Christ has risen! He is risen, indeed!
 On Easter morning Jesus provided the ultimate answer to
matters related to the end of life. We proclaim it in the
words of the hymn: "Thine is the glory, Risen, conqu'ring
Son; Endless is the victory, Thou o'er death hast won!"
For the believer, the last word is "Victory!" Christ has
conquered both sin and death, and promises New Life!
 I have been watching and reading along with all of America,
the painful and sad story of Terri Schiavo. We have witnessed
all too first-hand the struggles of a family and community bitterly
divided over her end of life decisions. Even as I write, it
appears that death is ever more imminent as the courts have upheld
the belief that her wish was not to be kept alive under such
circumstances. There are many, including her parents, who
feel otherwise. This is a time for prayers not only for Terri
Schiavo and her family but also the many families who are dealing
with painful decisions about life and death.
 I am writing not to engage in conversation directly related
to this particular situation, but to share some perspective of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on end of life
decisions. In 1992 the ELCA Church Council approved a message
on End of Life Decisions prepared by the Division for Church in
Society. This message provides timely guidance for the people
of our churches at this time. It will help inform my comments
to you in this pastoral letter.
 It needs to be recognized that decisions like the ones that
the relatives of Terri Schiavo are facing are addressed nearly
daily in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice care situations
around the world. I expect many within our congregations are
facing, or have faced, such difficult decisions as they care for
loved-ones facing death. My dad, sisters, and I were faced
with such a decision at the deathbed of my mother.
 The matter of withholding or withdrawing artificially
administered nutrition and hydration is perhaps the most difficult
of all such decisions. Most living wills now address this
matter with a very specific question seeking the individual's
wishes. While food and water are part of our basic needs,
artificially administering hydration and nutrition is considered a
medical treatment. Artificially administering water and
nutrition can serve as very critical temporary measure for
sustaining life in a process towards recovering health.
However, a decision to withdraw such treatment should never be
equated with starvation. When it is believed such
treatment will not lead to improved health, and is preventing
natural death from occurring, a decision to withdraw such treatment
may be the morally responsible thing to do. We would continue
to surround the dying loved-one with the assurance of God's love
and do what is possible to relieve any suffering.
 Competent patients are always the prime decision-makers and
may refuse any treatment whether recommended or not by medical
professionals. When the decision has not been made in
advance, it falls usually to their family or to persons who are
their legal spokespersons. Often family, friends, pastors and
health professionals will consult together and prayerfully
determine the course of action that they feel their dying loved-one
would desire, whether that had been spoken of specifically or
simply determined by a life shared with the now dying
loved-one. Sometimes a family is deeply divided on such
decisions, as in the Schiavo case, and the courts must make rulings
based upon testimony of all concerned.
 Our church has traditionally been very sensitive and
pro-active in matters of death and dying. We believe in
holistic ministries which help to prepare people for end of life
decisions. Our Easter faith helps us deal with our fears and
our hopes. We rejoice, as our end-of-life statement declares,
"in the faithful and compassionate congregations, pastors, health
care professionals, and church institutions that minister with
persons who are dying and their family and friends." Within
our own Florida-Bahamas Synod, several pastors serve as full-time
hospice chaplains while others, both lay and clergy, offer support
to the hospice program.
 This is an opportune time for clergy, congregation councils,
parish nurses and other church leaders to encourage members and
friends of our congregations to provide for advance written
directives which make known a person's desires regarding medical
treatment related to life sustaining measures. Attorneys and
medical professionals can provide information about the different
kinds of directives that are available. This would also be a
good time to encourage the preparation of wills.
 I am aware that I have just touched upon the very complex
matter of decisions faced by those facing end-of-life
decisions. Yet I felt it very important that the views
portrayed by some in recent television or newspaper interviews do
not necessarily reflect the beliefs and practice of our
church. If you desire to read more about our church's
message, you may access the full report at www.elca.org/socialstatements/endoflifedecisions/
 We rejoice again that our Easter faith assures us that the
death of the body is not the end of life!
 Christ has risen! He is risen, indeed!