ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — During the last days of Terri Schiavo’s life, her family and supporters feverishly tried to prevent her from being starved and dehydrated to death.
The brain-damaged Florida woman was the subject of a bitter battle between her husband, who pushed to end her life, and her family, who wished to care for her. Her family’s efforts to save her ultimately proved futile: She died on March 31, 2005.
Four years after her death, Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and Father Thomas Euteneuer of Human Life International will concelebrate a Mass at Ave Maria University in Florida in her memory. It is part of the second annual “Terri’s Day,” also known as the International Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Terri Schindler Schiavo and All Our Vulnerable Brothers and Sisters.
The day was established by the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation and Priests for Life.
“This issue did not die with my sister, Terri,” said Bobby Schindler, director of the foundation. “There are tens of thousands of people in similar conditions who are in jeopardy of being killed like her in our country and worldwide.”
Indeed, a high-profile case in Italy was compared to the Schindler family’s plight of four years ago. Beppino Englaro, the father of Eluana Englaro, a 38-year-old Italian woman who was in a persistent vegetative state for years, fought to remove her feeding tube to cause her death. The resulting legal battle culminated with Italy’s top court late last year awarding Englaro the right to disconnect his daughter from life support. Among those protesting was the Church.
Eluana lost her life Feb. 9.
During the debate, Italians checked out the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation website.
“It tracks people from all over the world, and, other than America, Italy was getting the most hits,” Bobby Schindler said.
He said several Canadians supported Terri’s Day last year, and he expected the same this year.
“There are some people up there that I’ve been in contact with, and I know they will be doing some things” on March 31, he said.
The Church’s teaching on the matter is clear. According to the Catechism, “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable” (No. 2277).
Wesley Smith, a senior fellow in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute, said the Schiavo case made many people aware for the first time that people could be legally dehydrated to death if they had a severe cognitive disability. After Terri’s death, he said, “Due to many factors, particularly media bias, [there] has been a general shrugging of the shoulders, with more people now willing to countenance doing to a vulnerable human what would cause utter and justified outrage if it were done to a dog.”
Futile Care Theory
Smith added that people are being dehydrated to death all the time throughout the country, but the public does not hear about it unless the family objects. He pointed to two recent cases — Jesse Ramirez and Haleigh Poutre — both of whom were supposed to be dehydrated to death, but because of delays, eventually regained consciousness.
Another threat on the horizon, Smith said, is the “futile care theory.” He defined that as when doctors and bioethicists will be given the right to refuse desired life-sustaining treatment based on resources or quality of life. “It is already legal in Texas,” Smith said.
Since Terri’s death, two states, Washington and Montana, allow people the option of medically assisted suicide. Hawaii, New Hampshire and Connecticut are considering similar measures.
Bobby Schindler said his foundation has been set up to help families deal with situations similar to what his went through during their battle to save his sister’s life. Since it was founded in 2001, the foundation has received more than 500 phone calls regarding cases involving end-of-life issues, he said.
Father Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said it’s important to have a pro-life network of clergy, attorneys and physicians, such as what Terri’s foundation offers, who can help others. He equated it to the network of crisis-pregnancy centers that developed in the fight against abortion.
It’s important, he said, because, as the population grows older, with fewer younger people to take care of them because of contraception and abortions, “we end up having a greater temptation as a society to resort to euthanasia, and we are going to see more battles, state-by-state, to legalize in some way, shape or form some kind of euthanasia and assisted suicide,” Father Pavone said.
One of the ways to counteract this culture of death is not only to protest the unjust laws, but also to evangelize, said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director of policy and communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat. The aim should be to follow Jesus’ call to love the one who has been placed in your path and have less fear and more faith in God, she said.
“If people fear death and have no hope in facing it, it makes sense that they would want to control it,” she said. “But if they know that they are fundamentally loved and that they have a destiny with God, if they accept that, then death is not scary.”
She added that no one wants to see loved ones suffer unduly, and it’s important to provide loving care and treatment for pain. But that does not mean euthanasia or assisted suicide.
“Kill the pain,” she said, “not the patient.”
Carlos Briceño writes from