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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 life.

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 locked up.

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 life-saver.

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 unacceptable." (2277)

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 nourishment."

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 a 'no-brainer..

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, somehow.

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 way.

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 Die!)

(Facts from Catholic News Agency, Catholic World News, EWTN, Fox News, ZENIT, 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

April 2005

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This page last updated December 19, 2010