As I submit this piece to The Interim, a flurry of political and legal maneuvering is underway to get Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s feeding tube reinserted. Along with over a million other people, I continue to pray for a miracle. Will Terri still be alive by the time you read this? I don’t know. Only God can save Terri now.
I spent the early part of this afternoon discussing Terri’s situation with Dr. Bill Cork. Bill is a fine friend, an occasional foe, and a fellow Catholic ecumenist. He worries about what Terri’s execution prophesies concerning the future of our society. Some of Bill’s extended family escaped the Holocaust. He often wonders how the average German could carry out such unspeakable acts of horror and depravity. And, in reflecting upon Terri’s situation, he feels a dark sense of deja vu. “First you kill those who want to die,” warns Bill. “Then you kill those whose family wants them to die. Then you kill those where one family member wants them to die. Then you kill those whose families want them to live. Then you kill those who want to live, but who get in the way of the state. It’s 1933. Do you know where your children are?” With this last rhetorical question, Bill expresses the fear of every right-to-life activist and advocate for the disabled.
I was born the year after Roe vs. Wade. This ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down any law that protected children in the womb. While I came into this world too late to partake in the defining moment of the abortion battle, it is my generation that suffers the casualties. Abortion destroyed a quarter of my generation and continues to destroy about a third of the next.
Like Roe v. Wade, the struggle over Terri is a defining moment in the culture war. The euthanasia movement sees Terri as its best opportunity in a long time to set a legal precedent. If the culture of death executes Terri – and harbour no misunderstanding, this is an execution by judicial decree – right-to-life and disability advocates will no longer hold the upper hand in the euthanasia debate.
Simply put, Terri’s execution will set a precedent whereby the state recognizes euthanasia as legal. This is regardless of whether the euthanasia is active or passive, voluntary or involuntary. Feeding tubes are not exactly 20th-century medical technology. Terri will suffer what you and I would suffer if someone withdrew our food and water. And there is nothing in writing to indicate this is Terri’s will. The legal masquerade for the withdrawal of her feeding tube is a stray comment she reportedly made to her estranged husband while watching television one evening decades ago.
Of course, the disabled are the big losers if the feeding tube is withdrawn. For Terri represents every North American with special needs. In executing Terri because of her medical condition, we allow society to redefine the essence of our humanity. Society no longer recognizes the dignity common to every human individual. Rather, society now judges each of us by our perceived productivity and usefulness. Those who can, great! Those who cannot, replace. Forget the fact God created us as human beings, not human doings.
This terrifies me. As a Catholic, I embrace the seamless garment theology when it comes to the Gospel of Life. Despite criticism from many of my conservative friends, including from fellow Catholics in some cases, I oppose capital punishment as unnecessary in our day and age. Yet, the Christian gospels are clear and we should weigh the issues accordingly. The Good Thief admitted that the severity of his crimes merited his crucifixion, whereas a disabled woman became the first to discover the connection between the Gospel of Life and our Lord’s seamless garment. For the hem of this seamless garment brought about the woman’s healing.
Yet, if Terri’s execution sets such a dangerous precedent, it is in part because Bishop Robert Lynch has been asleep at the crozier. As the Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, he bears responsibility for Terri’s spiritual care. It is up to Bishop Lynch to defend Terri’s dignity as a human person, as well as Terri’s religious rights as a Catholic.
Nevertheless, the bishop’s response thus far has been a little less than pitiful. For example, let us look at the following excerpt from Bishop Lynch’s statement of Feb. 28: “As the local bishop and pastor for all the family parties involved, I would like to add the following. At the end of the day (the judicial, legislative days) the decision to remove Terri’s artificial feeding tube will be that of her husband, Michael. It is he who will give the order, not the courts or certainly the governor or legislature or the medical personnel surrounding and caring for Terri. In other words, as I have said from the beginning of this sad situation, the decision will be made within a family. A significant part of that family feels they are outside of the decision-making process and they are in great pain and suffering mightily.”
Had Terri been a convicted murderer on her way to the execution chamber, Bishop Lynch would have readily, publicly and unambiguously condemned the taking of her life. But Terri is no convicted criminal, and Bishop Lynch is no St. Francis de Sales. Rather, he acts as timidly towards Terri as the apostles towards our Lord during the Passion. And just as our Lord found himself alone before Pontius Pilate, Terri now finds herself alone before Judge Greer. May God have mercy upon our brothers and sisters with special needs.