Document Type


Publication Title

Houston Journal of Health Law & Policy

Publication Date



This article considers the story of Terri Schiavo in the context of a broader set of ideological debates in the U.S. Primary among them is the debate about abortion. In the decades since Roe, pro-life advocates have refashioned the rhetoric of the abortion debate. During that period, an underlying concern with the meaning and scope of family relationships was largely displaced in public debate with concern about the ontological status of fetuses and embryos. Pro-life advocates thus talked less often about abortion as a desecration of traditional family life and woman's purpose and more about abortion as the murder of children. Beneath this focus, the abortion debate stayed focused, at least implicitly, around alternative visions of family (and of gender). However, for several decades, framing discourse in terms of the status of embryos rather than the scope of family life proved powerful as strategy for pro-life adherents.

Then, the isolation of embryonic stem cells and the startling promises of regenerative medicine at the end of the twentieth century transformed the terms of the abortion debate. A vocal group of pro-life lawmakers, for instance, has supported embryonic stem-cell research and has, accordingly, reshaped its understandings of embryos. And so, the ideological moorings of the abortion debate have shifted. In consequence, discourse about the issues (however disguised) that energized debate about abortion is increasingly being constructed around alternative social issues. End-of-life crises present one such alternative social context within which the underlying debate is being continued. This article reveals and considers parallels between the abortion debate and discourse about Terri Schiavo's story. Stories such as Terri's, much as the debate about abortion, allow society to ponder the scope of family and the meaning of personhood.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.