Father Martin Stepanich on Theresa Marie Schindler-Schiavo
A Letter by Father Stepanich to
Thomas A. Droleskey
[Editor's Note: As is well-known, I wrote many articles against the court-ordered starvation and dehydration of the late Mrs. Theresa Marie Schindler-Schiavo. The information that I obtained was not from any television news network or from some mindless blatherer on the radio. I worked closely with those who knew Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Robert, who died in 2009, and Mary Schindler, and who made frequent visits to her bedside through the last years of her life. The basic principle of Catholic moral teaching that I used in the analyses that I wrote was adduced from the Fifth Commandment prohibition against taking any action that has as its first and only end the death of an innocent human being. There is only one thing that can result from the removal of food and water, no matter how administered, to a living human being: death. Mrs. Schiavo was not near death. A brain-damaged person is not a dead person. A brain-damaged person is a living human being
[Human beings need assistance to eat and to drink when they are newborn infants. Some may need assistance to eat and drink after an accident or a stroke. Food and water are basic to the survival of a human being. And while the mere sustaining of physical life is not the ultimate end our existence, it is never permissible to withdraw food and water from a person who is not in danger of imminent death and cannot assimilate food (or for whom food and water actually exacerbates his condition prior to death). This appeared to me to be basic and beyond question. I did not understand at the time how any believing Catholic could assert that there were moral principles that could justify the removal of food and water, thus causing death not as a secondary end but as the only end of said removal. Others saw things differently.
[Indeed, it was the case between 2003 and 2005, however, that some Catholics, most particularly His Excellency Bishop Donald Sanborn and Father Anthony Cekada, and Dr. Thomas Fleming of the Rockford Institute, who is not a sedevacantist, and even the conciliar "bishop of Saint Petersburg, Florida, Robert Lynch, supported the decision of Mrs. Schindler-Schiavo's faithless husband, Michael Schiavo, to seek a court order to remove her feeding and hydration tubes. This has confused and bewildered many people. Indeed, it has angered some who worked directly with the Schindlers to try to save their daughter's life. A man in Ireland has expressed the desire to receive no more articles from Father Cekada because of this controversy.
[In order to try to clarify this matter in the minds of such people, I asked Father Martin Stepanich, O.F.M., S.T.D., in early-2008 to review the facts of Mrs. Schiavo's case and to give me his candid assessment of the truth of the matter according to Catholic teaching. Father Stepanich was provided with Father Anthony Cekada's articles on the matter. He was also provided with the eyewitness testimony of Father Frank Pavone, who was in Mrs. Schiavo's room and saw armed police officers guard her to make sure that no one did anything to try to provide her with food or water. I explained to Father Stepanich that I was totally indifferent to my own analysis of this case, that all I wanted was the truth, explaining that I would admit my own error quite readily if he determined that I had been wrong in using the principle that we can take no action that can result only in the death of an innocent human being.
[I informed Bishop Sanborn and Father Cekada that Father Martin's letter, which both read, would be posted on this site. This is an example of how I tried to work behind the scenes while associated with Saint Gertrude the Great Church to bring my concerns to the clergy privately before addressing them publicly. It is what I tried do also in the summer of last year before the unfortunate events of the last few months.
[The date, the Feast of Saint Camillus de Lellis, was been chosen for the original publication of Father Martin's letter as Saint Camillus spent himself in service to the incurables of his own day, seeing in them the very image of the Divine Redeemer, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Two of the Corporal Works of Mercy are to feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty. While it is indeed the case that the point of human existence is not be kept alive indefinitely by the use of artificial means, food and water, no matter how administered, are ordinary care provided to living human beings. The late Mrs. Theresa Marie Schindler-Schiavo was a living human being. She was brain damaged. She was not dead. She was nowhere near death. Anyone who asserts this has his facts completely wrong. There is no such thing as brain death, as Dr. Paul Byrne discussed in his interview with Mrs. Randy Engel last year,
Dr. Paul Byrne on Brain Death (From The Michael Fund Newsletter).
