On Nov. 30 – Dec. 1, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is holding the First International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, which will take place at the Four Points by Sheraton – Toronto Airport Hotel. Most of the leaders of groups that oppose the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide will be speaking at this Symposium, including Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was euthanized by dehydration in 2005. The following is an interview with Bobby Schindler that was conducted for Challengemagazine by Alex Schadenberg, the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada. It is reprinted with permission.
The symposium begins on Friday, Nov. 30 at 9:30 a.m. and ends Saturday, Dec. 1 with a Mass at 5:30 p.m. that will be celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto. To find out more information about the upcoming International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, contact the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition toll free at: 1-877-439-3348 or check out its website at: www.epcc.ca.
Alex Schadenberg: Your sister Terri was dehydrated to death by court order. How does the Catholic church view the intentional dehydration of people who are not otherwise dying?
Bobby Schindler: Terri was not dying, not attached to any type of machinery and was only being sustained by food and water via a feeding tube. Therefore, in spite of any label she was given (persistent vegetative state) we are morally obligated to care for her or anyone (who) is in similar circumstances. According to Catholic teaching, regardless of any advanced directive or even the sworn testimony of another person, a Catholic may not refuse food and water with the intention of causing their own death or that of another, as this constitutes either the sin of suicide or that of euthanasia by omission.
AS: Pope John Paul II made a statement in March 2004, referring to the care of people in a persistent vegetative state. Did that statement deal directly with the case of Terri?
BS: It is hard to read Pope John Paul II’s statement and not think that he was not speaking directly to Terri’s situation and this issue as a whole. It is my understanding that the Pope’s allocution did not represent any new teachings of the church, however, only clarifying the position of the church on this matter.
AS: Since Terri was a practising Catholic, how could the court have sided with her estranged husband by agreeing to dehydrate her to death?
BS: Judge Greer used the original January 2000 testimony of Fr. Gerard Murphy, from the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., to help him make his ruling to dehydrate and starve Terri to death. Father Murphy never spoke to anyone in my family, nor did he take the time to visit Terri. However, he did consult with Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, an assisted suicide/euthanasia activist, and testified on behalf of Michael Schiavo, who was living with (since 1994) and engaged to the woman he intended on marrying once Terri died.
The transcript of Father Murphy’s testimony reveals two serious flaws in his thinking which reveal a profound lack of understanding of church teaching.
First, he agreed with “death with dignity” attorney George Felos that somehow food and water for Terri constituted “extraordinary care” and “artificial life support,” thereby falsely claiming that the Catholic church would allow Terri’s life to be terminated. The Catholic church teaches that food and water are never to be considered extraordinary treatment, especially when the person receiving it is not dying, as in the case of Terri.
Secondly, Fr. Murphy claimed that the opinions or wishes of an individual Catholic trump the teachings of the church itself. This is patently false. Rather, instead of imposing our wishes and opinions on the church, Catholics are obligated to allow their consciences to be formed by the teachings and standards of the church.
AS: Did the bishops in Florida support your family’s attempt to stop the court-ordered death by dehydration of Terri?
BS: We asked Bishop Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg to support our efforts in combating Terri’s euthanasia death order and to rebut the court testimony sanctioning Terri’s death given by Fr. Murphy. Much to our disappointment, Bishop Lynch supported Fr. Murphy’s position and he generally remained silent offering no real help or spiritual support for Terri or our family.
As Terri’s case began to grow in publicity so did the pressure from the Catholic laity for Bishop Lynch to do something. Regrettably, when Bishop Lynch did finally issue a statement, it was one that only added more confusion and misunderstanding to the situation.
The Florida bishops issued a statement on Aug. 27, 2003, supporting the position of Bishop Lynch. On Feb. 15, 2005, just one month before Terri’s death, the Florida bishops issued a second statement, again supporting Bishop Lynch’s position. It was not until later that month that the Florida bishops issued a clarification that seemed to take a much stronger position in regard to what was happening to Terri.
AS: Were there any priests or bishops who supported the cause to save Terri’s life?
BS: Initially only Bishop Tomas Larkin (retired Bishop of St. Petersburg diocese who rebutted Fr. Murphy’s testimony) and Monsignor Malanowski, a retired brigadier-general (who) visited Terri weekly with my parents. It was not until Terri’s case started making national news that other Catholic clergy began speaking out about what was happening to her. At the same time, there were several Catholic priests (who) were being interviewed by the same media, condoning what was happening to Terri. In reaction to Pope John Paul II’s 2004 statement regarding life-sustaining treatment, Father Paris, professor at Boston College, said, “I think the best thing to do is ignore it and it will go away. It’s not an authoritative teaching statement. The problem here is that non-Catholics think when the Pope says ‘Jump,’ we all say, ‘How high?’”
Father Kevin O’Rourke, ethics professor at the Loyola University of Chicago Medical School, told the Miami Herald that preserving Terri’s life was “blasphemy.” He also said, “For Christians, it is a blasphemy to keep people alive as if you were doing them a favor.”
Father Richard McBrien, theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, told Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that, “This is not a question of euthanasia,” directly contradicting the Vatican. “This is the removal of an ‘extraordinary’ means of sustaining life …”
Fortunately, the Vatican began issuing their own statements, referencing the Pope’s 2004 statement by clarifying the true teaching and position of the Catholic church. Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, said, “Food and hydration are never considered medicine. To remove them means euthanasia, it means killing, and so this woman was killed by hunger and starvation. Let’s stop with the euphemisms – they killed her.”
Then, on March 31, Cardinal (Renato) Martino issued the strongest statement yet from Rome, when he said the following, “Whoever stands idly by without trying to prevent the death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo becomes an accomplice to murder.”
AS: Any final comments?
BS: We have become de-sensitized as a people and we no longer know how to love. The truth is that there is no such thing as an unwanted child or a person so disabled that they have lost value – we need to start looking at life through eyes of compassion, rather than the distorted lens of popular culture. At the present time, sadly, there is a lot of confusion … with regards to this issue. With the potential of tens of thousands of lives in harm’s way because of age or disability, it is time that Catholics in leadership positions begin acting like leaders and adhere to John Paul II’s 2004 statement. Catholics everywhere must understand that the true meaning of compassion is not making the decision when it’s okay or not okay to terminate a life.”