Rebuilding a culture of life: In memoriam

Posted: Apr 06, 2005 12:00 AM

  "Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can ... come to recognize ... the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded ? "
On Friday, March 18, at about 1:45 p.m., Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. So began the state-sanctioned killing of a 41-year-old brain-damaged woman. At the insistence of her husband, Michael, Terri Schiavo was slowly starved to death. "She has verbally expressed her wishes to me and other people," Michael told ABC's "Nightline." Michael, who since Terri's heart attack has sired two children by another woman, insisted that the procedure would be painless. "Terri will not be starved to death. Her nutrition and hydration will be taken away ? Death through removing somebody's nutrition is very painless." Terri's parents, believing Catholics, sat helpless beside Terri's bed as the tube was removed.

  "Such attacks strike human life at the time of its greatest frailty, when it lacks any means of self-defense. Even more serious is the fact that, most often, those attacks are carried out in the very heart of and with the complicity of the family -- the family which by its nature is called to be the 'sanctuary of life' ? "

  "What they're doing is, they're making the decisions for us," Michael indignantly explained to ABC. "That's what this country is coming down to. They're going to make the decisions for us ? Big Brother is going to do that." According to Michael, it was his right to make the decision for Terri, without any proof beyond his word that his wife would have wanted to die. "I still have a big commitment to Terri," Michael stated. "I made her a promise." Michael made another promise, before God, on the day of his wedding: "Until death do us part." The same God ordered: "Thou shalt not murder."

  "[A] new cultural climate is developing and taking hold ... broad sectors of public opinion justify certain crimes against life in the name of the rights of individual freedom ... "

  "She may be in a vegetative state, but her dignity requires that we honor her rights and that's what this case is about now. Everyone's constitutional rights are at stake," insisted Michael's attorney, George Felos. "That's not what this country is about. That's not what individual liberty is about."

  "[T]his reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable 'culture of death' ? A person who, because of illness, handicap, or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of 'conspiracy against life' is unleashed."

 Michael's fight to starve Terri continued, even though he admitted that he had "moved on with a portion" of his life -- the portion that pertained to marriage and children. As Thomas Sowell put it, "Terri Schiavo is being killed because she is inconvenient to her husband and because she is inconvenient to those who do not want the idea of the sanctity of life to be strengthened and become an impediment to abortion."

  "In giving life to man, God demands that he love, respect and promote life. The gift thus becomes a commandment, and the commandment is itself a gift."

  "It felt like some peace was happening for Terri," Michael Schiavo told NBC's "Today" on March 19. "And I felt like she was finally going to get what she wants, and be at peace and be with the Lord." Meanwhile, caregivers were prohibited from giving Terri either ice chips or lip balm to ease the symptoms of dehydration.

  "And yet all the conditioning and efforts to enforce silence fail to stifle the voice of the Lord echoing in the conscience of every individual: it is always from this intimate sanctuary of the conscience that a new journey of love, openness and service to human life can begin."

On Thursday, March 31, after nearly two weeks of starvation, Terri Schiavo died. Her parents, who had been barred from her deathbed by Michael, were finally allowed to pray with the body. President George W. Bush offered a ray of hope: "I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others."

  "Man has been given a sublime dignity, based on the intimate bond which unites him to his Creator: in man there shines forth a reflection of God Himself." -- Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life