Letters to the Editor

Susan Torres’ Passion

Marge Fenelon's otherwise sympathetic article “Virginia Catholic Kept Alive for Baby” (July 3-9) unfortunately used vocabulary that undercuts respect for life. It called Susan Torres, the pregnant mother, “brain dead.”

Dr. Paul Byrne, physician, author and professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Ohio, writes that there is no standard set of criteria for “brain death,” and that some “sets of criteria for ‘brain death’ do not even require an electroencephalogram (EEG, a recording of electrical activity from the surface of the brain) — an omission that could result in a patient with cortical activity (memory, feelings, emotion, etc.) being declared ‘dead’” (Euthanasia: Imposed Death, Human Life Alliance advertising supplement).

Justin Torres, Jason's brother and the spokesman for the family, was confused as well. He was quoted in the Register article: “If [Susan] were here, she would tell us to do exactly what we're doing.” I applaud him for his fidelity to Susan and her baby. But he said, “If Susan were here.” With her living, breathing body right there, Susan was there, body and soul!

Another inaccuracy: Ethicist Edward Furton of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia is quoted as saying, “No one has ever recovered from brain death.”

However, the aforementioned advertising supplement, Euthanasia: Imposed Death, contains the following item from Isani County [Minn.] News, Jan. 7, 1988: “The family of a 14-year-old girl was told she was ‘essentially brain dead’ and were asked to donate her organs. Two months later she was taken off life-support, learning to walk and teasing her sisters.”

Finally, according to the Register article, Susan's physician said, “We're doing her breathing for her.” However, as Dr. Paul Byrne states regarding ventilators, “It is the person, not the machine, who breathes.”

I thank God for the Torres family's heroic witness to the sanctity of life.


Fremont, California

NCBC Responds

The National Catholic Bioethics Center does not know all the medical facts of the case, but it is certain that Susan Torres was not “brain dead” at the time of her collapse and during the time she was kept on life support to allow for the further gestation of her baby. “Brain death” is a shorthand way in which reference is made to neurological criteria for determining death rather than the more common cardio-pulmonary criteria. In the past, one was declared dead after the cessation of breathing and heartbeat inevitably led to the deterioration of the brain and the impossibility of resuscitation. Modern medical science has found ways to prolong the dying process or even to keep certain systems of the body functioning using external mechanical support after the person has died.

For many years now, medical science has been able to determine, using a variety of tests, whether or not the brain has died, thus signaling the death of the person. The Catholic Church has accepted the legitimacy of neurological criteria for determining death when they are rigorously applied and they show death of the total brain. As Pope John Paul II said in August of 2000: “It is a well known fact that for some time certain scientific approaches to ascertaining death have shifted the emphasis from the traditional cardio-pulmonary signs to the so-called ‘neurological’ criteria. Specifically, this consists in establishing, according to clearly defined parameters commonly held by the international scientific community, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and the brain stem). This is then considered the sign that the individual organism has lost its integrative capacity.”

The Holy Father went on to say: “With regard to the parameters used today for ascertaining death — whether the ‘encephalic’ signs or the more traditional cardio-respiratory signs — the Church does not make technical decisions. … Here it can be said that the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

Susan Torres was certainly never declared dead using neurological criteria. Otherwise she could not have “died” after life support was removed. She already would have been dead. It was reported that Susan Torres received the final sacraments by a priest after being taken off life support after the baby had been delivered. The Church does not allow sacraments to be administered to a corpse; they can only be administered to a living person.

Susan Torres was certainly severely neurologically compromised because of her cancer, with no hope of ever recovering or even gaining consciousness. Her life was prolonged by using extraordinary means, which are morally permitted but not morally obligatory. In a show of family fortitude, the decision was made to use these extraordinary means of prolonging her life so that the child she and her husband so desperately wanted could be delivered.

What we are faced with here is a use of terminology by the communications media which was simply inaccurate. The arguments for or against the legitimacy of using neurological criteria for determining death are simply out of place here since the woman was still living. We all rejoice in the birth of her child and we pray for the happy repose of her soul.


