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                                   May 7, 2005

No Debate at All

by Thomas A. Droleskey

Totally needless debates have raged in some Catholic circles in the five weeks since Mrs. Theresa Marie Schindler-Schiavo was murdered as a result of a cruel death by starvation and dehydration that had been imposed upon her by a Florida probate judge, George Greer. It was scandalous enough that Mrs. Schiavo's own diocesan ordinary, the Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch of Saint Petersburg, Florida, issued statements in 2003 and as late as February 28, 2005, that indicated that Michael Schiavo had the right to determine the fate of his brain-damaged wife absent some mediated settlement between himself and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Schindler. It is even more scandalous that some people representing themselves as traditional Catholics have campaigned actively to distort Catholic moral teaching on this matter and to place into doubt the facts of Mrs. Schiavo's own condition.

To summarize at this point just three of the points that I have made over the course of the last few years about this case (and repeated in a particular way in a series of articles on this site from February 21, 2005, to March 31, 2005, the date of Mrs. Schiavo's death by starvation and dehydration):

1) The moral principles here are quite clear: the Catholic Church has taught consistently that it is never permissible to take any action that has as its only end the death of an innocent human being. The removal of food and water has only one end: the cruel, tortuous death of a human being. Period. The Fifth Commandment states that "Thou shalt not kill." Removing food and water kills a human being. It is forbidden. The attempt to apply the moral principle of the double-fold effect (that a just end may be pursued despite foreseen but unintended evil consequences) to the removal of food and water from a living human being is thus fatally flawed.

2) The Catholic Church has taught that food and water, no matter how they are delivered, do not constitute medical treatment. They are the absolute right of a living human being. One who cannot feed himself must be fed by others. This is not burdensome to an incapacitated person or financially costly to his or her relatives, as several who are medical experts have written quite extensively.

3) Pope John Paul II applied these basic principles to cases of brain-damaged persons when addressing physicians on March 20, 2004. The late Holy Father, who was firm in his unyielding opposition to the forces promoting abortion and euthanasia in the world, said:

Faced with patients in similar clinical conditions, there are some who cast doubt on the persistence of the "human quality" itself, almost as if the adjective "vegetative" (whose use is now solidly established), which symbolically describes a clinical state, could or should be instead applied to the sick as such, actually demeaning their value and personal dignity. In this sense, it must be noted that this term, even when confined to the clinical context, is certainly not the most felicitous when applied to human beings.

In opposition to such trends of thought, I feel the duty to reaffirm strongly that the intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being do not change, no matter what the concrete circumstances of his or her life. A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man , and he will never become a "vegetable" or an "animal".

Even our brothers and sisters who find themselves in the clinical condition of a "vegetative state" retain their human dignity in all its fullness. The loving gaze of God the Father continues to fall upon them, acknowledging them as his sons and daughters, especially in need of help.

Medical doctors and health-care personnel, society and the Church have moral duties toward these persons from which they cannot exempt themselves without lessening the demands both of professional ethics and human and Christian solidarity.

The sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed. He also has the right to appropriate rehabilitative care and to be monitored for clinical signs of eventual recovery.

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.

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.

Renato Cardinal Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, reiterated this clear application of Catholic moral principles when he spoke out forcefully for Mrs. Schiavo at a time when the aforementioned Bishop Robert N. Lynch and the Florida Catholic Conference were attempting to justify the withdrawal of food and water in some cases on the basis of "psychological" and "financial" burdens. Cardinal Martino rightly termed the threat to Mrs. Schiavo's life in late February of this year as an effort to legalize euthanasia in the United States. The late Holy Father himself said this in a passage quoted above: "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."

"True and proper euthanasia by omission." There is nothing to debate at all. Whatever the late Holy Father's faults in a number of areas, including but not limited to Church governance and ecumenism, which I have discussed quite frankly on this site, his statement that death is the only result from the withdrawal of food and water is simply a matter of biological fact. His statement that this is proscribed by the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law did not "invent" a wrong when none existed. No, his statement that the withdrawal of food and water is proscribed by God's immutable laws was and remains a simple reiteration of the truth that exists in the nature of things that does not depend upon human acceptance for its binding force or validity.

As I noted on March 31, 2005, Mrs. Schiavo was yet another victim in the overthrowing of the Social Reign of Christ the King. This is what I wrote then and wish to reproduce here to provide some context in which to understand that what happened to Mrs. Schiavo, which is happening day in and day out in American hospitals and hospices, is immoral of its nature and must be opposed vigorously by all Catholics:

First, there would have been no controversy concerning the fate of Terri Schindler-Schiavo if we lived in a Catholic world. The Florida State Legislature would never have passed legislation permitting a husband or other “legal guardian” to petition a court to remove hydration and feeding tubes from brain-damaged and/or comatose patients unable to speak for themselves. Legislators in a Catholic world would understand that no human institution has any authority pass legislation or to permit any policy that contravenes the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law. A bill that proposed to permit the starvation and dehydration of a human being would be viewed as an anathema that could not even be considered for passage in a Catholic world. And Catholic bishops would denounce with great firmness any legislator who even thought about introducing such an immoral piece of legislation. Thus, the very piece of legislation that caused the murder of Theresa Marie Schindler-Schiavo would have been unthinkable in a Catholic world. It would be understood as a given that no individual has the right to dispose of his or her life and that no human institution has the authority to grant such an nonexistent right to others over the welfare and very existence of relatives.

