Now that Terri Schiavo is dead, one can say that it's all over but the shouting (and the praying for the repose of her soul). If I remained silent throughout the struggle to save her life, it was only because everything I could say was already far better said by others. As we know, the pro-death culture got a major boon from her demise, and now it has become "acceptable" in polite circles to speak of killing off the weak, the ill, and the inconvenient. "Might makes Right, and only the strong should live; the weak should die!" That has become our culture here in America today. So far, the world still looks much the same. But in fact, what has happened is that we have all swept past yet another signpost on that slippery slope into total barbarism. It is only a matter of time before the violence of our ideology will be reflected in the violence of our actions, and ultimately of our times.
In this post-Schiavo era of Monday-morning quarterbacking however, one now even begins to find respectable clerical voices, apparently resigned to what has happened, and now even beginning to sound as if they are actually defending what has happened. It has almost the atmosphere of rationalizing a lost game, saying "It is good that we lost this game so that the next team to meet up with us might underestimate us, and beating them is much more important." Yeah, right.
Anyone familiar with my book, The Resurrection of the Roman Catholic Church, would have to know that I hold the two traditional clerics whose writings I discuss in this article in the highest esteem. For the record, let me state that despite their mutual faux pas in this one particular area which they have made in favor of the Culture of Death, I continue holding His Excellency Bishop Donald Sanborn and Father Anthony Cekada in such high esteem.
These two fine clerics have regrettably gone on record against having saved the poor woman's life, and in favor of the Florida Judiciary which her husband Michael Schiavo obviously had in his pocket all along. As Fr. Cekada admits at the close of his letter, he admits what "consternation" his position is causing the lay members of his congregation, and indeed I first learned of this from one of the members of his congregation. When a "theological" position causes "consternation" among the pious, that should always serve as a severe warning to tread carefully, step by step, and take the time to do one's homework.
This, the two clerics evidently did not do, and the result is a grave scandal within the Church. I would only have to hope that no member of either of their congregations should ever find themselves at the "mercy" of the likes of Michael Schiavo. Even the horrific Novus Ordo "Bishop" Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida did once actually put pen to paper to defend her life, though as we know he did not follow that document up with any support or participation in the subsequent cause to save her life.
For starters, let me allow that Fr. Cekada makes an ample and worthy point about how important it is as to how "wary one should be of turning for moral guidance to the advertiser-shilling blowhards of Fox News and the EIB Network." This in itself is a valid point, as indeed the nearer a source seems to being holy, the more destructive it can prove should it in fact not be holy. No one will be fooled by obvious appeals to worship the Devil, but the "Pseudochrist" of prophecy is said to be capable of deceiving "even the very elect." This can only be done by approximating the Truth, never by simply flat-out disagreeing with it. I would hope that Father Cekada's main motive for even bothering to go on record with such an opinion would be to make that one valid point, and it is only a regrettable mistake on his part to choose as an example something where the facts do in this case back up the very sources he desires to criticize.
Looking at the moral theologians he quotes, several salient points emerge:
- 1) Where there is "hope of life," one is duty-bound to take in the basic necessities of life (food, water, air) as needed, or to provide same to one that is sick. This principle points to the possibility that the one ill may recover. Obviously where one really has no hope of recovery, where one is obviously dying (and receiving the Last Rites would obviously be appropriate here), such an obligation would not apply, but where there is still some hope one is duty-bound to seek that possibility, providing only that other limitations do not apply (covered in points 2-4 immediately below).
- 2) The sick person's own interests and choices must also factor in here a bit, as a distinction is made regarding "depression of spirits" being so severe as to truly make a return to health more a burden than accepting one's own death, the ill person should obviously have at least some say as to the level of care that is to be given.
- 3) A distinction is made between the moral imperative not to destroy life, versus our duty in charity to protect life, which though also binding, binds with "lesser" moral force.
- 4) One is not held to support "all possible means" but only the "ordinary means," which may to some extent be affected by the relative wealth and resources of the immediate family and local medical community. One is however at liberty to go beyond the "ordinary" minimums, and this is praiseworthy on the part of the individuals making the sacrifices to do this, though not obligatory.
Let us examine each of these points as regards the case of this one unfortunate woman. For the first, there most certainly was at least some real hope for recovery, though I grant not a great deal. Terri was not of extreme age, but young enough to have as many years ahead of her as she had behind her, if not more. There are rehabilitative therapies that have been shown to bring about improvement in persons with her condition, though the improvement might have been marginal. Most important however is that there were other treatments that might potentially have brought about a more significant improvement or even some return to something like a normal life.
