In a fascinating story, the Tampa Bay Times explores former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's role in the case of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who died a decade ago after the feeding tube that sustained her for 15 years was removed.
The front-page report published Sunday focuses on Bush's decision to "err on the side of life" in a messy conflict over the fate of Schiavo, whom medical experts described as in a "persistent vegetative state."
Tricia Rivas had never written to an elected official, but gripped with emotion, she composed an urgent email to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. "Please save Terri Schiavo!" she wrote from her home in Tucson, Ariz., on March 20, 2005. "Do something before it is too late … please! Every parent is watching this drama unfold … and will remember the outcome in future elections." Schiavo would be dead by the end of the month at a hospice near St. Petersburg, but not before Bush took a series of actions that, looking back a decade later, are stunning for their breadth and audacity.
A governor who was known for his my-way-or-the-highway approach — and who rarely was challenged by fellow Republicans controlling the legislative branch — stormed to the brink of a constitutional crisis in order to overrule the judicial branch for which he often showed contempt. Bush used his administration to battle in court after court, in Congress, in his brother's White House, and, even after Schiavo's death, to press a state attorney for an investigation into her husband, Michael Schiavo.
While many Republicans espouse a limited role for government in personal lives, Bush, now a leading contender for president in 2016, went all in on Schiavo.
Brief glimpses of faith and religion appear throughout the 2,200-word story. Unfortunately, those glimpses function more as flashing lights — as buzzwords — than real spotlights illuminating any kind of spiritual insight or depth.
Up high, the Times reports that Schiavo's husband, Michael, contended his wife would not want to be kept alive, while her parents argued she would not want to end her life. Focused on politics and not religion, the newspaper neglects to mention that the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, were Roman Catholics who claimed their daughter shared their devout faith and would not want to violate church teachings on euthanasia by refusing hydration and nutrition.
About 800 words into the story, the Times gets around to Bush's faith:
There were passionate voices on both sides but the interventionists were strongest, many appealing to Bush's faith. Raised Episcopal, he converted to his wife's Catholicism in 1996 and was unafraid of wading into social issues such as abortion.
"I can't believe you as a Catholic would say this woman has no right to live," a woman named Cheryl wrote on Aug. 8, 2003. "Would you starve one of your children to death? This situation could happen to anyone at any time due to a car accident, a drug overdose, etc. You need to prayerfully think about your decisions. God granted you the privilege of serving others in your position, you need to turn to him right now and ask for guidance, don't ask the lawyers."
As regular readers of GetReligion and adherents of Associated Press style will note, it would be correct to say that Bush was raised in the "Episcopal Church" or that he was raised "Episcopalian." But he was not raised "Episcopal."
However, my bigger complaint is that that the Times doesn't bother to elaborate on Catholic teachings or how they might relate to the Schiavo case.
The story references Bush's reliance on a "bioethicist with Christian leanings" and quotes an unnamed neurologist who called the former governor a "pro-life fanatic." A political scientist suggests that "the Schiavo matter emphasized how Bush combined policy with religious and moral beliefs."
But this is as close at the Times comes to explaining Bush's actual religious belief:
Throughout the ordeal, even as he relentlessly pursued his goal, Bush chose his words carefully. In emails to people across the country he said he believed "we should err on the side of life," but added he had to work within the confines of the law. "This is a heart-wrenching case, and I have not taken any action without thought, reflection and an appreciation for other points of view," he wrote.
From a political standpoint, this story might be described as revealing. In terms of religion content, though, it's a McDonald's cheeseburger, not a filet mignon. There are just too many holy ghosts.