Today marks the 12th anniversary of the death of Terri Schiavo. A needless death and as far as I and many others believe, a death by murder. Personally, I think this marks a day of shame for America as a country and as a people, including religious and political leaders and representatives. I am especially ashamed of those who are Catholic and more especially of those who were bishops – every single one of them who did not take a forceful stand against Terri’s local bishop. In fact, four days after Terri’s feeding tube was removed, one of them stated that “The bishops and lay faithful of Florida have the task of leading American Catholics in the Terri Schiavo case. They’re working hard to provide that leadership. Our job, outside Florida, is to support Ms. Schiavo and all those concerned for her well-being with our prayers. We especially need to pray for Ms. Schiavo’s family”. Nonsense! The local bishop did nothing to save Terri or to help her family. What Terri and her family needed (in addition to prayers) was intercessory action. Lacking that, many Americans including bishops, failed them.
Please read Bobby Schindler’s story about his sister (below) and (if you haven’t in the past) my reflection on the twelve days I spent in Florida supporting Terri, her family and others who supported and fought for them. At the time, I was one of those “non-Floridians” and I didn’t see many “lay faithful of Florida” or from anywhere else. [see Calvary in Pinellas Park.] One further comment: never assume others are doing the job God has called each of us to do – we must be Christians without borders.
From Bobby Schindler:
Hi Fredi – Last year I wrote about my sister in National Review [original publication]. It’s as relevant now, and I’m sharing it today in case there’s someone in your life who could benefit from learning her story. [See full story copied below because Bobby wants his story shared and I find that most readers don’t click on external links.]
I wrote earlier this week about what we’re doing for Terri’s Day, and I wanted to update you to let you know there’s still time to support our mission and have your name placed in our special “Guest Book” that we’ll be presenting to my mother in honor of your support and in memory of my sister. [Learn about Terri’s day here.]
Our work continues only with support from you. Please consider a gift in honor of Terri today, during this painful time of year for my mother and our family. [Go to https://lifeandhope.nationbuilder.com/2017terrisday]
God bless you,
What Terri Schiavo Still Can Teach Us
by Bobby Schindler March 31, 2016
Her name — my sister’s name — is seared into the national memory as a face of the right-to-life movement, but it’s now been more than a decade since her death. Many are now too young to remember her witness, or they have forgotten.
At the age of 26, Terri experienced a still-unexplained collapse while at home alone with Michael Schiavo, who subsequently became her guardian. After a short period of time, Michael lost interest in caring for his brain-injured but otherwise young and healthy wife. Terri was cognitively disabled, but she was not dying, and she did not suffer from any life-threatening disease. She was neither on machines nor “brain dead.” To the contrary, she was alert and interacted with friends and family — before Michael placed her in a nursing home and eventually petitioned the courts for permission to starve and dehydrate her to death.
It was this decision by Michael that made my sister’s story a national story rather than simply a family story. It was this decision — to deprive my sister of food and water — that transformed our family’s struggle. Rather than trying to work with Michael to care for and rehabilitate Terri as aggressively as possible, we now were battling against Michael to fight for my sister’s life.
Michael finally testified, after many years of legal maneuverings against my family, that Terri had told him before her accident that she would not have wanted to live in a brain-injured condition. It was this hearsay evidence that led the media and others to deny Terri’s right to life, and instead speak of “end of life” issues and advocate for her “right to die.” On the order of Judge George W. Greer, and despite the efforts of Saint John Paul the Great, a president, Congress, and a governor, Terri was deprived of water and food. After 13 days, my sister died of extreme dehydration on March 31, 2005.
We couldn’t save my sister, though millions of advocates did succeed in speaking for the fundamental dignity of every human life, regardless of circumstance or condition.
It was the trauma of our experience fighting for my sister that led my family to create the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network a decade ago, both in memory of my sister and in service to medically vulnerable persons today. Unbeknownst to my family at the start of our struggle, the method of Terri’s death — the fatal denial of food and water — was not altogether uncommon. It has only become more common in the decade since her passing, as Wesley J. Smith so routinely documents.
Indeed, new “rights” to death are paradoxically being enshrined through the international medical system, reshaping a vocation meant to care for and heal the sick into one that eliminates suffering by eliminating the sufferer. Increasingly, medical professionals do this — end life — even without the patient’s consent. A stranger, in other words, may very well decide how and when you die.
It was once true, for instance, that food and water were considered “basic and ordinary care.” Yet now the presence of a tube (as distinct from a spoon) to deliver food and water means that basic nourishment is considered “extraordinary” and a form of “medical treatment.” Yet tubes are often used for the same reason that automation is revolutionizing the work force: They’re cheaper and more efficient than round-the-clock human care. It is now legal in every U.S. state to deny food and water, leading to fatal dehydration. This is simply one step on the path to controlled and regulated access to all forms of food and water, including whatever a bureaucrat decides can be placed on your mother’s nursing-home supper tray.
Hospital ethics committees are often leading the effort to reshape medicine, giving themselves unilateral power to decide whether a patient deserves to receive treatment or whether life-affirming treatment will continue when there is a dispute within a family. The tragic case of Chris Dunn, who was filmed last year literally begging for his life in a Texas hospital, illustrates all too well what happens when an ethics committee decides to appoint itself as a legal guardian in order to deny treatment — even when such a course is opposed, as it was in Dunn’s case, by both the patient and his guardian-mother.
Not only is death often imposed, it is now also encouraged as if death itself were a form of medicine. As of last year, more than half the states in the country were considering a form of physician-assisted suicide legislation. It appears likely that suicide will, within the next five years, be enshrined as a personal “health” right in most of the country. In this, we would only be following some of our European neighbors. In the Netherlands and Belgium, as Wesley Smith recently documented, Alzheimer’s patients, infants with disabilities, the aged, and the chronically ill are routinely encouraged to die or have death imposed upon them.
Brittany Maynard, who committed suicide in November 2014 after already having outlived her doctor’s terminal-brain-cancer prognosis, was able to choose her death by suicide, but how many now will die not because they embrace that sort of death but because they feel pressured — by smiling physicians or hovering children and heirs — to accept it? To die without hope seems the furthest thing from death with dignity. Other, less fortunate patients will face what Smith explains is considered “termination without request or consent,” a wonderfully anodyne way to describe murder through terminal sedation or the denial of food and water.
My experience in fighting for my sister, and the experiences of assisting more than 1,000 patients and families through the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network over the past decade, have strengthened my resolve and my belief that we can do better as a culture, and for those requiring authentic medical treatment, than what our present attitudes and laws suggest.
It’s why the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network affirms essential qualities of human dignity, including the right to food and water, the presumption of the will to live, due-process rights for those facing denial of care, protection from euthanasia as a form of medicine, and access to rehabilitative care. Each of these were rights my sister was denied, and they are rights of every patient that are often at risk or contested outright.
As we mark the anniversary of my sister’s death, I’m hopeful that we can remember some of these genuine means of upholding human dignity. If we do, we can be assured that when we face crisis in our own lives and the lives of those whom we love, we will meet the moment with a dignity and grace that elevates us in our weakest moments — regardless of the outcome.
That was the promise of medicine once, and it’s what my sister continues to inspire me to fight for daily.
— Bobby Schindler is president of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, author of A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo, and an internationally recognized pro-life advocate.
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