Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Ten years after Terri Schiavo was ordered to be made dead by the state, there remains an open wound that is only festering as the state continues to become the servant of the powerful in an expanding arena of war by the strong against the weak.
Propagandists tell us that "extraordinary medical treatment" was withdrawn so that she could "die with dignity". Pardon me while I pause from writing this to receive some "medical treatment" from my kitchen in the form of a glass of a glass of tap water and a sandwich from the fridge. Food and drink are not "medical treatment" but basic human rights. What was denied Terri Schiavo was nothing extraordinary, but simply a drink of water. She was, to put it plainly, sentenced to death by thirst for the crime of being weak and expensive and inconvenient.
Ten years down the line we are now living in world that is putting increasing pressure on the weak to die and get out of the way for the strong. Capitalizing on its success in killing the unborn weak, our culture has expanded to killing the weak at the end of life as well, whether involuntarily (as with Schiavo) or by pressure to die via legalized euthanasia. The rush to embrace death as the first solution to dealing with troublesome lives that bother the powerful has become a hallmark of our culture.
To its everlasting credit, the prolife movement in the US has staunchly stood athwart this love of death and called "Halt!" It has fought for forty long years (longer in some Catholic circles) against the Culture of Death, tirelessly arguing for the unborn and the elderly, the sick and the "useless" and pointing out that our dignity comes not from our utility, but from God. God alone knows how many lives the prolife movement has saved and may God be praised for it. The men and women of the prolife movement are heroes.
At the same time, we still have work to do in overcoming the Culture of Death as it elaborates and throws out tentacles like a cancer. When CEO's of giant corporations try say to us what the state of Florida said to Schiavo--that water is not a human right--we are increasingly in danger of the global poor facing what Schiavo faced: murder by the powerful for the sake of the almighty dollar. When we move from Progressives saying that the ends justify the means and that we can deliberately kill the innocent for the greater good in Schiavo's.case, to conservatives saying exactly the same thing in the case of the war on terror, all we are really looking at is an elaboration of the culture of death. When somebody rightly condemns the act of "putting Schiavo out of her misery" while clamoring (against the clear teaching of the Church) to euthanize prisoners with the death penalty, he defeats himself instead of sounding a certain trumpet.
As has often been said, euthanasia is one of the non-negotiable aspects of Catholic moral teaching. Along with things like abortion and embryonic stem cell research, the Church's opposition is founded on the granite moral fact that you cannot deliberately kill innocent human life. The point of that prohibition is not "Therefore, spend your time trying to figure out when you do get to kill somebody." It is rather, the clarion annoucement that made-in-the-image-of-God human life is precious--so precious that God sent His only begotten Son to save each person from the sinless Virgin Mary right down to a miserable sinner like Han Frank, the Nazi Gauleiter of Poland who, having made his confession, was forgiven the slaughter of four million people by the crucified One who bore his--even his--sins.
Terri Schiavo is, in the end, a murder victim like the countless others who have been and will be murdered in Hell's eternal war on the weak. Jesus is the king who marches at the head of the vast host of martyrs, murder victims, and the weak whom the strong of this world tread down like dirt. We are to fight for them and we will, sometimes, win for them. But win or lose, we are to fight with the weapons of the Spirit, not of this world. For Jesus assures us both in his preaching and in his Resurrection that all justice, all righteousness, and all happiness will be fulfilled on That Day when the Risen One comes in glory to judge the living and the dead. Till then, let us listen to and obey the full counsel of his Church and work for the Culture of Life in every respect. We overcome the prince of this world, not by imitating him, but by imitating Jesus, whom he crucified:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Re 12:7–12).