There is already a drug, not as yet cleared by America's FDA, but already cleared by the equivalents of the FDA in other countries - and we are not talking Mexico or Haiti here where such approvals can be bought, but countries with serious medical standards, such as England or Denmark, where this drug (I forget the name) is not only approved, but qualified and trained doctors there have already become experienced in its use, and have already had dramatic results with patients having several different conditions all markedly similar to hers. In all justice, Terri should have been given to the custody of someone (her parents) who would have taken her to such a foreign doctor and given that doctor (and treatment/drug) a chance to help her.
And there might have been other treatments in research, not approved anywhere as yet, but getting close to perhaps being at least able to experiment on a human, at least once all other more likely courses have failed. I don't see any possible obligation to keep her alive for twenty years on the speculation that some treatment might yet be invented, however any present line of research showing any sign of promise and any reasonable applicability to a human case should be exhausted, especially given the financial resources Terri's relatives had at their disposal.
But no, instead all treatments were denied. Michael Schiavo even visited the facilities where Terri was being barely kept alive only so as to intimidate the staff into not doing anything further for her. Nurses were threatened with their jobs if they so much as gave Terri a massage, or spoke to her or held her hand. And this grotesque and systematic unkindness was allowed to stand. This brings in the further question regarding guardianship, custody, and power of attorney. It certainly would seem to me that in all justice anyone appointed, whether by a court or by the person themselves in better circumstances, or by a previous such entity, should be impeachable where they plainly can be shown to be not acting in the best interests of their ward.
For Michael to be called "next of kin" is laughable, given his utter divorce from Terri in everything but name. He had already moved on with his own new life, with a new "honey" and even the semblance of a home life with same, including children. Even the insurance money awarded to her, and meant to go to her care, was instead being wildly spent by him on numerous "expenses" bearing no relation to her health or well-being. Only as little as possible went to the cheapest facilities he could find to stuff her in. As he himself put it, he just couldn't wait for "that bitch" to just please die. I think it would have been trivial to show that he was not qualified to be her guardian. Would either of Fr. Cekada or Bishop Sanborn be so willing to force the Church to accept a heretic as pope over them? "Hey, everyone thinks he's in charge, so we all just have to take it all lying down, let him run roughshod over us if that's what he wants." As we know, they have not taken that position regarding their own case regarding the situation in the Church, so how dare they impose it on poor Terri?
For the second principle, I find it shocking that no one concerned with all of this controversy (with the exception of one nurse who lost her job from seeking the truth) ever seemed the least bit concerned with what SHE wanted. It was always "What are WE going to decide to do?" No one but this one nurse even appears of having thought of putting the question to Terri herself. What did SHE want? The nurse did so, and the response was dramatic: Terri cried aloud, so loud that people heard her from the next building, that she wanted to live. Despite the miserable hopelessness of her condition, she wanted to live.
It is so easy for one of us to say "Oh, if that happened to me I would not want to live," but frankly, we are just talking out of our [posterior regions] when we say that because we really don't know what we are talking about. Despite her woeful condition, she nevertheless wanted to live. In the same manner, we might also think that we would not want to go on living if we lost our sight or hearing or had a few limbs amputated or had to spend the rest of our lives in a wheelchair. And sometimes, especially at first after catastrophically entering such a state, we might really still feel that way. But as we know, there are people who go on to live rich and fulfilling lives despite being blind or deaf or amputated or otherwise confined to a wheelchair. It's just that one just has to find other, different, compensations in one's life, and given time one can and one will. The instinct for self-preservation is frightfully strong, and can enable one to endure much that those of us "more fortunate" (at least so far) would doubtless regard as unendurable.
It was only in the face of this testimony of the fired nurse that the story was first circulated about claiming that "years ago she and I were watching a movie and she said that if ever anything like that happened to her that she would want to die." Let me give you my reason for not believing that testimony, despite the possibility that she could indeed have uttered such a foolish thing. My objection is that this claim was never put forth during any of the proceedings, from the initial malpractice suit clear until March of 2005. Then, Terri is getting help from the Governor, the President, even the proverbial "act of Congress" in her favor, and the nurse is testifying as to her desire to live. It is only then, NEVER BEFORE IN ANY COURT PROCEEDING NOR IN ANY OTHER FORUM, that Michael Schiavo only then hits his wrist to his forehead and exclaims "Oh, by the way, I just remembered..." - and the media, the courts, and the whole pro-death culture bought it. What despicable suckers! If that had really happened, don't you think he would have thought of that a little sooner?
