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Terri's Brother Fights For Sister's Life |
by Margaret Zagroba | Vice President, Princeton Pro-Life
PRINCETON, New Jersey | Bobby Schindler loves his sister Terri Schiavo and
has been fighting for her life for many years. But what was equally striking
about his recent talk on March 2nd here at Princeton University
is how much he cares about the future of mankind.
Both Mr. Schindler and Professor Chris Tollefson, a visiting fellow with
the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton,
emphasized that what is at stake in Terri's case is not only her life, but
the way American law defines a human person.
Terri Schindler Schiavo is at the center of controversy in Florida as her
family fights to prevent her husband from starving her to death. A
Florida judge has ruled that Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo (who
lives with, and has had two children with another woman), is her sole guardian,
and has the legal authority to remove hydration and nutrition from Terri.
The court has ordered that Terri is no longer to be given food or water
starting at 1:00 p.m. on March 18th.
Mr. Schindler spoke at the invitation of Princeton Pro-Life and the Office
of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and shared the podium with Prof. Tollefson,
who teaches at the University of South Carolina. The talk was titled "Euthanasia,
Judicial Homicide, and Terri Schiavo."
I was deeply moved by the event. As a Roman Catholic, I was very disturbed
to hear of the apparent indifference of Mr. Schindler's local diocese, whose
has not spoken out strongly for Terri, her parents, and her brother, all of them Catholic.
I also realized the extent to which mainstream media has distorted the issue.
I had previously been under the impression that Terri was in a coma with
no hope of coming out, when in fact she shows great potential for possible
recovery if given the proper care.
As I listened, I thought of my own grandfather, who is suffering from advanced
Alzheimer's disease, and wonder if some day others will be able to decide
if people like him don't have lives that are worth living. Though
Princeton Pro-Life has typically focused on abortion, Mr. Schindler's talk
made me realize that we also need to make the campus aware of the issue
About two hundred students, faculty and visitors heard Mr. Schindler deliver
a piercing indictment of his sisters treatment at the hands of her
husband and guardian and the legal system in Florida.
"What we are witnessing is a judicial homicide, an execution at the hands
of the state," Mr. Schindler told the audience. "If Terri had committed
a capital crime, she would have more rights than she does under our current
Professor Tollefsen explained how the philosophical arguments for euthanasia
are wrong, linking support of euthanasia with a faulty understanding of
the human person.
Tollefsen, an associate professor moral philosophy at the University of
South Carolina, identified three grounds used by proponents to justify euthanasia.
First, there is the emotional appeal of seeing a person in great pain, and
the consequent desire to want to relieve their suffering. Second, there
is the fact that, unlike abortion, euthanasia is typically (though not always)
done with the patients consent. Third, people who practice euthanasia
take advantage of a faulty distinction between actively killing someone
and merely "letting them die."
Underlying all these arguments, however, is the implicit assumption that
human life is not intrinsically valuable, but is only worthy insofar as
it helps one achieve some other goal, such as happiness. This is dualistic:
it thinks of the person as wholly abstracted from the body
that he inhabits. If this dualism is true, it means the immaterial person
can do anything he wants with his body, including destroy it through euthanasia.
If, however, the person is a psychosomatic unity, then human life is an
intrinsic good, and it is always morally wrong to end an innocent human
life, even if the life is ones own.
Schindler began his presentation with a moving video chronicling Terris
life and the legal battles he and his family have faced since Terris
collapse in 1990. He related how Terris husband Michael Schiavo has
systematically neglected his wife, and refused to give her the proper medical
care she needs.
Her family must get permission from the local police before they can even
visit her. They are not permitted to bring flowers into her room, or play
her favorite music. When a priest tried to administer Holy Communion to
Terri, Mr. Schiavo reprimanded him and threatened him with arrest. Terris
family wants nothing more that to take Terri home and care for her, but
since her husband has full custody, they are powerless.
Mr. Schiavos case is based on the flimsiest of evidence. He claims
that Terri once related verbally to him that she would not want to live
if she was incapacitated and put on a feeding tube. Despite the fact that
this is hearsay, and that Terri never expressed such a wish to any of her
own family, a Florida determined that Mr. Schiavos testimony alone
was enough to send Terri to her death through the removal of her feeding
Even though Terris story is deeply powerful, Mr. Schindler did not
just dwell on his personal story, but explored the implications for society
at large. He said, "Our society has moved from a culture that values
sanctity of life to one that values quality of life."
Slowly and insidiously, the idea has crept into the American mindset that
the value of some peoples lives dont outweigh the costs, and
that these lives can be terminated at the will of another.
Mr. Schindlers story brought home the point that this case is about
far more than his sisters life, as important as her life is. Her murder
would set both a legal and a cultural precedent that human life is to be
valued for its utility rather than its intrinsic worth, and would further
establish what John Paul II has often called a "Culture of Death."
Almost everyone has a friend or relative who is either disabled, or suffering
from disorders like Alzheimers disease. Will a court be able one day
in the near future to decide whether our loved ones can live or diedespite
our beliefs and wishes?
The audience was clearly deeply moved by Mr. Schindlers story, and
one of the first questions asked after the talk was, "How can we help
Terris cause?" Mr. Schindler encouraged us to contact our congressional
representatives and lawmakers, and expressed gratitude for the recent outpouring
of support for his cause, coming recently from even the Vatican itself.
Currently the date set for removal of Terris feeding tube is March
18, and the Schindler family has six legal appeals pending in a final attempt
to save her. There is legislation pending in both Congress and the Florida
State legislature that would be able to save Terri, if they are passed in
The entire evening was a compelling witness for the pro-life cause. Mr.
Schindler presented a powerful emotional appeal. Mr. Tollefsen reminded
the audience, however, that the emotional objections to euthanasia are insufficient,
but that euthanasia must and can be shown to be wrong on a completely rational
and rigorous philosophical level. He also noted that many pro-lifers are
far more passionate about ending abortion than euthanasia, but that it is
essential for our cause to defend human life at all stages, including at
the end of life.
Audience members left with a clearer understanding of the moral objections
to euthanasia, a better knowledge of the Schiavo case, which has often been
distorted by a biased media, and renewed awareness of the importance of
defending human life, especially of the most innocent and defenseless.
Photo link: Bobby
Schindler speaks about his family's battle to save his sister.
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