‘Til Death Do Us Part

May Terri Schiavo rest in peace.

While much of what I have heard regarding Mrs. Schiavo focused on whether she should die, I find it troubling that a less ethically difficult, but still critical, question has been glossed over. Since I am not certain of the specifics of the instant case, I shall pose this hypothetically.

Marriage, in the civil sense, is a contract between parties. Church marriages take on greater significance, and vary among faiths, and may be recognized by the State, but the union is essentially a contract, with rights and privileges defined not only by written agreement but by tradition and law.

Suppose one party to the contract is rendered either incompetent or incommunicado. Can that party remain fully bound to the contract, when he can no longer consent to substantive changes to it? When, and under what circumstances, can the contract become null and void?