The media lied, in a truly grave way. They all maintained that she was totally brain-dead. That simply is not the case. There is a tremendous difference between being brain-dead and being brain-impaired. Terri was the latter. She could be soothed by music, glad to see her parents, show evident revulsion to pain and to the presence of Michael, and emotionally worked up once it was broached to her that her life was being discussed and argued over by others, of which the greatest weight was being given to someone who only wanted to kill her. Those are not the actions of one that is brain-dead.
As to the third point, Michael clearly wanted to destroy life, and the Florida courts made themselves complicit in his crime. Had there been no one else to care, perhaps they might have all gotten away with it as no doubt they do in so many other cases. But there were her parents and siblings and other close blood relatives who did care and were willing to make all the necessary sacrifices, which brings me to the last of the four theological points.
Bishop Sanborn makes the appalling claim that if she were to be permitted to live, then she would have imposed a terrible cost to the Florida taxpayer. This point needs to be addressed. Sufficient poverty would indeed have granted this point, and the State, though obviously having much in the way of financial resources, would have equally found itself hopelessly incapable of tending all of its long-term sick in such a fashion. If it had truly been a matter of the State (the Florida taxpayer) having to bare this burden, I would agree that even a feeding tube might reasonably be considered "extraordinary" and as such not morally imperative. However, in Terri's case, her parents were obviously rather wealthy, and in any case willing and able to make the sacrifice to pay all her costs out-of-pocket. She would not and could not have needed to become a ward of the State. So this was never about reducing all Florida taxpayers to abject poverty to support all such cases, only about allowing her parents to spend their own money in using extraordinary means to keep her alive, which though not obligatory, is nevertheless morally permissible, and indeed praiseworthy on their part.
So how could two such great and educated clerics fail to teach what is right here? In both cases, their knowledge of moral theology is unassailable, and yet they both erred in this. One would have to expect that their error is not regarding moral theology itself has to teach, but rather in their understanding of the pertinent material facts in this case, and so indeed we find. As it turns out, neither of them had been apprised of the actual facts in her case, and their statements display this particular ignorance. In their desire to turn away from the like of Fox News and the EIB Network and (I might add) a great many concerned Novus Ordo pro-life organizations and groupings, they turned for "hard facts" on her case to the secular humanistic media which supplied nothing but "hard lies" and somehow both of them fell for it.
The media was universally silent regarding possible treatments, about much of what Michael Schiavo had been doing to prevent her rehabilitation or any sort of a cure, of circumstantial evidence pointing to attempts on his part to sabotage her feeding tube, of other circumstantial evidence pointing to his possible involvement in whatever original injury may have caused her condition. Suffice it to say that his behavior in her case, from the very beginning, was fully consistent with someone who is deathly afraid that she might recover and then thereby be able to tell the world of how she got her original injury. Maybe not enough to get a conviction against him, but certainly more than enough to cast grave doubt as to the rightfulness of continuing to make him the sole decision-maker in her future.
The media was also careful to quote only those "doctors" in Michael's pocket who were willing to go publicly on record with statements they knew to be lies, claiming that she was totally brain-dead. They passed over the many other medical evidences that plainly showed her to be responsive, conscious, desirous to live, and displaying all human emotion.
Though nothing was said in the media as to the financial status of her family, commentators tended to argue against the straw man claim that all feeding tubes in all patients had to be kept in regardless of all circumstances, regardless of whether there is the least hope of recovery, regardless of whether it meant reducing the entire State to abject poverty. No one was really seriously arguing for that, but the pro-death media made it sound as if that was what the pro-lifers wanted. All of this subconsciously planted the false assumption in Father's and His Excellency's minds that the State of Florida would have been obliged to pick up the tab if she were to be permitted to go on living, and not only for her but for everyone with a feeding tube or respirator or any other expensive means of medical survival. This accounts, I believe for Bishop Sanborn's unnecessary verbiage about families having to "sell pencils on the street."
Moral theology, to be correct, valid, and pertinent, must take in all the specifics of a particular case in order to evaluate that particular case fairly and honestly. Had the media's false claims and insinuations had any reality behind them, i. e. had Terri really been totally brain-dead, had there been no known cures that at least ought to be tried, had her family been so poor as to need the State to pay for her care, etc. I would concede that Father and His Excellency would have been correct, however painful such a conclusion. Like so many suckers all around the world who continue to rely on culture of death-owned media for all their information, Father and His Excellency managed to gravely misjudge a particular case, thus giving grave scandal to the cause of righteousness. I would beg them both to please make a reevaluation of her particular situation in the light of the facts of her particular case, and withdraw their former comments on this issue.
