Home Articles Golden Oldies Speaking Schedule About Christ or Chaos Links Donations Contact Us
MARCH 1, 2005

More Obfuscation from Florida

by Thomas A. Droleskey

Thirteen 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:

Terri 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. 

No 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?

In our past statements concerning Terri Schiavo, as well as those by Bishop 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.   

In 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."

Simply 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. 

We 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.  

Although 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.

First, the intellectual dishonesty.

The February 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:

We 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 wrong.

This is 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:

There is no rational justification, moral or medical, to withdraw food and water from Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo.

Once again, 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.

For, you 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:

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]

If 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.

Too expensive? 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 stated:

Proper 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.

Ordinary 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:

The 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.

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.

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).

The February 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.

Having 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 not.

Enough said. 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."

Our Lady, Mother of Divine Grace, pray for the Catholic bishops of Florida.

Saint Therese Lisieux, continue to pray for Terri Schindler-Schiavo.

Saint 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 to death.

Pope Saint Pius X, pray for an end the scourge of Modernism within the Catholic Church.








© Copyright 2004, Christ or Chaos, Inc. All rights reserved.