Tom Droleskey, Christ or Chaos

A Clear Defense of Terri Schiavo

by Thomas A. Droleskey

Emphasizing his earlier defense of Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo, given in an interview on Vatican Radio on Thursday, February 24, 2005, Renato Cardinal Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has issued a clear and strong statement of Mrs. Schiavo’s absolute right to be provided food and water. Cardinal Martino’s new statement, which was issued today, March 7, 2005, is a stunning rebuke to each and every one of the contentions made by St. Petersburg Bishop Robert N. Lynch throughout the course of the legal battle waged by Mrs. Schiavo’s faithless husband to starve and dehydrate her to death under terms of an unjust and immoral law on the statute books in the State of Florida. Indeed, Cardinal Martino’s new statement contains a not-so-oblique condemnation of Lynch’s statements and actions. Although it has been clear to any Catholic who understands simple Catholic moral theology that the removal of food and water is an act that causes death as its first and only end and is thus always a violation of the Fifth Commandment, some Catholics have been confused by Bishop Lynch’s distortions and misrepresentations of authentic Catholic teaching. Mrs. Schiavo’s right to food and water is absolute and unconditional. Cardinal Martino has come once again to her aid from the Holy See while Bishop Lynch prohibits his own priests from participating in the rally that will take place in front of Woodspice Hospice on Saturday, March 12, 2005, to demonstrate our prayerful support for her.

Here is the text of Cardinal Martino’s magnificent statement:

Statement of Cardinal Renato Martino,

President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Vatican City

7 March 2005

The courts have ruled again and again. Unfortunately, the deadline for the removal of the tube delivering food and water to Terri Schiavo is quickly approaching. I am sorry to have to use the word “ deadline ” but this is the most accurate way to describe what will happen. Without the tube which is providing life-giving hydration and nutrition, Terri Schiavo will die . But it is not that simple. She will die a horrible and cruel death. She will not simply die, she will have death inflicted upon her over a number of terrible days even weeks. How can anyone who claims to speak of the promotion and protection of human rights-of human life- remain silent? Is this not a question of the right to life? I believe that I must speak out about this in the same way that I would speak of the protection of the unborn and just as I would concerning any injustice .

Has due process in this case been truly served? Have all options been employed? Where is love? Where is human compassion? No one would ever wish to witness the suffering of another, especially a loved one. And I am sure that no one could ever choose to witness suffering or a cruel death being inflicted upon another, especially one who is loved. How then have we come to this point?

If it is true that the process has been fair and that all legal avenues have been exhausted, how is it that this woman, who has done nothing wrong, will suffer a fate which society would never toleratein the case of a convicted murderer or anyone else convicted of the most horrendous crimes? Again, it is an issue of human rights. It is an issue of the right to life, and as I stated earlier, no one can be the arbiter fo life except God himself!

The State of Florida has many laws on its books which protect animals, whether they be household pets, domesticated farm animals or animals destined for slaughter. ( And please pardon me as I make this analogy. I am not comparing Terri to an animal . I only want to show the protection that the courts afford to animals in the State of Florida.) These laws “prohibit[s] anyone from intentionally committing an act to any animal which results in cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering ” (828.12). It is also unlawful to keep an animal in a place while failing to supply “a sufficient quantity of good and wholesome food and water ”(828.13).

Are these laws not enforced by the same courts, are these not the same laws established by lawmakers in order to protect other creatures of God ?

However, in just a few days, [if her husband and the courts have their way, ]this is exactly what will happen to Terri. She will be completely deprived of water and food. She will have excessive suffering and pain inflicted upon her which will lead to her cruel death . Yet we have come to the point of asking whether due process been fully carried out and all options exhausted on behalf of Terri? This is unbelievable! Is it not sufficient enough to say that there are still questions that must be answered? We plead, we make the urgent appeal for the life of a helpless human being …a person with whom we all share our God given human dignity. How can anyone say that her best interests have been taken into consideration?

In his Message for the Eleventh World Day of the Sick (11 February 2003) His Holiness Pope John Paul II stated: “And while palliative treatment in the final stage of life can be encouraged, avoiding a “treatment at all costs” mentality, it will never be permissible to resort to actions or omissions which by their nature or in the intention of the person acting are designed to bring about death.”

Palliative care, by its definition is the alleviation of suffering and relieving pain. In the last stage of life, it is this care for which we all must hope because, if the feeding tube is removed and Terri is forced to die this slow, terrible, painful death, we must ask ourselves, “ And who will be next ?” Will this open the door for a state to decide whether this or that incapacitated person should die…not be allowed to die a dignified death but that they should have death inflicted upon them?

