Application of Ethical Principles in Terry Schiavo’s Case

An explanation of how an ethical theory and/or ethical principle might be applied to address the
chosen topic (Terry Schiavo)

Application of Ethical Principles in Terry Schiavo’s Case

A family tragedy that had hit the Schiavos has since become a national debate in the
United States. The case involved a court battle between Terri Schiavo’s parents and her husband,
who had warring opinions about sustaining her through a feeding bottle (Fuhrman, 2005). Being
a woman aged 41 already, and suffering a severe brain damage, the logic of taking her off the
life-support system had considerable weight, but denying her the right to leave, owing to the
sacredness of life, also seemed gruesome. This, this case raises a myriad of ethical issues, which
can be adequately addressed by the utilitarian theory, as outlined below.
According to Fuhrman, (2005), Utilitarianism is a theory that a proper cause of action is
guided by the result that maximizes total benefit or utility, and reducing negatives. Based on the
guiding principle of this theory as outlined by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart, every action is
deemed fit if the resulting consequences are supporting the common good. As in the case of
Terri Schiavo, her husband maintains that she would not have wanted to sustained in that
manner. As has been a central topic of debate on ethical principles, passive euthanasia sometimes
comes as a necessary option, especially when the ultimate outcome of a medical process may not
work for the good of the patient. In such a case, Terri Schiavo would have better been granted
her right to die, since she was being sustained without her due consent.
According to the desires and the arguments put forth by her parents, the utilitarian theory
could argue that continued sustenance of Terri Schiavo would have consistently put pressure and

costs on the family, which is against the ideology of the “common good”. Thus, bringing her
artificial nourishment to a ceasefire would be theoretically supported in the perspective of this


Fuhrman, M. (2005). Silent Witness: The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo’s Death. Associated
Press: NY.