[Here follows Father Martin Stepanich's letter to me, which I believe was dated on March 5, 2008.]
Dear Dr. Droleskey,
Your letter was a very prompt reply to that letter of mine in which I told you of a surprise phone call that I received from an unnamed woman, from an unidentified somewhere, asking me what I thought of the views of Bishop Sanborn and Father Cekada about the still sizzling Terri Schiavo case in Florida a couple of years ago or so.
The phone call came just as I was about to leave for a dental appointment, so I had to cut the caller short. It was difficult for me to understand all that she was saying, because of my poor hearing condition, so I hurriedly asked her to write to me. Still, I did understand her to say, "I cannot attend their Masses," that is, the Masses of Bishop Sanborn and Father Cekada. That was painful to hear.
You, on your part, had more than plenty to say about Terri's case in your letter to me. It was even a bit amusing that you told me you realized that I was "impossibly busy" (and you were right about that!) and that you "did not want to add to my burden," while at the same time presenting me with a 35-page typewritten treatise on the Terri issue, asking me to comment. [Editor's note: I was, as I told Father Martin in a telephone conversation on Wednesday, May 20, 2008, responsible for only nine of those thirty-five pages. The rest was documentation provided by others!] Needless to say, my reply will have to be comparatively brief, considerably less than 35 pages, and I will not be able to go through your treatise page for page.
You no doubt realize how difficult it has been, right from the beginning of the Terri Schiavo case, to figure out exactly what all the real facts were regarding that case. It was bewildering trying to determine just what the real condition of Terri was, because there were conflicting reports about her. It is not surprising, then, if some thought that Terri's feeding tube should be removed, while others insisted that, no, it should not be removed.
While some doctors were said to consider Terri to be in a hopeless condition, something equivalent to a vegetable, as some put it, others reportedly did not think her condition was quite that bad, and that there was no point in us taking sides, even if we may have been tempted to do so, because how could we have a doctor's understanding of Terri's real condition? We did not have the knowledge nor expertise to be able to say which doctors were right about her real condition.
And then there were the views, which surely could not be ignored, of the nurses who were actually taking care of Terri day after day, providing her with the nutrition and rink and medication she needed. We did not have the first-hand knowledge which they had. What we kept hearing from some of them was that Terri was not in a hopeless vegetable-like condition, and that she was not in imminent danger of death. It seemed that they should surely know what they were talking about when telling us what they observed in her responses to their dealings with her, even noticing her facial expressions which seemed to be saying something. Doctors would see Terri only now and then, while her caretakers saw her every day. If Terri was not in immediate danger of death, then the nurses were right in saying that a feeding tube was not really necessary, but since the feeding tube was nevertheless installed, it could not recklessly removed, letting Terri just die without food or drink.
Somewhere along the line, we learned that Terri was equipped with a feeding tube. Just exactly why that was done, we are unable to say. Did her husband say what the reason was for installing the tube? There were reports that those giving Terri her daily food and drink did not think that a feeding tube was necessary at all, because she seemed to be doing well enough without it. So here was another puzzling development. And just how long the feeding tube remained in place, that is also something we are unable to say. Maybe you can tell us.
And, as if there had not already been enough puzzling developments and reports, there finally came the big one--that is, Terri's feeding tube was to be removed, not so that the nurses could once again feed Terri as they had been doing before the feeding tube was installed, but that she was to be allowed to waste away without any food and drink until she died. What in the world was going on anyway? Whatever happened to the old-fashioned God-inspired charity which calls for the best and most gentle care of helpless patients?
