Sen. Sam Brownback Statement

March 31, 2005

The loss of Terry Schiavo heightens debate on the nature of the individual 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Sam Brownback released the following statement following the death of Terry Schiavo, who died in Pinellas Park, Florida today after being denied food and water for nearly 14 days.

“Terri Schiavo will suffer no more. Her death was tragic and unnecessary and I continue to pray for her and her family.

“With Terri Schiavo, we witnessed the legally sanctioned death by starvation and dehydration of a living human being. It is now time to look beyond the politics of the debate in order to see clearly what is really at issue in this case.

“While many in the media have attempted to portray the events leading to Terri’s death as politically motivated, it is much more significant than this. Ultimately, one’s position on the matter of Terri Schiavo depends on one’s view of the human person.

“Few cases have evoked such an emotional response as this one. I think this is because of the fact Terri’s plight highlights the question at the core of every issue related to the protection of human life. Is the value of an individual dependent on their quality of life, their level of sentience, their physical or cognitive abilities, or is the value of an individual inherent in the fact that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of their Creator, possessing a unique, immortal soul, and therefore of infinite worth, regardless of physical condition or mental state? Is human life sacred per se, or does the dignity we treat individuals with depend on their physical or mental status as human beings?

“If the latter, utilitarian notion is true, then life and death decisions about the most vulnerable among us—the unborn, those with mental and physical disabilities, the aged and infirm—become relative matters to be determined by doctors, judges, lawyers, and legislatures.

“If a subjective judgment of quality of life is what determines the value of an individual or the protections accorded to that individual, this has enormous implications for every one of us: both for the way we conduct our own lives and for the way we order our society. If we have a fundamental mandate to protect the most vulnerable among us—not just those with social or political influence or those who are regarded as productive—a reordering of our priorities, and our laws, becomes necessary. Terri’s struggle becomes apparent for what it is: the forced starvation of a living human being with a diminished quality of life for the sole reason that her continued existence has a quality that is below some subjective standard put forth by a judge. If this can be true for any living person, then God help us all.

“Even with the advances in medical technology of recent years, this is a debate that has been with us for a long time, much longer than many Americans are aware. Early in the twentieth century, the euthanasia movement began to spread the doctrine that quality of life was the determinant of human value, and some lives—the defective, the racially inferior, the sick—were not worth preserving and protecting. The first government to widely implement this doctrine of doing away with “life unworthy of life” was Germany between 1938 and 1945, when the Nazis were in control. During those years, the German government collaborated with “progressive thinkers” in the medical community in terminating the lives of thousands of what they called “empty shells of human beings”—the terminally ill and mentally retarded, as well as individuals with brain damage or psychiatric conditions. After World War II, German doctors who worked on this program to eliminate “useless eaters” were judged guilty of crimes against humanity.

“We should be aware that some of the same ideology is being debated today. Recent changes in state laws allowing the withdrawal of ordinary means of sustenance—food and water—in cases of persistent vegetative state have been driven by ardent euthanasia advocates. Judicial decisions denying the legislatively-mandated review of the finding of fact that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state are an explicit violation of Constitutional guarantee that individuals cannot be deprived of life without due process of law—simply on the basis of quality of life judgment.

“Thankfully, there are many on both sides of the political aisle—including half of the Democrats who came back to Washington to vote in favor of the bill to save Terri Schiavo—who understand that this is not a political issue.

“Ultimately, the debate over Terri Schiavo is not about states’ rights or medical ethics or end-of-life decisions. It’s about whether we measure life by a subjective or objective test. Is life a test of sufficient value or is it precious and sacred per se in all its various conditions?”

Sam Brownback
United States Senator – Kansas
303 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-6521