This was never about taking care of one unfortunate woman. It was all about setting up yet another precedent to give priority or favoritism to whichever party favors causing death, now passively, but soon also actively as well. Her husband wanted death. Her parents wanted life. Her own choice should have been the tie-breaker, since she had a choice and it was available. Instead, the tie-breaker was merely and purely that the cause for death is now to be given more weight than the cause for life. From now on, the legal burden of proof is always on the side wanting life and never on the side wanting death, and all supporting evidences for the cause of life are to be arbitrarily rejected and not taken into consideration. The whole pro-life involvement in her case was about preventing such a horrific legal precedent. But now it has happened, and courts will forever be pointing to that precedent and judges will be asking only "So, how soon would you like to kill the invalid?" The last thing we need is such distinguished and prominent Roman Catholic clerics to be defending such a dangerous precedent.
Something else omitted in all of this is how the secular media has affected even much of the discussions held about it, and even much of what was being said in the pro-life media. The whole question was carefully misframed, and practically all of us
including Bishop Sanborn and Fr. Cekada unconsciously picked up this misframing and took it as the way to look at the question.
They framed as being a simple question of "what should be done with a person in such-and-such a condition?" There are differing degrees of what would be morally imperative, what would be morally praiseworthy, but not required, what would be morally neutral, and even what might be morally discouraged or even forbidden, give or take the detailed specifics of her case.
But this sort of arrangement of the question asks in fact the altogether wrong question. For example, I and another person are walking on a pier. The other person slips and falls off into the water, and he can't swim. I could jump into the water and save his life, and no one would doubt the merit in such an act. However, suppose that I did not jump in and save him. Such an act could be a grave (and perhaps even criminal) neglect, and even a sin against charity, perhaps even a mortal one, give or take the particular reasons for my refusal to jump in to help, but in any case it would not be murder since I did not cause the person to slip and fall.
If my reason for not jumping in to save him is "I can't swim either" then that would be an absolutely legitimate reason and I have not sinned at all (though of course I would still sin if I don't at least go for help). If my reason is "I think there are sharks in the water," then my refusal could be mortally sinful if that "thinking" has no basis in fact but is instead merely an excuse for not getting my clothes wet, venial if there are in fact shark fins nearby in the water, such that there might be something of a genuine risk that he and I might simply both become shark-food, and maybe no sin at all on my part if the sharks already got him.
Be all that as it may, suppose that I nevertheless decide to jump in to save the person. There are no sharks in evidence, and I can, too, swim. Let us now posit a third person on the pier. This third person, seeing that I intend to save the first person intercepts me and wrestles me down to the wooden surface of the pier and prevents me from saving that life, and the person dies. I do believe that Catholic morality would most definetely call that third person a murderer. Their active intervention as much caused the person's death as if they themselves had pushed them off the pier.
The whole controversy was just this very thing. Should such a third person (Mr. Schiavo) be permitted to prevent a second person (Terri's parents) from saving the life of the first person (Terri herself)? This is what makes the whole Schiavo mess a legal precedent for murder. And that is why (aside from the evident value of Terri herself as a person) everyone was so vehemently opposed to allowing her to die, and why it is that the Florida courts are now to be regarded as being "in contempt of the American people." Unfortunately the pro-life cause failed to make that distinction and articulate thereby the real reasons that everyone aware of the facts of her case knew that a murder was being contemplated and planned, and ultimately carried out."
As a post-script, predictably several were just as outraged as I was over these stalwart traditional clerics going so far out on the limb that their credibility was tottering. It became ever more evident when a man in a similar state as Terri's totally recovered from a ten-year coma-like condition, thus giving credence that Terri's situation was not hopeless as the media had perpetrated.
In addition, in a letter to James M. Gebel Jr., MD, MS, FAHA, Father Cekada replied,
Dear Dr. Gebel,
Someone forwarded to me your comments about my articles on the Schiavo case.
A number of other people involved in health care have written to me about the medical aspects of the case.
I not qualified to decide whether your medical opinion or other conflicting medical opinions about PVS, therapy, etc. are more in accord with the principles of medical science.
But common sense tells me that the method you used to arrive at your opinion -- reviewing CT images, watching a video and reviewing "summary/excerpts regarding testimony given in deposition transcripts" -- is no substitute for examining a live patient.
