Thou Shalt Not Kill Means Thou Shalt Not Kill
It will be twenty years ago this October that I made my first pilgrimage to the seat of the Holy Faith, Rome. The adventures encountered to and from the Eternal City make up a two hundred page manuscript that is as of yet unpublished. Suffice it for present purposes to provide one brief vignette from that whirlwind seven day stay in and around the Holy See.
Shortly after settling in the penzione where I stayed, I negotiated the bus system of Rome to find my way to St. Peter's. Jam packed into Bus 64 as it made its way from Stazione Termini to the Vatican, I had gotten off the bus off one stop too early, just as the bus had crossed the Tiber River and was about to make its way down the Via della Conciliazione. A sudden burst of rain thundered from the sky, drenching me as I got off the bus. The Mediterranean storm was over as soon as it had begun. I saw quite a sight straight ahead of me as the skies cleared: the Basilica of Saint Peter.
My first reaction was one of amazement. I could not believe I was, at age thirty-three, in Rome. I was thankful to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother for bringing me there. My second reaction, which followed almost instantly upon the first was this: "This is home. I have always been here. This is where I belong."
All Catholics must view Rome as their home. No matter the state of confusion and disarray that has been ushered in as a result of the conciliar and postconciliar revolutions, Catholics must always look to Rome as the seat of the Holy Faith. This means that we must, as sons and daughters of the Church, listen attentively when the Successor of Saint Peter speaks. If the particular successor of Saint Peter who is reigning at any particular time in Church history, including ours, speaks or acts in a manner that is contrary to the living tradition of the Church, it is the tradition of the Church itself that tells us that we do not have to acceptand might indeed have the positive obligation to publicly resistsuch a statement or action. It is one of the most diabolically tragic consequences of the revolutions of the past forty years that Catholics now have to use great caution in order to analyze the statements and actions of popes and their curial officers. That Catholics have to be so cautious almost all of the time speaks of a situation that is without precedent in the history of the Church.
That having been noted, however, the fact that Rome has proven itself very unreliable in the past forty to forty-five years does not mean that we have the right to dismiss reflexively and without careful examination the words of the Holy Father. There are times when Pope John Paul II speaks Catholic truth without equivocation, although it must be admitted that he does so usually by having advertence to conciliarspeak ("civilization of love," "gospel of life," "human dignity"). The Holy Father has forcefully denounced the evils of crimes against the inviolability of innocent human life, including abortion and euthanasia. This has earned him the hatred of the forces of darkness in the world, to say nothing of the hatred and revulsion of many leftists and actual heretics within the Church. He is sometimes opposed on incontrovertible matters of faith and morals by his own bishops, as was the case recently when the Bishop of San Jose, California, the Most Reverend Patrick McGrath, said that the gospels were not historically accurate depictions of the events of Our Lord's Passion and Death. This was called quite rightly by the Saint Joseph's Men's Society of San Jose and by Father Daniel Cooper of the Society of Pope Saint Pius X as rank heresy. To note the problems in the Church and the role this Holy Father has played in worsening them over the course of his pontificate is not to give any Catholic license to dissent one whit from that which is contained in the Deposit of Faith nor to fail to give the Pope credit when he defends very forcefully this received teaching.
The Holy Father's statement, therefore, reiterating the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, found in the binding, immutable precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law, forbidding the starvation and dehydration of disabled patients is a welcomed rejoinder to the heretical view to the contrary that had become commonplace among many Catholic bishops and theologians. Indeed, the late Bishop of Rockville Centre, the Most Reverend John Raymond McGann, issued a "pastoral letter" in 1996 stating that food and water could be withdrawn in some cases. His late successor, the Most Reverend James T. McHugh, refused to contradict McGann, going so far as to call an attorney who wrote to him on the matter as being abusive in her efforts to correct this heresy. The current Bishop of Rockville Centre, the Most Reverend William Murphy, has done nothing to put into question anything done by McGann, including the 1996 pastoral letter, making it appear that McGann's long reign of terror against the truths contained in the Deposit of Faith never occurred or never presented a threat to the souls of the faithful. Will Bishop Murphy now publicly repudiate Bishop McGann's pastoral letter?
Additionally, the Bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, the Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, noted throughout the needless controversy surrounding the feeding and hydration of Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman whose faithless, adulterous husband sought to use an immoral law on the books in Florida to remove her feeding and hydration tubes, that it was morally permissible to remove food and water from patients in certain circumstances. He cited as his authority in this matter a "pastoral letter" issued by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. I wonder if Bishop Lynch, who said that the answer to disputes such as Terri Schiavo's is for people to have "living wills" so as to express their intentions about having food and water delivered by tubes if they become incapacitated and cannot speak for themselves after some unexpected catastrophe, will publicly apologize for his heretical statement? I wonder if the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops will issue a statement apologizing for its misleading countless numbers of Catholics on a grave matter of life and death?
