Governor Jeb Bush is asking for more time to investigate allegations that Terri is being mistreated by being denied appropriate medical care and rehabilitation. There are still appeals and the state's Department of Children and Families has asked for a 60-day delay to investigate allegations of abuse against Terri. Nevertheless, this is a tragic development for those who value human life.
Father Rob Johansen, a past writer for Crisis Magazine, is a friend of Bob and Mary Schindler (Terri's parents). He flew down to Florida to be with them, I was able to talk to him about the situation.
Terri and her family are practicing Catholics in the diocese of St. Petersburg. However, even casual observers of this situation the past few years have noticed the odd silence from the diocese and Bishop Robert Lynch.
What's going on?
"To put it bluntly," Fr. Johansen told Crisis Magazine, "Bishop Lynch has been invisible on this matter for the last couple years. He made a few statements in October 2003. But even those were, in my opinion, pretty weak. They basically expressed his sympathy and his feeling that this was a tragic situation."
A quick perusal of the bishop's three statements (available here: http://www.dioceseofstpete.org/news.php) gives us a bit of a mixed bag. While the bishop does articulate in several places the Catholic teaching on these matters, he nowhere applies it forcefully to Terri's specific situation.
For example, Bishop Lynch writes in his August 12, 2003, statement:
"Our Catholic teaching is also clear that 'nourishment or hydration may be withheld or withdrawn where that treatment itself is causing
harm to the patient or is useless because the patient's death is imminent, as long as the patient is made comfortable. In general, the terms "death is imminent" and "terminally ill" imply that a physician can predict that the patient will die of the fatal pathology within a few days or weeks, regardless of what life prolonging methods are utilized.'"
Precisely. And this statement should be followed by Bishop Lynch noting that no one in the dispute claims that, barring the removal of her feeding tube, Terri will die "within a few days or weeks." Nor can anyone intelligently argue that the food and water are somehow harming her.
Sadly, that's not what the bishop does. Instead, he follows this statement by observing that "Terri Schiavo's case is especially difficult because her actual medical situation is in dispute."
And that's where Bishop Lynch misses an important teaching opportunity. Since no one is saying that Terri's death is "imminent," food and water must not be removed. When the authentic Catholic teaching is applied to Terri's specific case, the judgment is clear.
To be fair, the bishop also strongly recommends that,
"Terri's family be allowed to attempt a medical protocol which they feel would improve her condition." He also writes that "Catholic teaching notes that the proxy may not deliberately cause a patient's death or refuse ordinary and normal treatment, even if he or she believes a patient would have made such a decision."
The problem with Bishop Lynch's public statements is not that they are in themselves wrong, but that he doesn't go far enough in applying Catholic teaching to this specific case. As a result, he puts too much trust in the actions and motivations of Michael Schiavo -- Terri's husband and the main actor in the effort to halt her feeding.
(As you may know, Schiavo has lived with another woman for years and stands to receive quite a bit of money upon Terri's death. What's more, after her accident, Prince Charming had her engagement ring and wedding band melted down to make a ring for himself...and had her cats put to sleep so he wouldn't have to take care of them.)
What we can do to help Terri?
- "Pray, not just for Terri but for Michael Schiavo and his lawyer, George Felos. After all, people's hearts can be turned."
- Since the ruling came down on -- a Friday in Lent -- Catholics have a special opportunity to offer up a sacrifice. Don't underestimate the power of this season.
- "Get informed about the real issues. Spread the word. The mainstream media continues to report that Terri is brain dead or comatose. No one has ever claimed that. Furthermore, contrary to media reports, this is NOT a right to die case. People need to spread the word on this. Call their talk radio stations, send e-mails to friends, and to Florida state representatives. One way to get informed is to read the article Fr. Rob wrote for us on the situation in our January 2004 issue. It's the single best overview of the debate.
- Finally, if you have the chance and the means, you could also donate money to www.Terrisfight.org.