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Theor Med Bioeth. 2012 Dec;33(6):405-20. doi: 10.1007/s11017-012-9234-0.

Emmanuel Levinas and the face of Terri Schiavo: bioethical and phenomenological reflections on a private tragedy and public spectacle.

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  • 1Department of Health Administration, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University, Friends Center, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA.


The controversial case of Terri Schiavo came to a close on March 31, 2005, with her death following the removal of a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube. This event followed years of controversy and social upheaval. Voices from across the entire political and cultural spectrums filled the airwaves and op-ed pages of major newspapers. Protests ensued outside of Ms. Schiavo's care facility. Ms. Schiavo's parents published videos of their daughter on the internet in an effort to prove that she was not in a vegetative state and could potentially recover. There is a certain mystery to the entire controversy given the fact that, legally, it was largely a matter of settled law. Precedent cases and legal statutes clearly set out the proper procedures and decisions to be followed in this case. Nonetheless, powerful challenges and virulent opposition to these standards arose. Through an investigation of this case as well as a comparative study of the case of Dax Cowart (in particular, the documentary depictions of Dax Cowart's case) and of a photograph by Joel-Peter Witkin, I plan to investigate the source of these social upheavals and hypothesize that they were largely the result of a phenomenological reaction to the human face.

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