The Holy Father's firm and unequivocal opposition to the withdrawal of food and water from disabled patients also places the now retired Bishop of Richmond, Virginia, the Most Reverend Walter Sullivan, and the Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, the Most Reverend Thomas Kelly, O.P., on the hot seats. Both of these bishops stated publicly in 1998 that Mrs. Hugh Finn was within her rights to use a Commonwealth of Virginia law to have her brain-damaged husband starved and dehydrated to death. Although the Holy Father issued a generic statement just prior to Hugh Finn's cruel death by starvation and dehydration, no specific statement was made about the Hugh Finn matter, which caused many of us at the time to note with sadness the fact that the Holy Father pleads for the lives of convicted criminals to be spared while he refused to plead specifically for the life of Hugh Finn. With the recent statement of the Holy Father, therefore, it remains to be seen whether Sullivan or Kelly will even acknowledge the Pope has spoken on this matter, no less apologize for their own heretical statements, which helped to reaffirm Mrs. Hugh Finn in 1998.
You see, the moral principle in all of this is very clear: it is never permissible to take any direct action that has as its only end the death of an innocent human being. Starvation and dehydration lead to death, inevitably and inexorably. Food and water are basic human needs, no matter how they are delivered. "Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren, that you do unto Me." We must see the suffering Christ in those who are disabled, those who are as dependent upon others following an accident or an illness as newborn children are after birth. Eating and drinking are a voluntary activities that sometimes need the assistance of others.
The removal of food and water, which are ordinary means to sustain human life, is different than the removal of an artificial respirator or the refusal of a patient to undertake or to continue dialysis or chemotherapy. The removal of an artificial respirator, which is sustaining life artificially, may or may not result in the death of one who is connected to it. There are instances aplenty in which those who have been disconnected from respirators have survived; some have even emerged from comatose states. Breathing is an involuntary human function. If the body is unable to breathe on its own, no one is under any moral obligation to continue such an involuntary function. Thus, the end of the removal of a respirator is to permit a person's bodily functions to operate on their own without artificial assistance. The result may or may not be death, which is not willed as the first end of the act. It is a possible indirect but foreseen consequence of the first end, which is to let a body operate on its own powers.
Similarly, one has the right to refuse dialysis or chemotherapy. One is under no obligation to sustain life as an ultimate end in and of itself. There are qualifications, though, that have to be made in these instances. A young man with a family to support may have to at least consider such forms of treatment, seeking out the assistance of a solid spiritual director to guide him in the decision he makes. One who is in his sixties or seventies or eighties or beyond certainly has the right to let nature takes its course in cases of chronic or terminal illnesses, offering up his crosses to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary to unite them to the Cross of the Divine Redeemer Himself. God could choose to cure them miraculously. Indeed, I know of one such case within the past year. Refusing treatment to let nature take its course or to pray for a miraculous cure is far different morally than taking positive, concrete measures, such as the removal of food and water, that can result in only one outcome: death, which can never be directly willed under any circumstances.
The Zenit report on the Pope's statement reads as follows:
"Patients in a 'vegetative state' do not lose their dignity or rights, and withholding food and water from them amounts to euthanasia by omission, says John Paul II.
" 'I feel the duty to affirm energetically that the intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being does not change, regardless of the circumstances of his life,' the Pope said Saturday when receiving the 400 participants of an international congress.
"The theme of the congress, organized by the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and the Pontifical Academy for Life, was 'Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas.'
" 'A man, even if he is gravely ill or limited in the exercise of his higher functions, is and always will be a man, he will never become a "vegetable" or an "animal,"' the Holy Father stressed during a lengthy address to the congress's participants.
" 'Our brothers and sisters who are in the clinical condition of "vegetative state" preserve all their human dignity,' he said. 'God the Father continues to look upon them lovingly, recognizing them as his children, especially in need of assistance.'
" 'Doctors and health agents, society and the Church have moral duties toward these persons, of which they cannot exempt themselves without betraying the demands of professional deontology and of human and Christian solidarity,' John Paul II stressed.
" 'Therefore, the sick person, in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or his natural end, has the right to basic health care, and to the prevention of complications linked to his state,' the Pope continued.