Second, spouses in a Catholic world would take seriously the fact the Sacrament of Matrimony makes present all of the sufficient graces necessary to deal with whatever crosses they are asked to bear during the course of their married lives. They would willingly and readily give love to the one to whom they are wedded in Christ when they are unable to care for themselves. They would see the suffering face of Christ Himself in their suffering spouses. They would see the love and sacrifice they made in times of the suffering of their spouses as nothing in comparison to the reward that awaits them in eternity for their faithful and selfless devotion to their suffering spouse in Christ. Indeed, they would see in their suffering spouses their own path to sanctity, their own path to Heaven, offering all without a moment's hesitation as consecrated slaves of Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. There would be few actual instances of abandonment or infidelity in the cases of incapacitated spouses, worse yet of plots to use the civil law to effect the starvation and dehydration of a spouse unto an unspeakably cruel death.

Third, if, however, a married person fell into infidelity at a time of his spouse's incapacitation and/or did not do everything he was obligated to do to effect his or her recovery, then the civil state in a Catholic world would have the right to intervene to depose the wayward husband or wife as the legal guardian of his or her spouse. Judges serving on civil courts, whose courtrooms would be adorned with Crucifixes, would see it as their duty to protect innocent life, not to put such life to death under cover of unjust and immoral laws. Delinquent, negligent, abusive spouses would be sent to jail, not given free rein to misuse funds won in a malpractice suit to kill the ones to whom they have pledged to serve whether in sickness or in health unto natural death do them part. And attorneys who contended that the civil law and the civil courts could be used to put innocent lives to death in the name of “compassion” and “mercy” would be disbarred as menaces to the common good and put in jail themselves.

Fourth, the Church herself would provide a consistent and clear voice in defense of the innocent whose lives are imperiled during times of incapacitation and/or chronic illnesses. The Church would not give conflicting signals, as happened with the Most Reverend Robert Lynch, the Bishop of Saint Petersburg, who said in August and October of 2003 that there were circumstances in which feeding and hydration tubes could be removed licitly and who never once acknowledged that he had been contradicted by Pope John Paul II in March of 2004. The Church herself would recognize that Mrs. Schiavo's right to life was absolute and inviolable, that her right to nutrition and hydration did not depend upon her ability to recover or to feed herself. The Church would have reprimanded quite publicly Michael Schiavo and denounced his adultery and his misuse of the funds awarded for Terri's medical care and rehabilitation. The Church would have joined quite actively in legal efforts to defend Terri's life, reminding judges of their duty to enforce the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law, going so far as to threaten Catholic jurists with excommunication if they failed to enforce those precepts.

All we ever had to do in this case was to apply the basic principles of Catholic moral teaching found in the Deposit of Faith and in the very nature of things to the concrete circumstances of Mrs. Schiavo's case, some of which I noted at the beginning of this current article:

1) The provision of food and water is ordinary care no matter how it is delivered to a human being.

2) The provision of food and water is not medical care; it is not medical treatment.

3) The Fifth Commandment prohibits any the undertaking of any action that has as its only and immediate end the death of an innocent human being. This case has never been about Mrs. Schiavo's "wishes." This case has always been about the faithful fulfillment of the Fifth Commandment and the loving administration of the Corporal Works of Mercy. No one has any right to starve dehydrate himself to death or to delegate to another to do so if he becomes incapacitated at some point. Any civil law that confers such a "right" is null and void as it attempts to contravene the immutable law of God.

4) The specific condition of Mrs. Schiavo (her consciousness or alleged lack thereof, her ability to recover) was absolutely and totally irrelevant to her unconditional right to the provision of food and water. While it was certainly important to point out that Mrs. Schiavo was not in the “persistent vegetative state,” that so many doctors had asserted as being the case (and that Michael Schiavo had deprived her of the therapy that might have improved her condition over time), she would have been entitled to food and water if she had been in an irreversible coma.

5) As I have noted on a number of other occasions in the past six weeks, Mrs. Schiavo was no more “kept alive” by the tubes that delivered food and water to her than any of us are when we eat and drink. She was no more near death than any one of us prior to the removal of her feeding and hydration tubes on March 18, 2005, the Feast of the Seven Dolors of Our Lady in the calendar of Tradition, which started the process of her long, drawn-out and cruel death. Her death is one that would have been deemed unconstitutional to have imposed on a person convicted of a capital crime and sentence to the death penalty. If Mrs. Schiavo was so "near death" in such a "debilitated" condition and was "burdened" by her nutrition and hydration, why did it take thirteen days for her to die? Other than having sustained damage to her brain, she was an otherwise healthy human being who was being used by God as a source of grace to her relatives and friends.