The one who presumably mae the decision to remove Terri's feeding tube was her husband, Michael Schiavo, and he had reportedly been the one to have her equipped with a feeding tube in the first place. It is, of course, understandable that Michael Schiavo, as Terri's husband, was the one having the responsibility and also the right to make decisions regarding her care. He had that responsibility and also the right, not only in the eyes of civil law, but also in the eyes of God. Of that there can be no argument. However, and this is supremely important, together with that right, Michael Schiavo had also the strict obligation before God to exercise his right for the good of Terri, to help alleviate her condition, to lessen her suffering as much as possible. This is what tells us whether or not Mr. Schiavo was justified in removing Terri's feeding tube the way he did. Judging from the way Terri was treated after the removal of the tube, it is clear that he was in no way justified in finishing off Terri the way he did.
We were told that Michael Schiavo applied to a Florida court for authorization to have Terri's feeding tube removed. That authorization was granted, so they said, thus making it look as if Michael was fully justified in having Terri's feeding tube removed.
But a most shocking revelation, which you yourself mention, was that there were police officers present in Terri's room day and night, being there presumably by court order, to see to it that no one provided Terri with any food or drink or medication, or any kind of alleviation, after her feeding tube was removed. Terri was, again presumably by court order, to waste away in starvation and dehydration until she expired. How could such cruelty possibly be justified? How could anybody have a right to do a monstrous thing like that? As some quickly and strongly insisted, it sure looked like murder.
There was immediate consternation among many. An unknown man, for example, even called me from another state, frantically exclaiming that the way Terri was finished off was nothing else but plain murder, and he added that anyone who approved of such an abrupt termination of Terri was really approving also of murder, whether he realized it or not.
So, murder became the big bad word that we heard. We were told of the murder of Terri Schiavo by her husband, Michael. That is what some said, and it was all done with the authorization of a Florida civil court. A hard to dispel thought was that there was plenty of reason to suspect that Michael Schiavo wanted Terri out of the way and had no use for her any more. The very damaging fact was that he was living in adultery with another woman.
If such murder observations seem to some to be one-sided, there are other possibilities as to why Michael Schiavo wanted Terri's feeding tube removed. Let us, for example, ask this question: Do you know, or does anybody know, whether the overwhelming expenses for keeping Terri alive, and which had become too much for Michael to bear any longer, were the decisive reason that forced Michael to decide upon getting Terri out of the way? And if public money was being used to help keep Terri alive, did Michael want to put a stop to that? It is true that some people think that public money should not be used, to keep helpless patients alive, insisting that the expenses should be the concern only of those responsible for such patients, as long as they can manage to pay the bills. But then, has not some public money always been made available for those in need? Has not such charity always existed among men?
As for a feeding tube being an "extraordinary means" of keeping a helpless patient alive, there is not doubt that it is "extraordinary" in the sense that such a tube is not the ordinary means of nourishing anyone, since God equipped us humans with mouths for partaking of food and drink and some of the medications needed. And, when feeding tubes were first introduced they were plainly something "extraordinary." However, in the course of time, they became quite commonly used, so that they could not really be looked upon as "extraordinary" any longer. They became ordinary means of keeping helpless patients alive, and they have saved the lives of countless many.
But whatever may have been the real or pretended reason why Michael Schiavo had Terri's feeding tube removed, it was all done in a very ugly way that it is sickening just to think about it. And it cannot be repeated too often that the merciless termination of Terri cannot possibly be justified before God. If Terri had bene already close to death at the time her feeding tube was removed, the only decent and humane thing to do would have been to continue providing her with what food or drink and medication she could still handle, and as long as it did her any good, and at that the same time to do the best to lessen her suffering until she peacefully expired. But to finish her off with a cruel starvation and dehydration? Never!
And now let us give brief attention to the sad fact that some persons showed their resentment of the kind of unsatisfying diagnosis of Terri's case made public by Bishop Sanborn and Father Cekada by refusing to attuned their Masses any longer. Among those persons was this woman who told me on the phone, "I cannot attend their Masses!"
Bishop Sanborn and Father Cekada based their diagnosis on the application of certain moral principles that seemed to justify the removal of Terri's feeding tube as being "extraordinary means" for keeping a helpless patient alive, and which could therefore be removed. But those who stared, as it were, in disbelief on the way Terri was made to starve to death after her supposedly "extraordinary means" tube was removed just could not see that diagnosis as sufficient justification of what was done to Terri, and which failed to look at the complete picture of the reality. They could not understand how the merciless termination of Terri could in any way be justified.
