural dying process,” says Rev. James Bretzke, an associate religion professor at the University of San Francisco.

"We need to have this conversation on a national level," says Rev. Schenk. "We need to ask ourselves these very, very serious moral questions and we need to resolve them."

No matter the legal outcome of Terri Schiavo's case, for her faithful supporters, the debate about how faith affects people's lives will go on.

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