The Vindication of Terri Schiavo

Thomas J. Euteneuer
President, Human Life International
Volume 01, Number 85
September 20, 2007
Reproduced with Permission

Since the election of Pope Benedict, the Church has been renewed by an abundance of blessings flowing from the Vatican. In case you did not hear, the Pope's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has just released its answer to the question of providing nutrition and hydration (i.e., food and water) to persons in so-called vegetative states. Even though a child can figure out that it's not right to starve people to death, the Vatican set the issue to rest this week. In its technically-precise language, the CDF vindicated our beloved Terri Schiavo by saying that no one can dare to commit or justify such an atrocity as her killing by any interpretation of Catholic teachings. Period.

The CDF responded to a question from the US Catholic bishops who asked whether it was morally obligatory to give food and water to a patient in such a state. The response was unambiguous: "Yes. The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented."

That was not all. The bishops further asked whether food and water could be withdrawn from the patient if there was no chance of recovery. Again, the CDF was unambiguous: "No. A patient in a 'permanent vegetative state' is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means." And just to be sure that no stone was left unturned, the accompanying note said that this is always and everywhere true "in principle" even if there are truly exceptional circumstances where it is not morally obligatory to provide food and water. Such a case would be, for example, when the person's body is in such a state that it is physically unable to assimilate food and water. There would be no moral obligation to try and force nutrition into the person in that case, but clearly this is an exceptional circumstance which does not in any way undermine the principle of absolute respect for life in its most vulnerable moments.

How many of us, at the time of Terri Schiavo's death, actually heard even so-called "good Catholics" say that they should just let her die because "no one should have to live that way" and other nonsense like that? The real message of this declaration is that no one should have to think that murderous way any more. The Vatican has spoken with the clear voice of conscience and has also vindicated all of us who fought for Terri's life and dignity, not because we were pro-life activists, but because we are Catholics. Anyone who advocated her death in 2005, whether by sloppy reasoning or culpable agreement with the atrocity, needs to seriously repent and re-evaluate his consciences in light of the Church's teaching. After this declaration, there is no excuse for not getting it right.

Most culpable of all were the so-called "Catholic" theologians, false priests, such as Richard McBrien and John Paris, who shamelessly advocated Terri's death when she was being sold to her killers for thirty pieces of silver. Now that the CDF has made clear what any child knows, this would be the time for them to take a refresher course on actual Catholic teachings.

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