Ten days ago, the Rev. Ted Coleman thought removing Nancy Cruzan's feeding tube was immoral and cruel.
But the chaplain at the clinic where the woman lies after nearly eight years in a persistent vegetative state told his congregation Sunday that now he's not so sure her parents were wrong to fight for her right to die."I'm struggling like I've never had to struggle before," Coleman told parishioners at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Coleman, 51, doubles as chaplain at the Missouri Rehabilitation Center, where Cruzan is in a vegetative state doctors say is irreversible. The 33-year-old woman remained in deteriorating condition late Sunday.
A judge on Dec. 14 gave Cruzan's parents permission to have the tube removed.
Until then, Coleman said he firmly believed that ending Cruzan's life was wrong.
He'd said he never met Joe and Joyce Cruzan until that day, but it didn't matter because he believed ending their daughter's life was unconscionable, even if there was no hope of her recovering.
As recently as Tuesday, when 19 people were arrested for bursting into the hospital and trying to reach Cruzan's room to reconnect her feeding tube, Coleman admitted he sympathized with the anti-euthanasia demonstrators.
But after getting to know the Cruzans through daily visits and giving more thought to the right-to-die issue, Coleman said he's re-evaluated his position.
"As a minister of the Gospel, I've studied and been taught that certain truths are always black or white," he said. "As I deal more with this issue, I'm not sure it is black or white."
When he kisses his two teenage daughters good night, Coleman said, he puts himself in the Cruzans' position.
"I can't help but ask myself, `What would I do if one of them suddenly was in the same medical condition as Nancy?' Sometimes I think we are too quick to judge others, when we don't know what we would do in the same situation."
Coleman said he now believes the round-the-clock presence of demonstrators outside the clinic does little more than further burden and irritate the Cruzans.
Snow, subzero cold and legal setbacks in their attempts to force the state to resume feeding Cruzan have reduced the number of full-time demonstrators at the hospital from about 15 to just three Sunday night.
But the strain on the Cruzans, which began with Nancy's car crash on Jan. 11, 1983, is becoming apparent as her death nears.
On Sunday, Joe Cruzan stepped past police officers who screen visitors at the hospital entrance and went onto the lawn to tear up a banner reading "Joe, Please Feed Nancy."