Although it was half a lifetime ago for me, I remember watching the film Dead Man Walking in a high school religious studies class. I also remember that this single film affected me deeply and challenged whatever limited thoughts I had had on the death penalty at that point.
Now that I am currently in Texas, I took the occasion to read this fascinating transcript of a conversation between Debbie Morris, Helen Prejean, and Rabbi Elie Spitz on Krista Tippett’s program On Being.
As the moment of the man’s execution approached, Morris said:
Debbie Morris was abducted and raped by a man who was eventually killed by capital punishment. In the interview, she discusses her ambivalence about his execution and describes her reason for wanting her perpetrator dead as having been motivated more by fear of him than out of a desire for revenge.
Sixteen years ago, Terri Schiavo died.
I remember that when she was in the news, I heard the term “vegetative state” for the first time. It immediately struck me as a completely inappropriate term for any person since it explicitly dehumanizes someone by applying an incorrect analogy. Initially the adjective meant, “endowed with the power of growth” but it has come to denote exactly the opposite in public bioethics – that a person is incapable of any significant growth or development. We do not tolerate those who would dehumanize others by calling them cockroaches, so we ought not tolerate the dehumanizing language that refers to persons as “vegetables.”
When I think about Terri Schiavo, I think especially about the impact that her life and death had on my friend Taylor Hyatt. She wrote this great piece several years ago titled, “13 days that changed my life: Remembering Terri Schiavo.”
In the piece, Taylor reflects on how Terri’s story captivated her when she was in Grade 7.