Killing Schiavo Threatens Religious Freedom in U.S.

NewsMax | February 23, 2005
By Phil Brennan

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the rights of all Americans to freely practice their religion, yet in Florida today, a young disabled woman, Terri Schiavo, is about to be deprived of that right, and her very life as well.

An appeals court ruled that Terri's husband Michael was entitled to disconnect the feeding tubes keeping her alive yesterday but Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer issued an emergency stay about an hour later blocking removal of the feeding tube until 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. Greer, who has consistently sided with Michael Schiavo, scheduled a hearing on the case today.

"The family is profoundly grateful," David Gibbs III, an attorney for Terri Schiavo's parents Bob and Mary Schindler told reporters. "They believed God answered their prayers. Their daughter is alive another day."

The Schindlers said they sought the stay in hopes of keeping their daughter alive long enough for them to file additional legal pleadings.

They are trying to oust their son-in-law as her guardian and are seeking medical tests which might back their assertion that their daughter is mentally alert.

Terri Schiavo is a devout Roman Catholic. Her religion forbids her to consent to what amounts to assisted suicide.

Catholics believe that food and water provided to an invalid person are not extraordinary means. Denying such necessities to a sick person without that person's consent is tantamount to killing them.

Schiavo's husband doesn't see it that way. With the aid of both Federal and state courts he is getting ready to order all food and water be cut off to her. He claims that she once allegedly expressed a desire to die rather than spend her life in a state of grievously disability. Her parents vehemently disagree with that assessment.

Her parents' lawyer told reporters Tuesday he is preparing a motion to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider her family's claim that Terri should be spared based on statements by Pope John Paul II that people in vegetative states have a right to nutrition and hydration. They say Terri, as a practicing Roman Catholic, would have obeyed the pope and would not want to have her tube removed.

Last month Pope John Paul II told an international congress of physicians and ethicists in Rome, that the "administration of food and water, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act."

Moreover, he said that providing hydration and nutrition is "in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such, morally obligatory." The pope was speaking specifically about patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) who, because of severe brain damage, are not conscious and cannot ingest food or water naturally.

The case of Terri Schiavo is even more clear cut as Schiavo is conscious.

Terri Schiavo suffered a collapse in 1990 that deprived her of oxygen for several minutes, causing the brain damage. She receives nutrition and hydration by a feeding tube, but is receiving no other life-support measures.

Her husband has consistently petitioned Florida courts to remove her feeding tube despite clear medical evidence that Terri is able to communicate and respond to commands. Moreover, at least 13 physicians say Terri can recover with proper therapy.

Schiavo's parents claim her husband has denied her any therapy.

Her parents insist that as a devout Catholic she would never consent to what her husband and the courts have demanded. They say even though she requires no other life support besides food and liquid, she would die a horrible death were those essentials taken away.

Noting that "the patients we are discussing are not terminally ill" and that those who are conscious can feel hunger and thirst, author and medical ethicist Wesley Smith quotes Dr. William Burke, a neurologist in St. Louis, who described the agonizing process.

"A conscious person would feel it (dehydration) just as you and I would. They will go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the drying of the mucous membranes, and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining. They feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Imagine going one day without a glass of water. Death by dehydration takes ten to fourteen days. It is an extremely agonizing death."

Her parents visit her nearly every day. They say that Terri has laughed, cried, smiled and responded to their voices. Moreover, a video showing the dark-haired woman appearing to interact with her family has been televised nationally.

Aside from the religious aspects, there is the case of Sara Scantlin, a woman from Kansas who was in the same basic condition as Terri Schiavo -- a condition Michael Schiavo and his attorney call "a persistent vegetative state," for twenty years. She woke up the other day and said "Hi Mom."

Terri's parents and her huge army of supporters argue that if it happened to Sara Scantlin why could it not someday happen with Terri? Like Terri, Sara responded to stimuli such as light and sound just as Terri does. A video shows Terri clearly responding to her mother entering the room, smiling and following her with her eyes. According to press reports Sara Scantlin also responded in a similar manner.

Many Christian groups have risen to Terri's defense. Among them is Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation's largest public policy women's organization which joined with Terri Schindler-Schiavo's family to urge Terri's husband Michael Schiavo to let Terri live rather than ordering her feeding tube removed, as he vowed to do yesterday, February 22.

CWA also raised the case of Sarah Scantlin. Said Wendy Wright, CWA's senior policy director:, "Scantlin's doctors have been unable to explain the woman's sudden breakthrough after two decades of silence, proving that this kind of recovery has not been sufficiently researched.

"Who is to say that Terri, who has been in her disabled condition for 15 years, cannot have a similar experience? If Michael Schiavo were truly motivated by what is best for his wife, he would be finding hope in the Scantlin story and calling for further investigation into his wife's possible recovery.

"Instead, Michael has spent a large legal settlement, which he won by claiming that he would care for Terri, by fighting for the right to starve her to death.

"These funds should have been used for rehabilitative services, like speech therapy. Now, apart from legal intervention, Michael will likely order his wife's feeding tube removed, causing her to die a horrifying death of dehydration and starvation."

According to the Miami Herald the appeals court has consistently upheld lower court rulings that Terri Schiavo had expressed wishes not to be kept alive artificially, although she left no written directive. In October 2003, she went without food or water for six days when Michael had her feeding tubes removed.

Gov. Jeb Bush pushed a new law through the Florida legislature letting him order the tube reinserted. The Florida Supreme Court later struck down his action as unconstitutional.

Unless the court extends the stay, the State of Florida will begin the process of murdering Terri Schiavo tonight or tomorrow.

She will have been denied her rights as a Catholic, and the religious freedom of all Americans will then be up for grabs.

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