Unlike other doctors directly involved in the case, moreover, you have not been cross-examined on either your methods or your conclusions.
Be that as it may, I am qualified to speak about the moral issues in the case, and indeed, I am also obliged to do so.
If what you seem to be claiming is true and Terri Schiavo was somehow able to eat and drink by natural means, there is no dispute that those who cared for her would have been obliged to provide her with food and drink. To have withheld these would have been a mortal sin (unjust direct homicide) against the Fifth Commandment.
However, my writings on the Schiavo case centered on something else: the principles that Catholic moral theology would apply to removing a feeding tube.
I do not want my parishioners to be left with the impression -- due to the high emotions and bitter controversy fanned by the morally bankrupt media and by various lay and clerical grandstanders -- that something is a mortal sin when it is not.
Who knows when any one of my flock may be called upon to deal with the issue of a feeding tube for himself or a family member?
Here, put very bluntly, are the two essential questions in moral theology that I have sought to resolve:
(1) Does the Fifth Commandment under pain of mortal sin always require a sick person who is unable to eat or drink by natural means to have a doctor shove a tube into his nose or poke a hole into his stomach in order to provide food and water?
(2) Does the Fifth Commandment under pain of mortal sin then always forbid such a person to have these tubes removed, no matter what grave burdens -- pain, revulsion, depression, expense, etc. -- their continued use may impose on him or another?
The answer to both questions is no.
Having a hole poked in you, a tube shoved in and then having to eat and drink that way would be burdensome for any normal man.
Like the IV drip mentioned by the moral theologian McFadden (whom I quoted elsewhere), one could maintain this procedure would be morally compulsory "as a temporary means of carrying a person through a critical period."
"Surely," however, "any effort to sustain life permanently in this fashion would constitute a grave hardship." (Medical Ethics, 1958, p.269.)
(Perhaps some priest, layman or doctor who rejects this conclusion could get his own feeding tube inserted, live that way for fifteen years, and let us all know in 2020 whether the experience was a grave hardship or not. Any takers?)
Insisting (as some have done in the Schiavo case) that one is bound to this under pain of mortal sin (otherwise, euthanasia! murder!) contradicts Pius XII's teaching that one is bound only to use "ordinary means," which he defined as those "that do not involve any grave burdens for oneself or another."
Imposing "a more stict obligation," the pontiff warned, "would be too burdensome for most people and would render the attainment of a higher, more important good too difficult."
So, even though as a doctor you may well consider poking holes into people and inserting permanent feeding tubes "by no logical measure extraordinary or unduly burdensome by any reasonable standard, moral, medical or economic," Catholics must nevertheless draw their understanding of extraordinary means from the Churchıs moral teachings -- rather than from the practices and pronouncements of the medical-industrial complex.
In sum, by the standards of Catholic moral theology, the permanent use of a feeding tube constitutes extraordinary means and is therefore not obligatory. Like all such means, one is free to use it, "as long as one does not fail in some more serious duty." (Pius XII)
But one cannot maintain that a Catholic is always bound to use a feeding tube under pain of mortal sin still less, that the refusal to do so constitutes "murder."
Donıt try to invent a mortal sin where there is none.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Anthony Cekada
It's clear here that Fr. Cekada was focusing totally on whether it was a sin or not, and utterly failing to see the larger picture regarding the impeding of a rescue. While it is true he has posed the moral truth, which is necessary purely because modern Rome has so muddled the moral structure; thus Catholic truth must break through all the Vatican Two-speak. Fr. Anthony is correct in that posture. However, what is most sad is that he used the Schiavo case, already so highly volatile to ram that point home, causing consternation among his own flock and failing to take into consideration all the facts as I have outlined here.
As one correspondent wrote recently,
"The best scenario that could have happened would have been that the clerics would have very quickly said, 'Really?! I didn't realize those facts. In that case, you are right, she WAS murdered!' Had they done so very quickly, they would have actually shined in humility and people would have admired them more. Unfortunately, they are taking a long time, and the more time that goes by, the more hurtful it will be for them. Not that it is intrinsically their fault for taking so much time, but for the fact that people are publicly upset about it and talking."
And, as we have seen throughout history, the longer something remains in the state of confusion, the more satan relishes this as fodder for
spreading the manure of modernism, and in this case, the justification of plain cold-hearted murder!
In all respect I would encourage both Bishop Sanborn and Fr. Cekada to respond if they would care to prove differently.