Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 11, 2005
Do the Terri Schiavos matter?
A culture of life would create a love that would have kept Terri alive
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
Terri Schiavo did not need to die. This severely brain injured Florida woman found herself at the centre of a storm in the U.S. over the withholding nutrition and hydration from severely disabled people.
In October 2003, Terri's father, Bob Schindler, asked the Edmonton Christian disability organization HumanLifeMatters (HLM) to try to get asylum in Canada for her.
He correctly anticipated that a Florida district court judge would order Terri's feeding tube removed to cause her death by starvation and dehydration. That's exactly what happened. Within a few weeks of his appeal to HLM, Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. HumanLifeMatters tried unsuccessfully to convince the Canadian government to offer asylum for Terri. She was starved for six days before the Florida legislature passed an emergency bill to restore her feeding tube.
Terri Schiavo was brain injured in 1990 under mysterious circumstances. As a healthy 26-year-old woman, she suffered a heart attack allegedly due to a potassium deficiency which starved her brain of oxygen. Her parents suspected foul-play. Terri was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).
No medical consenus
The question of Terri's PVS status was not unanimous by any means. Five court appointed doctors felt she was in a persistent vegetative state. Many other physicians (at least 50) did not agree-including world renowned neurologist and Nobel Prize nominee for Medicine and Physiology, Dr. William Hammesfahr.
It should be noted PSV is difficult to correctly diagnose. A study reported by the British Medical Journal (1996) indicated that over 40 per cent of patients originally diagnosed as PVS were, in fact, misdiagnosed and improved with appropriate therapies.
Terri's estranged husband, Michael Schiavo, was her legal guardian. He did not protect her best interests. Michael was intent on starving and dehydrating Terri to death. He said Terri wanted it that way. Terri supposedly told him many years ago she would never want to live with serious disability. But there was nothing in writing, only Michael's word and he had moved on with his life.
Michael Schiavo was clearly in a conflict of interest to be Terri's legal guardian. For the past 10 years he's been living with another woman and has two children by her. Where did seriously disabled Terri fit into Michael's new life? She didn't.
What if Terri did not want to live in her disabled state? So what. I don't want to live with multiple sclerosis but that does not mean I'm better off dead. Even if Terri said she wouldn't want to live with a feeding tube, I sincerely doubt she envisioned the excruciating death by starvation and dehydration.
The reality of Terri Schiavo was this: She was not on life support (a feeding tube is not life support). She was not dying - not dying until another court ordered death by starvation in March of 2005. She was not in pain - not in pain, that is, until the agony of starvation racked her body and her lips and tongue cracked from thirst. That was all imposed by her husband Michael. There was no reason Terri had to die.
Her parents loved her and wanted to care for her, and she loved them.
A culture of life and human affirmation would have placed Terri in the care of people who valued her life not her death.
A culture of death
If North America had a culture of life and human affirmation, Terri would not have been euthanized. A culture of life and affirmation has a natural default toward preserving life, even lives compromised by permanent and serious disabilities. A culture of life and human affirmation would have placed Terri in the care of people who valued her life not her death. Unfortunately we increasingly live in a culture of death where unwanted or imperfect human life is as cheap as grass clippings and dispensed to the abyss with shocking impunity.
The reality of life for other people with serious disabilities is this: The majority live on the edges of society, perpetually waiting in the anteroom of public acceptance.
Living with profound disability is often a lonesome existence. People with serious disabilities can see the stares of others and the shock and disgust on faces of the healthy and fit. People with disabilities know that most of society wishes they were not here.
The Church must speak
The Church should stand in sharp contrast to the world. We are called to care for the weak (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2276; Romans 15:1). In our Lord's parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:13, 21-24) He calls his Church to include people with disabilities and the marginalized.
We are called to embrace the worth, dignity and sanctity of all the Terri Schiavos of this world. We are called to include them as though they are "the least of these"-for indeed they are. We are called to embrace them as though they are Christ-for indeed they are (Matthew 25:40.) They are image bearers of God, just as Terri Schiavo was. Her suffering and rejection is over.
In the end, HumanLifeMatters could only watch helplessly as Terri Schiavo's life was extinguished. We will comfort and console her parents; we will envelope them in Christ's love. And if another desperate family asked HLM to defend their disabled loved one? We would do it all again. Why? All human life matters to God.
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