As for that woman no longer attending "their Masses," though it may have at first seemed to be the right thing to do, the trouble is that she was really only hurting herself by letting herself be deprived of the precious graces of "their Masses." She surely knew that "their Masses" were the Traditional and unchanged true masses of the Catholic Latin Rite, which are hard to come by for many traditional Catholics nowadays. And she surely must known how firm and uncompromising Bishop Sanborn and Father Cekada have always been in teaching and defending the true Catholic doctrine of Faith and morals. Fortunately, she did not presume to accuse them of consciously and deliberately wanting to justify what, to so many, looked like the deliberate 'murder" of Terri Schiavo.
What the woman, and others like her, need to realize is that "their Masses" are not the problem, and it makes no sense to take it out, as it were, on "their Masses" by staying away from them. Instead, "their Masses" stand as the solution to the problem. That is, "their Masses" can provided all the graces needed by everyone for the proper understanding of the Terri Schiavo case and for humbly correcting what needs to be corrected.
In connection with not attending "their Masses," the disturbing question also comes up: How can that woman excuse herself from attending Sunday Mass when the only Sunday Mass available to her are "their Masses"?
And now, let us conclude with some more pleasant thoughts. You know what a common thing it is among us humans to remark, after the death of someone who had suffered through a long illness, "Finally! His (or her) sufferings are over!" And some will add, "Now he (or she) is with God!" And that is what many, no doubt, said when they learned that poor Terri had finally expired.
One thing that some of us are liable to forget, when taking care of helpless patients, is that, while keeping them alive for this earth, we must keep clearly in mind that the far more important thing to do for them is to pray that they prepare themselves for the eternal life of Heaven.
As for Terri, who knows but that, despite her brain-damaged condition, she may still have had enough consciousness as to be able to pray interiorly to god that He take to Himself soon? Who knows if those apparently meaningfully looks on her face and in her eyes, that some of caretakers thought they noticed, were perhaps the pleading expressions of her prayers to God that he come and take her out of this vale of tears as soon as possible? Assuming confidently that terri (Therese) died in the state of Sanctifying Grace, we can hope that now she really is with God.
Saint Therese Martin, the Little Flower, is one of those countless saints who help very much to to turn our thoughts to heaven and to eternal life. It her autobiography, often called The Story of a Soul, she wrote that she looked upon the earth as "a land of exile" already in her earlier years, long before she entered the Carmel Convent. Heaven alone is our lasting home, that she knew and firmly believed.
I cannot forget what one of older padres said to me long ago, when he had been suffering through a long-lasting, drawn-out illness. He said, "I hope God comes to take me soon."
With prayers and blessings, Father Martin Stepanich, O.F.M., S.T.D., May 13, 2008.
[Editor's postscript: To answer just a few of Father's questions: (1) Michael Schiavo used the proceeds of a $750,000 medical malpractice suit to hire a team of pro-death attorneys to secure a court order to starve and dehydrate his wife to death; (2) it is not burdensome or expensive, really just several cents a day, to feed and hydrate a person with tubes; (3) public monies were not all used to provide for Terri Schiavo's care; and (4) Terri Schiavo had parents who were willing to provide fully for her care, alleviating Michael Schiavo of any costs whatsoever. And none of us this mattered, of course. As noted before, the only thing that can result from the removal of food and water is the death of a human being, something that can never be directly willed for an innocent. Indeed, I asked Father Martin on Friday, July 4, 2008, if this principle was the correct one to use in this case. He said that it was. Thank you, Father Stepanich!]
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, Patron of Departing Souls, pray for us.
Vivat Christus Rex! Viva Cristo Rey!
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint Camillus de Lellis, pray for us.
See also: A Litany of Saints