The Vatican Steps In | March 8, 2005

The Vatican Steps In | Valerie Schmalz | March 8, 2005


In an unusual foray into American politics and law, a highly placed Vatican cardinal issued a second statement in two weeks in defense of the life of Terri Schiavo, saying "How can anyone who claims to speak of the promotion and protection of human rights–of human life–remain silent?"

In reaction, a prominent Catholic pro-life figure said that Cardinal Renato Martino’s second statement should prod the U.S. bishops to do more to try to save the life of the disabled Florida woman who faces a March 18th date to have her feeding tube removed.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome, said in a March 7th statement distributed via Virginia-based Human Life International:

"Without the tube, which is providing life-giving hydration and nutrition, Terri Schiavo will die. But it is not that simple. She will die a horrible and cruel death. She will not simply die; she will have death inflicted upon her over a number of terrible days, even weeks. How can anyone who claims to speak of the promotion and protection of human rights--of human life--remain silent? Is this not a question of the right to life? I believe that I must speak out about this in the same way that I would speak of the protection of the unborn and just as I would concerning any injustice."

Cardinal Martino first spoke out in February, saying, "If Mr. Schiavo succeeds in legally causing the death of his wife, this not only would be tragic in itself, but it would be a grave step toward the legal approval of euthanasia in the United States."

In this March 7th statement, Cardinal Martino speaks with great passion in defense of the life of Terri Schiavo, saying even animals receive more protection under the law than Ms. Schiavo is receiving.

Terri Schiavo collapsed in 1990 at age 26 and suffered brain damage but her parents say she continues to interact with them. A Florida judge set a March 18th date to remove her feeding tube, at the request of her husband and legal guardian Michael Schiavo who has been trying to get the tube removed for seven years. Terri Schiavo’s parents and siblings have continued to fight for her life and to have Michael Schiavo, who is living with another woman with whom he has two children, removed as guardian. A number of legislative and legal actions are underway at the state and federal level and the eight-member Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops last week issued a statement in support of Terri Schiavo’s life.

The U.S. bishops have so far remained silent.

However, Terri Schiavo’s own bishop, Tampa-St. Petersburg Bishop Robert Lynch has garnered criticism for his approach, saying in a statement issued Feb. 28th, "At the end of the day (the judicial, legislative days) the decision to remove Terri’s artificial feeding tube will be that of her husband, Michael," even as the Schindlers continue to fight to remove him as guardian. Lynch called for mediation at the "end of life" when Terri Schiavo’s parents Bob and Mary Schindler and medical opinion is clear that Schiavo is disabled not terminal. In addition, Lynch describes the Schindlers’ fight for their daughter’s life as something within a family and describes the struggle as "the seeming intractablity of both sides."

Austin Ruse, president of the Culture of Life Foundation sent an e-mail from Rome March 8th to IgnatiusInsight.com, saying: "Of sourse, Cardinal Martino is correct and his strong statement in defense of Terri Schiavo's life stands as a rallying cry for Catholics everywhere. We look for this kind of statement from the American Bishops."

Pope John Paul II declared in March 2004 that removing a feeding tube is "euthanasia by omission" even in the case of patients judged to be in a "persistent vegetative state."

The March 7th statement by Cardinal Martino was sent via e-mail from Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro Carámbula, director of the office of Human Life International in Rome and confirmed in an e-mail from Msgr. James M. Reinert of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to Ignatius Press President Mark Brumley.

Msgr. Barreiro writes in his March 7th e-mail to Human Life International in Virginia: "In our unflagging struggle to defend the life of Terry Schiavo this an important and very encouraging document that should receive the most ample possible distribution.

Today as we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas (1962 calendar) I am imploring the Angelical Doctor to came to our assistance and protect the life of Terri Schiavo."

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Statement of Cardinal Renato Martino,
President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace


Vatican City

7 March 2005

The courts have ruled again and again. Unfortunately, the deadline for the removal of the tube delivering food and water to Terri Schiavo is quickly approaching. I am sorry to have to use the word "deadline" but this is the most accurate way to describe what will happen. Without the tube, which is providing life-giving hydration and nutrition, Terri Schiavo will die. But it is not that simple. She will die a horrible and cruel death. She will not simply die; she will have death inflicted upon her over a number of terrible days, even weeks. How can anyone who claims to speak of the promotion and protection of human rights--of human life--remain silent? Is this not a question of the right to life? I believe that I must speak out about this in the same way that I would speak of the protection of the unborn and just as I would concerning any injustice.

Has due process in this case been truly served? Have all options been employed? Where is love? Where is human compassion? No one would ever wish to witness the suffering of another, especially a loved one. And I am sure that no one could ever choose to witness suffering or a cruel death being inflicted upon another, especially one who is loved. How then have we come to this point?

If it is true that the process has been fair, and that all legal avenues have been exhausted, how is it that this woman, who has done nothing wrong, will suffer a fate which society would never tolerate in the case of a convicted murderer, or anyone else convicted of the most horrendous crimes? Again, it is an issue of human rights. It is an issue of the right to life, and as I stated earlier, no one can be the arbiter of life except God himself!

The State of Florida has many laws on its books which protect animals, whether they be household pets, domesticated farm animals or animals destined for slaughter. (And please pardon me as I make this analogy. I am not comparing Terri to an animal. I only want to show the protection that the courts afford to animals in the State of Florida.) These laws "prohibit[s] anyone from intentionally committing an act to any animal which results in cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering" (828.12). It is also unlawful to keep an animal in a place while failing to supply "a sufficient quantity of good and wholesome food and water"(828.13).

Are these laws not enforced by the same courts, are these not the same laws established by lawmakers in order to protect other creatures of God?

However, in just a few days, (if her husband and the courts have their way), this is exactly what will happen to Terri. She will be completely deprived of water and food. She will have excessive suffering and pain inflicted upon her, which will lead to her cruel death. Yet we have come to the point of asking whether due process been fully carried out and all options exhausted on behalf of Terri? This is unbelievable! Is it not sufficient enough to say that there are still questions that must be answered? We plead; we make the urgent appeal for the life of a helpless human being...a person with whom we all share our God given human dignity. How can anyone say that her best interests have been taken into consideration?

In his Message for the Eleventh World Day of the Sick (11 February 2003) His Holiness Pope John Paul II stated: "And while palliative treatment in the final stage of life can be encouraged, avoiding a "treatment at all costs" mentality, it will never be permissible to resort to actions or omissions which by their nature or in the intention of the person acting are designed to bring about death."

Palliative care, by its definition is the alleviation of suffering and relieving pain. In the last stage of life, it is this care for which we all must hope because, if the feeding tube is removed and Terri is forced to die this slow, terrible, painful death, we must ask ourselves, "And who will be next?" Will this open the door for a state to decide whether this or that incapacitated person should die...not be allowed to die a dignified death but that they should have death inflicted upon them?

It must stop here and now. The courts, the judges and everyone involved with this must understand that all of the questions involved in the case of Terri Schiavo have not yet been answered. Society must realize that we can never inflict this sort of death on a human being, on any other creature, without each and every one of us and society as a whole suffering a terrible fate.

Related Links:

BlogsForTerri.com
ProLifeBlogs.com
• John Paul II on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas"
The Case of Terri Schiavo: When Does Dignity End? | By Fr. Michael Black
The Battle Over Terri | Valerie Schmalz
DCF's Schiavo Petition Unsealed | The Tampa Tribune (Friday, March 4, 2005)


Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.



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