We Won’t Forget

Catholics were distracted in April.

When we first went to press with this editorial, cardinals were meeting in conclave to elect the next Pope. We reprint it here because we think its topic is perhaps the most important domestic policy development in 2005.

The deaths of Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo are not unrelated. When Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed on March 18, the Pope’s illness was already in the headlines.

The world watched two people standing on death’s door a week later during the Easter Triduum. One, Pope John Paul II, was getting sicker and sicker, struggling to speak to his flock. The other, Terri Schiavo, was so healthy that she survived starvation and dehydration for nearly two weeks. Each received the Eucharist as a last meal. Catholic crowds gathered outside the windows of each to pray.

The difference was that doctors were on hand to help the Pope — and local police were on hand to arrest anyone, even children, who dared help Terri.

Terri’s death was quickly overshadowed by the Pope’s. There was only a muted Catholic outcry. Our attention was diverted.

But elected officials in Florida and in Washington need to know this: Catholics will not forget Terri Schiavo.

We know well that Terri wasn’t a woman on death’s door being kept alive by machines. Terri was being kept alive by food and water, just like each of us. She was a healthy, albeit brain-damaged, woman who was alert and responsive to her loved ones.

And this wasn’t a question of a husband’s right to make a tough decision. The man who wanted her dead had married her years ago, yes, but now lives with another woman — with whom he has fathered children and who is often called his “common-law wife.”

Michael Schiavo’s lawyer wasn’t simply an advocate for a man in a difficult situation. He was a right-to-die activist looking for a case he could use to change the law. He didn’t help a client solve a thorny problem that the family couldn’t solve. He got a judge to starve a woman whose doting parents wanted to take care of.

No, we won’t forget Terri. We won’t forget the Holy Week we spent meditating on Christ’s death and hers, together.

We won’t forget that our beloved Pope John Paul II’s dying wish for America was that we save Terri, and that the last thing he heard about us on earth was that we refused.

When Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed legislation to save Terri, we rejoiced — but what we remember now is the disappointment we felt when the state of Florida did nothing to enforce its own law.

When a midnight session of Congress sent legislation to President Bush to save Terri, he signed it in his pajamas. But what we remember is the deep frustration we felt as Congress allowed its action to be ignored.

“Congress” isn’t another word for “government officials in Washington.” It’s another word for “our representatives.” It’s another word for “the people.” When courts do dangerous things, we have only one recourse: our representatives.

When our representatives in Washington pushed to save Terri’s life, they did the right thing. But when they refused to see their effort through, they didn’t just do the wrong thing. They made matters worse.

Terri Schiavo’s death has been called the Roe v. Wade of euthanasia. With this decision, the courts have set a new standard: Not only can “health care” workers allow you to die, they can kill you, too.

And it isn’t merely a rogue court decision any more. Now it’s a rogue court decision that was given tacit approval by We the People, through our representatives. They said it was wrong to kill Terri and ordered that she should be spared, but then allowed the courts to kill her anyway.

Our representatives had beautiful words to say about Pope John Paul II’s death. Why didn’t they say them about Terri Schiavo’s starvation?

Think of what the president said about John Paul, and imagine he had said these words at a special press conference about Terri.  We have an “obligation to build a culture of life in which the strong protect the weak,” he said. Human life’s “witness was made even more powerful by daily courage in the face of illness and great suffering.”

Bush reminded us that the Pope praised America’s “‘providential’ Constitution, the self-evident truths about human dignity in our Declaration, and the ‘blessings of liberty’ that follow from them.”

It’s up to us to remind our representatives the other thing that Pope John Paul II said about America:

If we won’t defend life, our founding principles are meaningless.