Terry Schiavo

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

March 31, 2005



            The case of Terri Schiavo is not uncommon. The whole country was transfixed by her life and death because nearly every one of us will have to deal with these end-of-life issues at some time. I have sat with dozens of families making these difficult decisions.

            In the abstract people often say, “I would not want to live like Terri Schiavo.”  However, in the concrete we often think differently. “Do whatever you can,” they say.

            A few years ago, my uncle Bill, a priest from Kansas City, was injured in an accident. He could no longer speak or swallow. His life was sustained for nearly two years on feeding tube similar to Terri Schiavo’s. It was a graced time. He eventually died of other causes, but he did not starve to death.

If Terri Schiavo’s husband, Michael, were a practicing Catholic, this case would never have been in the state or Federal courts, the Florida legislature or the U.S. Congress. He would have consulted the church’s teaching on the end of life issues. He would have allowed the feeding to continue.

St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6, not to bring our disputes before the secular judges, when they can be settled by recourse to the “holy ones.” (I.e. to believers).

The courts and the legislature should never have been involved in this case. As a result of their involvement, we have now crossed the line into state ordered euthanasia.

This is an outrageous outcome. It is part of the slippery slope into a culture of death that was begun with legalized abortion, continued through assisted suicide in Oregon, and now court ordered “euthanasia” in Florida.

Catholic teaching sees life as good. It is a gift from God. We hold life as stewards, not masters. 

We do not have the right to take our own life and we do not have the right to take the life of another innocent person by assisted suicide or euthanasia.

However, we are not obligated to use extraordinary means to preserve life. We can refuse surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, drug therapy, etc.

 Just what is considered “extraordinary” will vary from place to place and time to time. What is ordinary in an American hospital room might be extraordinary in a refugee came in the Sudan.

However, we are always obligated not to withhold ordinary means of sustaining life which the church has defined as food, water, and air.

We do not decide what kinds of life are worth living. Innocent human life is to be preserved even when the “quality” of life appears to be low to “healthy” people.

Even people in a “persistent vegetative state” should be given life sustaining ordinary means. Once these procedures are begun, we should not terminate them unless they are burdensome to the patient, counter productive, or are useless (e.g. the patient is dying anyway).

In the Schiavo case they were clearly not useless. The kept her alive. They were not burdensome to her, nor particularly burdensome to society.  They were not counter productive.

This case puts us in a very dangerous position. We now have a case in which a judge has ordered the death of an innocent person based on “hearsay” evidence.

Terri Schiavo never signed an advanced health care directive. She never appointed a health care proxy. We do not know her true desires. All the judge had to go on was hearsay evidence from her husband that “she would not want to live this way.” That evidence was contradicted by her parents and the rest of her family.

Courts are now deciding what kind of life is worth sustaining. Maybe they will now decide that the retarded, the insane, and people with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s are not worth sustaining.

As our population ages and the cost of medical care rises this puts every sick person who cannot speak for themselves at risk.

If courts are now determining what life is worth living, God help us all.