President National Catholic Bioethics Center


Soft on Militant Islam?

Regarding “Blaming Islam” (Editorial, July 24-Aug 6):

I certainly do agree with your conclusion. “A vibrant, Christian culture of faith and life can prevail against an extremist religious onslaught” and “a re-Christianized West is our strongest defense against Islamic extremism.” For those who wonder what they can do in these troubled times, your suggestions are right on.

However, I must admit that I struggle with the muddled logic of the majority of your editorial and what you expect your readers to think if they're not supposed to admit the obvious — that is, Islam is a huge problem.

Before I got to your conclusion, I was sitting there shaking my head thinking, “Does this writer read his/her own newspaper? Did he not see the front-page article on the June 26-July 2 issue titled “Crackdown: In Saudi Arabia It's a Crime to Be Christian”? By bending over backwards to not blame Islam, are we being charitable to a fault?

I am a firm believer that the Berlin wall came down because of the fervent prayers of Pope John Paul II and millions of other faithful believers. However, on the secular side of the equation, was the battle won by making sure we “didn't blame communism?” Or was the win precipitated because a leader named Ronald Reagan had the vision to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and the courage to say in front of the entire world, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”


Altamonte Springs, Florida

Editor's Reply: We agree; it would be naïve to ignore the Islamic connection of terrorists — as Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald pointed out in his recent Inperson interview.

But it would be unfair not to notice something else.

What many of the Sept. 11 hijackers and the London bombers had in common were affluent backgrounds in Muslim families that live Western lifestyles, and rather recent conversions to a highly politicized Islamic extremism. Their terrorist acts were acts of nihilism and anarchy that were a break from the way their Muslim parents brought them up.

Shortly before becoming Pope Benedict, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made much the same point. He described modern secular Europe's distorted understanding of freedom, and explained how it led to many social evils. “In the end, terrorism is also based on this” distorted freedom, he said, “and not on the teachings of the Koran.”

Catholic Radio on a Roll

Thank you for your article “Invasion of the Podcasters” (July 17-23). I applaud the efforts of Disciples with Microphones in using this new and exciting form of on-demand media to evangelize and provide content for radio and other forms of media. With a vast population that varies greatly in age, tastes, experiences, culture and levels of faith, we must use every means possible to spread our faith.

I was a little surprised, however, to see the use of the term “reform” in a letter to the editor (“God on the Pod,” Aug. 7-13) citing Carlos Briceno's commentary on Catholic radio last year in the Register.

The use of the term “reform” suggests that Catholic radio has been getting it wrong until now. Yet one has only to ask a local station manager about the letters they receive from listeners to know that, for years, it has provided an important avenue to learn about our faith and brought thousands to a new relationship with Christ and his Church.

In our world of immediate gratification, it's easy to forget that the field of Catholic radio is really still quite young and, like many fields that have come before it, new formats will naturally develop, while those that have been around for awhile will continue to remain very strong. This is already happening, but as long as the Catholic Church consists of many different types of people, there will always be a place for the different and equally wonderful formats of Catholic radio — even those that may not match our own personal tastes, disseminating the same Orthodox Catholic faith.


Catholic Media & Communications Consulting

Omaha, Nebraska

Correction and Amplification

In our Aug. 14-20 story “Why We Quit Contracepting,” we incorrectly reported that Dr. Mike Moell of Dayton, Ohio, used to prescribe contraception to young girls. In fact, Dr. Moell left his practice because of his opposition to prescribing contraception. We regret the error, and appreciate the Moells’ writing us to set the record straight. Here's what they said:

“Each of our first three pregnancies (prior to our conversion to the Church's teaching and NFP) were ‘planned’ and greatly desired. The problem was that we thought we were in charge of the plan. It was with the conception of our fourth child, conceived when we were really trying not to get pregnant, that we began to realize that God was really in charge of the plan. This realization gave us great peace. …

“We have been blessed with eight children all together [so far]: two in heaven. We have five sons and one daughter. We like to say that we are trying to do our part to help alleviate the priest shortage! Your readers’ prayers for our family would be greatly appreciated.”