6) The choice of specific, elective medical care, as opposed to the provision of mandatory ordinary care, to sustain one's life is a decision that is made by a patient and/or his relatives according to a variety of variable factors. A thirty year old man may with a family to support may have a positive obligation to undergo some kind of treatment to combat an aggressive cancer whereas a single man of the same age might, after spiritual direction from an authentic Catholic priest, forego such treatment. Similarly, an eighty year old man might refuse heart bypass surgery to let nature take its course, preparing assiduously for the moment of his own Particular Judgment. These are decisions to be made in consultation with an authentically Catholic priest and after prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and to the Mother of God.

7) The removal of truly extraordinary medical means to sustain the involuntary functions of one's body does not involve a directly willed intent to kill oneself or another. The removal of a respirator, for example, may or may not result in the death of a particular person. The body might be able to start breathing on its own. The death of such a patient, though, is the unintended but foreseen consequence of removing artificial assistance to the continuation of an involuntary bodily function. This is the Catholic moral principle known as the double (or two-fold) effect. Said removal of an artificial life-sustaining device can only take place, as Father Lawrence C. Smith noted on this site a few days ago, after a Catholic who is conscious has made a good confession of his sins and received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction and Holy Communion (and after one who is not conscious has received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction and, if possible, Holy Communion as a Final Viaticum).

Some have asked why physicians would have diagnosed Mrs. Schiavo to be in a "persistent vegetative state" (which is a term that is rejected by the members of the Catholic Medical Association as a complete fabrication designed to dehumanize brain-damaged human beings) if this was not the case. Anyone who asks such a question demonstrates himself to be woefully ignorant of the state of medicine in this country and the world. Most physicians support the killing of innocent human beings in their mothers' wombs by means of contraception and abortion. There is a great deal of support in the medical community worldwide for positive acts of euthanasia to put people "out of their misery" as though they were sick animals. The starvation and dehydration of the elderly and the disabled has become commonplace in American hospitals and hospices, as noted above. Professional medical personnel in this country and elsewhere are in love with killing people who are "unwanted" before birth and "useless burdens" at any point thereafter. Most medical personnel in this country support embryonic stem cell research. These are facts, plain and simple.

Miss Mary Therese Helmueller wrote about this in Homiletic and Pastoral Review eight years ago from her own first-hand experience as a nurse (the article is on the Tradition in Action website at present). Anyone--and I mean anyone--who puts any trust at all in the word of any physician who supports things that cry out to Heaven for vengeance is a fool. No one who is in an objective state of mortal sin (leaving aside the matter of subjective culpability to God alone) is going to be able to be a completely competent and trustworthy practitioner of any profession, certainly not when the life of a person deemed "a burden" by society is at stake. His intellect is clouded and his will mightily weakened by a continued embrace of things that are repugnant to God's law and thus are detrimental to the individual good of men and to the common good of their societies. To take the word of the doctors who certified that Mrs. Schiavo had no "chance for recovery," as though her absolute right to the provision of food and water depended on such a chance, which it did not, is to render oneself the prisoner of the conclusions of men who have no regard for the immutable truths contained in the nature of things and revealed positively by God and explicated to us definitively by Holy Mother Church.

As I note all of the time in my writing, Pope John Paul II's vigorous defense of the right to physical life was vitiated in large measure by his support for the novelties of the conciliarist era and by his appointment of men such as Robert Lynch as diocesan ordinaries. His refusal to consecrate Russia to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart ranks as one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the Church, permitting the errors of Russia to continue to spread like wildfire throughout the world, including here in the United States of America. Although he enunciated the moral principles on abortion and euthanasia very clearly, he did not want to admit that these evils were the direct outgrowth of the triumph of Modernity in the world and Modernism in the Church. Thus, the evils he sought to oppose actually spread throughout his pontificate.

It must thus be our prayer that his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, will indeed consecrate Russia to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart with all of the bishops of the world. Such a faithful fulfillment of Our Lady's Fatima Message will help His Holiness to restore Tradition without compromise by giving him the grace he needs to do what his predecessor refused to do: admit that the Church's opening to the world in the pontificate of Pope John XXIII has infected the Church with the viruses of the world, making it less possible, humanly speaking, for the Church's ecclesiastical officials to recapture the glories of Tradition and to work unashamedly for the restoration of the Social Reign of Christ the King and of Mary our Immaculate Queen. There will be no need to write about cases such as Mrs. Schiavo's after that point. We will see in those who suffer the face of Christ and give them the care that they deserve, counting it as no burden to render unto them the love of the Divine Master, Who redeemed us without counting the cost and without a single word of complaint.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us.

Vivat Christus Rex!





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