Doesn't This Just Kill You?
What You Don't Know about Church
Teaching Can Kill
The United States of America is a
nation of law. As a dad, that's something I'm proud to be able to tell
my children. However, there's a problem. When it comes to human life,
what's illegal and what's evil aren't always the same thing. This year's
news shows how far American law can be trusted to support a culture of
In February, a little girl named
Jessica Lunsford was snatched from her Florida home, molested, and
killed. It looks like she was killed by a drug abuser and convicted and
released sex offender. Legally, there had been no reason to keep him
In March, Jetseta Gage, a little girl
who lived in Iowa, was kidnapped, molested, and killed: apparently by
another beneficiary of our legal system's catch-and-release program for
convicted sex offenders.
On March 31, back in Florida, a woman
named Terri Schiavo was killed because her husband said that she would
like to die.
The first two incidents are being
treated as crimes, the third was perfectly legal.
About the nicest thing I can say about
American law, the way it is applied these days, is that it can get very
confused. My wife prefers "topsy-turvy."
Odd law isn't our only problem. Too
many people seem to have confused ideas about what is and is not
important when it comes to human life.
One reason I joined the Catholic Church
is that while the rules may not be convenient, they do respect life. And,
they make sense. In an era when it looks like the lunatics are running
the asylum, the church's teachings (and common sense) can be a
Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II
both died during the week between Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday. Both
deaths were very much in the news. One did not offend the principles of
the Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
(1994) is pretty clear on how to treat people who aren't living
quality lifestyles. "Those whose lives are diminished or weakened
deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to
lead lives as normal as possible." (2276) No matter what noble motive we
have, killing someone who is handicapped, sick, or dying "is morally
The Catechism's next statement reads,
"Thus an act or omission which, or itself or by intention, causes death
in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to
the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living
God, his Creator." (2277)
It is okay to stop medical procedures
that are "burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate" —
as long as the reason is to accept what happens. It is not okay to stop
medical procedures so that the patient will die. (2278)
Still don't get it? The Catechism's
next paragraph starts, "even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary
care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted." (2279)
The paragraph spells out that painkillers are okay, as long as the idea
in using them isn't to kill the patient.
That's what the Catholic Church says.
American law says it's okay to starve your wife to death, as long as you
say she said something about not wanting to live. The trick is not to
say "starve to death," but say "withhold hydration and nutrition."
Cardinal William H. Keeler, chairman of
the U.S. Bishops. Committee for Pro-Life Activities, said this about the
justice of starving one's wife: "Her serious disabilities make her no
less a child of God. She deserves no less than human care and the
respect due every human being. She is not in a coma, she is not on 'life
support.. She needs only basic care and assistance in obtaining food and
water. When her feeding tube was removed last week it ensured that death
will follow, for none of us can sustain our lives without such
As for Terri Schiavo being a
"vegetable," another "vegetable" with no official hope of
recovery has a great deal to say about death by starvation. Kate Adamson
had an acatastrophic brainstem stroke in 1995. She was 33, totally
paralyzed and unable to communicate. Doctors said she was a "vegetable"
and couldn't recover. Kate's husband, unlike Terri's, insisted that Kate
get rehabilitation therapy. And food.
She was conscious, She could see, hear
and feel, but couldn't move or talk. In a CNA interview, Kate said, "I
have a unique understanding of what Terri is feeling. I could feel
everything that the doctors did to me, and I could do nothing. I was at
the complete mercy of others, and they couldn't hear me,"
Kate recovered, with some paralysis on
her left side. The mother of two became an advocate for people with
disabilities. While Terri Schiavo was alive, Kate said, "I pray that God
will soften hearts to see the woman (Terri) lying there and see someone
who deserves a chance at life, even if she doesn't respond the way we
want her to respond…. I'm praying the judge's heart will be softened."
American courts, all the way to the US Supreme
Court, didn't waver in their support of Mike Schiavo's right to kill his
wife, although there were dissenting opinions.
Starving to death was supposed to be
'euphoric. for Terri. Oddly, when I did some checking on the Web,
starving to death is described as being quite unpleasant for people
suffering from anorexia. The only time it wasn't supposed to be an agonizing, lingering
death was when the starvee was Terri Schiavo.
While writing this article, I discussed
the situation with my wife. She pointed out that although nobody in
their right mind would want to become disabled and be dependent on feeding tubes, it's a different matter when that's the only way to stay alive.
I'll admit that both of us are biased.
We're Catholic, and take Church teaching seriously. We also think that
there's a difference between what we'd like to experience, and what we
can put up with.
Several years ago, for example, I didn't want to
have my digestive system taken out of service. I enjoy eating. But
because my bowels were in urgent need of repair, I had to choose between
hospitalization, surgery, and the possibility of permanently losing some
fairly important body functions, or dying.
For me, that decision was what has been called
There was some inconvenience, of course. Because my intestines weren't working, I couldn't even
have a feeding tube. For quite a while, everything I "ate" came in through an IV.
I hope something like that doesn't happen again, but
if it does, I'm counting on my nearest and dearest to have tubes stuck
back into me, and not drop me off at the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas
Park, Florida, for disposal.
Nobody in their right mind would want
to get 'fed. with an IV, or even a feeding tube, but even I can put up with it: and
I think most people could, when the choice between that and death was
the choice of the day.
Starving someone to death without
making it sound too bad involves tricks with words, like saying "withhold hydration and nutrition"
instead of "don't give the old coot water or food." "Hydration and
nutrition" sound scientific, and technical, and artificial: not real,
But think about it: just about everything we do is artificial. We
refrigerate, freeze, pickle, salt, and cook food. And how many of us
haven't artificially administered food with a spoon or a straw, instead
of being natural and using our fingers?
And when it comes to killing people who
don't have lives worth living (in someone else's opinion, at least), why stop at
withholding hydration and nutrition?
If we're in a hurry, we could
withhold respiration. We could say, "oops!" and push a pillow into our
loved one's face, withholding respiration.
It wouldn't be necessary to be so crude
in places like Minnesota, at least not during the winter. Just wheel granny outside,
leave her there a day or so, and the job is done.
If that sounds ridiculous, think about
what happened to Terri Schiavo, and what may be happening to the
thousands of people who are disabled, unable to speak, and in somebody's
We could use a legal system that makes
sense, but we really need to understand what the Church actually teaches
about human life, and the difference between the way we'd like to live,
and the way we'll settle for.
(Terri Schiavo's trouble was discussed
in the November 2003 Sauk Centre K of C Bulletin article,
I Could Just
Catholic News Agency,
Catholic World News,
and other sources.)
Mr. Schaivo Weds Again
January 22, 2006: The Associated Press
reported that Michael Schiavo married
Jodi Centonze. These two obviously like
each other, since they had two kids while Terri was hospitalized.
For her sake, considering how Mr.
Schiavo acted the last time his wife became bedridden, I hope that Jodi
remains healthy, active and attractive for many years to come.
And, for all our sakes, I hope that
more folks in this country can learn that it's not nice, or right, to
starve others to death.
Brian H. Gill
Brian H. Gill, Editor,
Sauk Centre K of C Bulletin