"The prolongation of the vegetative state 'cannot justify ethically the abandonment or interruption of the minimal care of the patient, including food and water,' he said. 'Death by hunger or thirst, in fact, is the only possible result should these be suspended.'
"If caused, in a 'conscious and deliberate manner,' it is 'genuine euthanasia by omission,' the Pontiff concluded."
Stipulating that some of the Pope's language is indeed conciliarspeak (de-ontology, human and Christian solidarity) that would have been used by none of his predecessors prior to 1958, the Holy Father is only stating, albeit in somewhat novel Johnpaulian terms, the principles contained in the binding precepts of the Divine positive law and the natural law. The same array of dissenting-heretical voices that have opposed the Church on contraception and abortion will likely be heard once more, denouncing this statement as an affront to the "right of death with dignity." They will want a continued "debate" on the matter. However, the issue of providing food and water to disabled human beings is no more debatable than contraception or abortion. This matter is really beyond the ability of the Church to change, try as some of the aforementioned bishops have to do so. What is contained in the law of God is beyond the power of anyone, including a pope or one of his brother bishops, to change. Thus, it would have been very helpful if the Holy Father, instead of appealing to "human and Christian solidarity," simply said the following:
"Thou shalt not kill means thou shalt not kill. Innocent human life may never be extinguished legitimately as the first end of any human action. There are no exceptions to this under any circumstances. End of statement."
The statement is clear enough, though, for anyone who had placed the prohibition against the removal of food and water, no matter how delivered, into question to see that he was wrong and that he must conform his intellect and will to that which is contained in the Deposit of Faith, which the Holy Father has indeed reaffirmed with his statement of March 21, 2004.
What the Holy Father is unwilling to admitand may indeed be unwilling to seeis that all of the crimes against the inviolability of innocent human life are the direct result of the overthrow of the Social Reign of Christ the King and its replacement with the modern, secular, religiously indifferentist nation-state. There is no lowest common denominator with which to fight the evils that have their origin in the rejection of Our Lord and the Deposit of Faith He has entrusted to His true Church. It is one of the great tragedies of the past forty years that the Church herself has accepted the modern state as something beyond question and that is considered "triumphalistic" even to make advertence to the Social Reign of Christ the King. Thus, the Holy Father, who is very concerned about crimes against innocent life, winds up as the prisoner of the very paradigm with which the Church has made an ill-advised accommodation. Some pope, therefore, is going to have to say that it is impossible to fight secularism and all of its multifaceted evils with secularism and Masonic talk of "brotherhood" and a "civilization of love." Some pope is going to have to say that we can only fight secularism with Catholicism.
If one looks at the matter through the eyes of the true Faith, he will see that the crimes against innocent life that are taken for granted by most people as "human rights" beyond question are really crimes against the Incarnation of the Word Who was made Flesh in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb and dwelt amongst us. Our Lord chose to become man as a helpless embryo in the tabernacle of Our Lady's immaculate womb. He was teaching us from the moment that St. Gabriel the Archangel announced to His Most Blessed Mother that she would conceive a Child by the power of the Holy Ghost. And one of the things Our Lord was teaching us from the moment of the Incarnation, which feast we celebrate this very day, March 25, 2004, was that He became helpless so as to remind us that we must see Him in the helpless around us. We must be as ready to serve Him in others, especially those who depend upon us for their basic needs, as Our Lady was to do the will of the Father at the Annunciation.
The Traditional Latin Mass concludes (with exceptions here and there during the course of a year) with the reading of the Prologue to Saint John's Gospel. The Church in her wisdom placed this Gospel following the dismissal and final blessing in order to remind the faithful that the Incarnation changed everything about human existence. The Mass itself is incarnational: the God-Man becomes incarnate under the appearances of bread and wine. We are thus to be mindful of our need to subordinate everything in our own lives and in the larger life of the world around us to the fact that the Word became Flesh and dwelt amongst us so as to redeem us on the Wood of the Holy Cross. The Church herself must come to understand once more that unless this central fact of salvation is presented firmly and unequivocally then she will always be fighting a rear-guard effort to oppose crimes against life, both natural and supernatural, that emanate from a rejection of her Divinely given authority to proclaim the Word and to discipline men and nations authoritatively in His Holy Name.
With continued prayers for Terri Schindler Schiavo and all those in circumstances similar to hers, we implore the intercession of Our Lady Help of Christians so that the relatives of disabled persons will provide love and support in the midst of the suffering of their loved ones, uniting the sacrifices made thereby to the Cross of the Divine Redeemer through her own Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.
Blessed Feast of the Annunciation to you all.