Sunday, March 27, 2005

I need G-d, not a political church

While Dylan Thomas admonished not to go gentle into that good night, it appears as though on this Easter Sunday, Terri Schiavo has begun her merciful journey there. There are those who've claimed that Terri's right to the freedom of religion has been trampled on since she is Catholic and would have abided the the Pope's pronouncement that food and water should be provided as he does not consider them medical intervention. The basis of the belief she would abide by the Pope's statement, according to her family, is that she was a practicing Catholic and graduate of Catholic school. Ironically, during testimony in from of Judge Greer, Father Gerard Murphy was asked for a definition/description of what the church considers a practicing Catholic. Murphy responded as follows:

We have what we call Easter duty, which means sometime from Lent to Trinity Sunday, in that three or four month window, a Catholic is required to receive holy communion. If necessary, confession. Catholics are mortally bound to assist at mass. Attend mass every Sunday. Every holy day of obligation. Certainly those are all criteria for a practicing Catholic.

The follow up question implies that Terri did not quite practice her religion in accordance with church guidelines:

[Felos] If Theresa Schiavo had not taken communion over a two year period before her medical incident and not participated in confession, would she be considered by the church to be a practicing Catholic?

[Murphy] Not according to the criteria. No. Practicing, no.
Now I consider myself a practicing Jew, but I do not practice completely in accordance with the Orthodox understanding of Halacha, so I am not going to question whether Terri Schiavo considered herself a practicing Catholic. I will, however, question whether she would have accepted the Pontiff's statement as a required obligation.

In 1953, Pope Pius IV addressed the issue of artificial life support directly with physicians and officially pronounced that while Catholics are mortally bound to respect & care for life, they are not required to do so at all costs. He, essentially, stated that a risk:benefit ratio must be considered, introducing the idea of ordinary means vs extraordinary means of life support as well as proportionality. The current Pope's statement (and I'm not sure if it was an official pronouncement of Catholic obligation) sent Catholic Hospitals running as they did (based on Pius' decree) withdraw life support & honor advanced directives (living will); they also allow patients to refuse treatment in accordance with the law. As such, even were Schiavo a practicing Catholic, it is reasonable to believe that refusal or withdrawal of a PEG tube for the purposes of feeding was something she would have agreed to purely on the basis of the current Pope's statement.

According to Father Gerard, a Catholic is not required to utilize any/all medical treatment available even for a condition less significant that PSV. Case in point, the death of Robert Schindler's mother (Terri's grandmother). According to
a 2003 article in the Guardian, Robert Schinder decided to withdraw life support from his 79 year old mother who, after 1 week of treatment for pneumonia, began to show signs of renal failure. People, even at that age, do survive pneumonia with a co-morbidity of acute renal failure (heck, people can actually survive full blown ARDS and multi-organ failure) with a decent quality of life. Why then, under those circumstances, was Schindler's mother life considered less worthy of treatment? Terri's own sister has stated, in her deposition, that withdrawal of life support is murder. Is it that, years later, everyone in the family has completely changed their minds about the sanctity of life (except, possibly, Terri who is unaware of what's going on)?

It seems as though all of the anger and vitriol started with the financial settlement from a malpractice suit that was awarded to Terri; the settlement that Michael Schiavo, as her husband, was awarded control of. Things spiraled out of control when the Schindlers decided to take their domestic battle public, courting Randall Terry and the "prolife" movement to make this a political issue instead of a personal one. The Schindlers have not only turned Terri into the equivalent of a circus animal but have used their battle with their daughter's husband to endanger the civil liberties of all American citizens. Why have they done this? There are many who believe it's out of love and the [irrational] belief that Terri will have some miraculous improvement. I, personally, have not only come to the opinion that this is a pathological case of grief (mis)management but also a matter of sheer selfishness.

In their depositions regarding care for Terri and their views of what treatment is appropriate and necessary, they have consistently stated that Terri's life under these circumstances brings
them joy. They have also admitted they would have disregarded Terri's wishes if they were inconsistent with their own as the type of intervention they would require for themselves is beyond extraordinary (even if it would put the rest of their family at risk for financial ruin). Apparently what matters to the Schindlers most is their own personal happiness and satisfaction, not Terri, her life, her happiness, or even the possibility of her suffering.

Question: Well, in your mind, does there come a point in time when the experience of discomfort or pain on the part of the patient become a factor in deciding whether to remove life support?

Mary Schindler: No.
[Mary Schindler's deposition 12Aug99; page 39, line 16]

There are those who claim removal of life support is the same as execution. Execution, directly causes a death, withdrawal of life support allows someone to complete the natural dying process which has invasively & artificially been put in a holding pattern. In theory, there is no difference between life support provided by mechanical ventilation and invasive methods of feeding; just as you can make the argument that invasive methods to deliver fluids/nutrition to her organs/cells keep her body functioning, you could make the same argument that mechanical ventilation is the oxygen delivering method when someone cannot breathe on their own.

Going back to the assertions that Schiavo's religious freedom has been compromised. I actually think the extensive court battles to "save" Terri are what has undermined her religious freedom more than anything. Catholics believe that human beings have a soul and that soul could go to Heaven, Purgatory or Hell; it's reasonable to assume that Terri had that same belief. The soul cannot move on until the worldy receptacle for it (the body) has died; as such, Terri's soul has been trapped in a body held hostage to this world via artificial means. Isn't it time to let her soul move on to it's rightful place?

Tags: ; ;

I Need Love ©Sam Phillips 1994

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: