Obfuscation from Florida
Thomas A. Droleskey
days after their last effort to provide "Catholic" guidance
on the matter of the withdrawal of food and water from Mrs. Terri
Schindler-Schiavo, the Florida bishops have issued yet another statement
to make it appear as though they have now taken account of
a statement that they had heretofore entirely ignored, including in
their statement of February 15, 2005: Pope John Paul II's March 20,
2004, address to a conference of physicians on the matter of providing
nutrition and hydration to brain-damaged patients. The new statement
is full of obfuscation and murkiness, which will be examined shortly.
Here is the text of the latest statement, issued on February 28, 2005,
by the Catholic bishops of Florida:
Schindler Schiavo has been the center of national media attention,
and the focus of a debate that touches all three branches of government.
Mrs. Schiavo is not "brain dead" or comatose. She has lived
in a nursing home for years, presently a hospice facility, generally
needing only nursing care and assistance in receiving nourishment.
Some experts say she is in a "persistent vegetative state;" others
say she is not. Her husband wants to remove her feeding tube,
insisting she expressed clearly this would be her wish; her parents
and siblings vigorously disagree, and have offered to care for her
as long as she lives. Questions about her prognosis and wishes
persist, raising doubt as to what she would truly want.
longer able to speak on her own behalf, Mrs. Schiavo is a defenseless
human being with inherent dignity, deserving of our respect, care
and concern. Her plight dramatizes one of the most critical
questions we face: To be a truly human society, how should we
care for those we may not be able to cure?
our past statements concerning Terri Schiavo, as well as those by
Robert N. Lynch
of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, we have made it clear that there
should be a presumption in favor of providing nutrition and hydration
even by artificial means as long as it is of sufficient benefit to
outweigh the burdens involved to the patient. We reiterate our
plea that Mrs. Schiavo continues to receive all treatments and care
that will be of benefit to her.
a statement provided in March 2004, Pope John Paul II urges us to
see every patient in a so-called "vegetative" state as a fellow human
being, retaining his or her full dignity despite diminished abilities.
Regarding nourishment for such patients, he said:
"I should like particularly to underline how the administration
of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always
represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical
act . Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle,
ordinary and proportionate , and as such morally obligatory,
insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality,
which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to
the patient and alleviation of his suffering."
put, we are called to provide basic means of sustenance such as food
and water unless they are doing more harm than good to the patient,
or are useless because the patient's death is imminent. As long
as they effectively provide nourishment and help provide comfort,
we should see them as part of what we owe to all who are helpless
and in our care. In certain situations a patient may morally
refuse medical treatment and such decisions may properly be seen as
an expression of our hope of union with God in the life to come.
pray that Terri Schindler Schiavo's family and friends, and all who
hold power over her fate, will see that she continues to receive nourishment,
comfort and loving care.
the statement ends with something that the bishops have thus far failed
to state publicly, a prayer that Terri Schindler-Schiavo will continue
"to receive nourishment, comfort and loving care," the new
statement falls short on a number of accounts of correctly stating
the Catholic principles involved. Furthermore, the bishops could have
urged Michael Schiavo to transfer guardianship of his wife to her
parents, citing Renato Cardinal Martino's firm and absolutely unequivocal
plea for her life that was made on Thursday, February 24, 2005. Among
the many problems with the new statement is the simple fact that it
was obviously cobbled together after Cardinal Martino's intervention
and after some of us pointed out that the Florida bishops had at no
time made any reference to Pope John Paul II's March 24, 2004, address
on the subject of the provision of nutrition and hydration to brain-damaged
patients. The new Florida bishops' statement thus suffers from intellectual
dishonesty and internal contradiction that are the logical result
of attempting to square earlier statements they have made with the
Holy Father's reiteration of basic Catholic moral principles and Cardinal
Martino's own direct intervention in Mrs. Schiavo's behalf.
28, 2005, statement of the Florida bishops ignores the relativism
and proportionalism (a heretical concept denounced by the Sacred Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1975 and by Pope John Paul II in
his Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenetentiae,
in 1984, contained in the statement issued on February 15, 2005. The
February 15 statement noted:
oppose euthanasia. While withdrawal of Terri Schiavo's nutrition and
hydration will lead to her death, if this is being done because its
provision would be too burdensome for her, it could be acceptable.
If it is being done to intentionally cause her death, this would be
heretical. One's intentions do not change the end of an act. The Natural
Law teaches us that every act has an objective end. An objectively
evil end can never be made licit to pursue as a result of a preponderance
of extenuating circumstances and good intentions, which is the essence
of the heretical concept of Proportionalism, advanced by Father Richard
McCormick, S.J., in the 1970s. The authentic Catholic concept of Proportionality
states that that an objective good end should not be pursued in light
of a consideration of the foreseen but unintended evil consequences
that might result from its pursuit. This is far different from stating
that an act which has its only and immediate end the death of an innocent
human being can be made legitimate because the act is not being done
"intentionally" to case a person's death.
The passage cited
above from the February 15 statement is rendered further problematic
by the use of the word "burdensome." What constitutes a
burden? A medical burden? Well, what is that? I will defer to Dr.
Stephen White, President of the Catholic Medical Association, who
has said the following about the case of Terri Schindler-Schiavo:
is no rational justification, moral or medical, to withdraw food and
water from Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo.
we are faced with a fundamental lack of belief in the sufficiency
of the graces won for us by the shedding of every single drop of Our
Lord's Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross and the necessity
of each of us to suffer from the sake of our sins and those of the
whole world. "My yoke is sweet and My burden is light,"
teaches the Divine Redeemer, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Do
we believe Him? Well, it is obvious that Bishop Robert N. Lynch, whose
August 12, 2003, statement on the situation facing Terri Schindler-Schiavo,
does not believe this. The necessity of redemptive suffering in each
one of our lives appears not even to enter his consciousness as exhibited
by his public statements.
see, Bishop Lynch the "burdens" to Terri Schindler-Schiavo
and her family are not merely medical. They are financial and emotional.
Consider his August 12, 2003, statement (the full text of which I
analyzed in the afterword of an article, "Unable to See the Forest
for the Trees," posted on the Seattle Catholic website in September
of 2003), which contains a reference to the infamous 1989 pastoral
letter of the Florida bishops that endorsed the withdrawal of food
and water from patients in some instances:
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]
Terri's feeding tube is removed, it will undoubtedly be followed by
her death. If it were to be removed because the nutrition which she
receives from it is of no use to her, or because it is unreasonably
burdensome for her and her family or her caregivers, it could be seen
as permissible. But if it were to be removed simply because she is
not dying quickly enough and some believe she would be better off
because of her low quality of life, this would be wrong.
Psychologically repugnant to the patient, too suppressive of the patient's
mental life? Unreasonably burdensome for her and her family? Is this
what is meant by "burden" in the February 28, 2005, statement
of the Florida bishops? If it is, they are guilty of perpetuating
a further hoax in the name of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
If they do not mean to use the word "burden" in this way,
then there is only one logical conclusion: Bishop Robert N. Lynch's
August 12, 2003, statement is contrary to the law of God as contained
in Divine positive law and the natural law. Who among the Florida
bishops is going to have the courage to say that their 1989 pastoral
letter heretically cites costs and psychological factors as reasons
that can justify the removal of care that is deemed by that pastoral
letter to be extraordinary, just as Bishop Robert Lynch himself
deemed in his 2003 statement the administration of food and water
to patients who cannot be themselves to be extraordinary? Bishop Lynch
care of our lives requires that we seek necessary medical care from
others but we are not required to use every possible remedy in every
circumstance. We are obliged to preserve our own lives, and help others
preserve theirs, by use of means that have a reasonable hope of sustaining
life without imposing unreasonable burdens on those we seek to help,
that is, on the patient and his or her family and community. In general,
we are only required to use ordinary means that do not involve an
excessive burden, for others or for our ourselves. What may be too
difficult for some may not be for others.
means? Well, this is where the Holy Father's March 20, 2004, statement
becomes relevant. Although a small passage was cited in the February
28, 2005, statement of the Florida bishops, the Pope completely rejects
the contention that underlies the 1989 Florida bishop's pastoral letter
and Bishop Lynch's 2003 statement concerning the administration of
food and water by tubes to be "extraordinary" treatment:
obligation to provide the "normal care due to the sick in such cases"
(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Iura et Bona , p. IV)
includes, in fact, the use of nutrition and hydration (cf. Pontifical
Council "Cor Unum", Dans le Cadre , 2, 4, 4; Pontifical Council for
Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, Charter of Health Care
Workers , n. 120). 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.
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).
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.
While the February
28, 2005, statement of the Florida bishops cites one passage from
the Pope's March 20, 2004, it omits any reference to these paragraphs
above, which directly follow the one cited in their statement. These
paragraphs contain an unequivocal and categorical rejection of Bishop
Lynch's August 12, 2003, which was premised in part on the provision
of food and water by tubes to be extraordinary "medical care"
and which was premised in part upon hopes of Terri Schindler-Schiavo's
recovery. These paragraphs are also a complete repudiation of the
reasoning found in the Florida bishops' pastoral letter of 1989 and
the late Bishop John Raymond McGann's similar 1996 letter issued to
the Catholics in the Diocese of Rockville Centre (which Bishop William
Murphy has yet to repudiate as an offense against the Catholic Faith).
28, 2005, statement of the Florida bishops attempts to square their
own position with that stated by the Holy Father last year, quoting
him as saying that food and water are to be administered "until
it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the
present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and
alleviation of his suffering."
Ah, hello, out there, in episcopate land, might it be that the
words "proper finality" refer to the death of the patient
by natural means? Dr. Stephen White can address this matter in his
own remarks to the Rally and Prayer Vigil that will take place in
Piniellas Park, Florida, on March 12, 2005, outside of the Woodspice
Hospice where Mrs. Schiavo is at present. Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo
is no more near death than any one of us in the natural order of things,
admitting that each of us is moving closer to our death with every
beat of our hearts.
chosen this one passage from the Pope's March 20, 2004, statement,
however, presents the bishops with an internal contradiction in their
new statement. The Pope stated that the" administration of water
and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents
a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act."
Without realizing it, perhaps, the bishops contradict this by stating,
"In certain situations a patient may morally refuse medical treatment
and such decisions may properly be seen as an expression of our hope
of union with God in the life to come." Well, which is it? A
"natural means of preserving life, not a medical act" or
"medical treatment"? It can't be both.
The new statement
by the Florida bishops has at least placed them on the side, however
qualified, of praying that Mrs. Schiavo's nutrition and hydration
will be continued. Their statement, though, is fraught with inconsistencies
and overlooks the contentions in their own 1989 pastoral letter and
in Bishop Robert N. Lynch's August 12, 2003, that are contrary to
God's law, dismissive of the necessity of redemptive suffering and
of the sufficiency of the grace won for us by the Divine Redeemer
to bear our sufferings in joy and in peace, and fully repudiated by
the Pope's March 20, 2004, statement. Has it ever occurred to the
geniuses who wrote this statement that there is a little something
called Total Consecration to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart,
that we can offer our sufferings to Our Lord through the Immaculate
Heart of His Most Blessed Mother, the Heart from which His own Sacred
Heart was formed and which beats as one with that Sacred Heart? Obviously
We continue to pray for the Church to recover the clear, ambiguous
language of Tradition. "Thou shalt not kill" thou shalt
not kill, not "thou can kill if one does not mean to kill."
We pray for our
bishops to recover the Catholic Faith whole and undiluted. Once they
do recover the purity and integrity of the Faith, there will be no
need for one statement to clarify others that are at odds with the
binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law. There
will be no need to members of the laity to have to spend their time
parsing carefully crafted words that are meant to obfuscate issues
that are perfectly clear. Contrary to what Bishop Robert Lynch contended
in 2003, there is nothing difficult or complex about the Terri Schindler-Schiavo
case. She is suffering as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ.
We must treat her as we would treat Our Lord Himself. End of "discussion."
Lady, Mother of Divine Grace, pray for the Catholic bishops of Florida.
Therese Lisieux, continue to pray for Terri Schindler-Schiavo.
Francis Xavier Cabrini, who did so much to establish hospitals here
in the United States, pray that patients entrusted to the care of
Catholic health care facilities will no longer be starved and dehydrated
Saint Pius X, pray for an end the scourge of Modernism within the