It must stop here and now. The courts, the judges and everyone involved with this must understand that all of the questions involved in the case of Terri Schiavo have not yet been answered . Society must realize that we can never inflict this sort of death on a human being, on any other creature, without each and every one of us and society as a whole suffering a terrible fate.

Clear. Unmistakable. No nuance. No hedging. No statement that the “decision” belongs to Michael Schiavo or that there are “discussions” to be had among family members about the “medical treatment” to be provided to Mrs. Schiavo. No consideration of psychological or emotional or financial burdens. Just a clear reiteration of Catholic moral principles. It should do the heart of any and every Roman Catholic well to see one of his shepherds speak so clearly. Yes, sure, we should have this all of the time. Granted. Given the unprecedented ecclesiastical circumstances in which we live, though, Cardinal Martino’s willingness to break ranks with episcopal collegiality to speak firmly in defense of Catholic moral principles that have been denied and obfuscated by Bishop Lynch and by the Florida Catholic Conference is quite welcomed and an answer to the prayers of millions of people around the world.

“How can anyone who claims to speak of the promotion and protection of human rights-of human life- remain silent? Is this not a question of the right to life? I believe that I must speak out about this in the same way that I would speak of the protection of the unborn and just as I would concerning any injustice. . . . How can anyone say that her best interests have been taken into consideration?” Indeed.

Although I have provided a contrast between Bishop Robert Lynch’s misrepresentations of Catholic moral teaching with the statement made last year by Pope John Paul II, I want to do so one more time so as to drive home the point to anyone who has any lingering doubts about Bishop Lynch’s relativist and utilitarian embrace of the heresy of Proportionalism (which contends that a preponderence of “good” motives and extenuating circumstances might make an objectively immoral act licit to pursue in some cases). Consider this excerpt from Bishop Lynch’s March 12, 2003, statement on the matter of Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo:

Our Catholic Church has traditionally viewed medical treatment as excessively burdensome if it is ““too painful, too damaging to the patient’s bodily self and functioning, too psychologically repugnant to the patient, too suppressive of the patient’s mental life, or too expensive.”” [cf. ““Life, Death and Treatment of Dying Patients: Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Florida, 1989]

Contrast this with Pope John Paul II’s March 20, 2004, statement on the subject of brain-damaged patients:

The evaluation of probabilities, founded on waning hopes for recovery when the vegetative state is prolonged beyond a year, cannot ethically justify the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and  hydration. Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission.

In this regard, I recall what I wrote in the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, making it clear that “by euthanasia in the true and proper sense must be understood an action or omission which by its very nature and intention brings about death, with the purpose of eliminating all pain”; such an act is always “a serious violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person” (n. 65).

Besides, the moral principle is well known, according to which even the simple doubt of being in the presence of a living person already imposes the obligation of full respect and of abstaining from any act that aims at anticipating the person’s death.

Considerations about the “quality of life”, often actually dictated by psychological, social and economic pressures, cannot take precedence over general principles. First of all, no evaluation of costs can outweigh the value of the fundamental good which we are trying to protect, that of human life. Moreover, to admit that decisions regarding man’s life can be based on the external acknowledgment of its quality, is the same as acknowledging that increasing and decreasing levels of quality of life, and therefore of human dignity, can be attributed from an external perspective to any subject, thus introducing into social relations a discriminatory and eugenic principle.

Bishop Lynch has been defiant in the face of Pope John Paul II’s reiteration of basic, fundamental tenets of Catholic moral theology. Will he now ignore Cardinal Martino’s new plea for Mrs. Schiavo’s life as he did on February, 24, 2005? He will have to respond in some fashion. We await his admission of error and his apologies to those trying to save the life of Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo. We await his admission that this has never been a matter of “discussion” but a matter of fidelity to the Fifth Commandment and the precepts of the Corporal Works of Mercy. We await a plea from Bishop Lynch to Judge George Greer to spare Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s life, basing his plea on the simple fact that there is zero evidence anyone can provide that Mrs. Schiavo would want to have defied a plea for her life issued by the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Please e-mail this commentary to him.

It is time for the Catholics of the United States to thank Cardinal Martino, who used to offer the Traditional Latin Mass at Saint Agnes Church in New York City very frequently in the 1990s (and whose last public Mass in the United States, I believe, before he assumed his current position in the Vatican in 2003 was a Traditional Mass at Our Lady of Peace Church in Brooklyn, New York), for his firm defense of Catholic moral teaching, applied in this instance quite specifically and categorically without any equivocation or qualification to Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s right to food and water and to all of the love that is due a a human being made in the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for Terri Schindler-Schiavo and those trying to save her life.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor whose feast day this is, pray for Cardinal Martino as he explicates Catholic teaching with clarity and courage.