The Observer—Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: March 4, 2005
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
Terri Schindler Schiavo is a 41-year-old severely disabled woman whose husband and parents are engaged in a legal conflict about whether she will be allowed to live or whether she will be forced to die by dehydration and starvation. As I write, the battle for her life continues to rage. Her parents are fighting to save her life and her estranged husband continues to seek her death. By the time you read this, the courts will most likely have determined whether Terri’s life has been spared or whether she will be in the process of experiencing a slow, agonizing death.
Terri is not receiving extraordinary care. But, because she is severely brain damaged and has a feeding tube, there are those who believe her life is not worth living and that she should die by starvation and dehydration. You can be jailed for starving an animal. Many who rightly fight for the humane treatment of animals and many who rightly oppose the death penalty for convicted criminals see nothing wrong with starving Terri to death. This makes no sense.
In reference to Terri and others in similar conditions, I have heard people say, “I know I wouldn’t want to live that way.” Certainly, no rational person would choose such circumstances. I doubt John Paul II would have chosen his current condition. However, while we do have the right to refuse certain medical procedures, we do not have the right to cause our own death or the death of another.
Those who reject or do not fully understand the teachings of the Church think it humane to hasten the death of someone they view as suffering. The Holy Father addresses this in Evangelium Vitae when he writes, “In reality, what might seem logical and humane when looked at more closely is seen to be senseless and inhumane.”
Popular culture appears to be excessively preoccupied with not having a good “quality” of life and avoiding suffering at all costs. The culture of life, however, teaches that all human life has value and that we are to provide care, not death, for those who are suffering. Our Holy Father writes, “true compassion leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.” (Evangelium Vitae, #66). Make no mistake, when a feeding tube is removed from a person who is not imminently dying, is not allowing the natural death process to occur—it is killing that person.
A March 2004 joint statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life and the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations states, “The possible decision of withdrawing nutrition and hydration, necessarily administered to VS [“vegetative” state] patients in an assisted way, is followed inevitably by the patients’ death as a direct consequence. Therefore, it has to be considered a genuine act of euthanasia by omission, which is morally unacceptable.”
Thirty-eight year old Sarah Scantlin of Hutchinson, Kansas recently surprised her family and medical professionals when she spoke for the first time in 20 years. Sarah, who is severely physically disabled and has been in what is described as a “persistent vegetative state” since 1984, suddenly and without any explanation began speaking.
I am thrilled that Sarah has regained the ability to speak, but it is important to acknowledge that her value as a human being is no different now than when she was unable to speak. Her life, like Terri’s has intangible value based on human nature itself.
All human beings, regardless of their physical, intellectual, or emotional condition have worth and dignity simply because they are human. Our worth is not dependent on what we can do, but on who we are—persons made in the image of God.
Terri Schiavo should be allowed to live. What her husband wants to do to her would not be done to a dog and it must not be done to her.