At a moving talk at the National Right to Life Convention in Dallas, Br. Paul O’Donnell and Bobby Schindler (brother of Terri Schiavo) shared their testimonies of losing those close to them.
In Bobby’s case, as America knows, this loss occurred in an inhumane and devastating matter. Familiar with the tragedy of losing a loved one, Br. Paul was inspired by the plight of the Schindler family during Terri’s last days.
“I knew that my community [Franciscan Brothers of Peace] needed to do something to help,” he shared. So he and his brothers drove to Orlando to help the Schindler family. During this time, Bobby was traveling all over the country lobbying Congress to try to change laws to help his sister.
In Congress, Bobby did help to change a law that would have saved Terri’s life, but a judge threw it in the trash. “It’s very important that we as a pro-life people do not forget this time,” Brother said. He recalled the details as he vividly remembers them: “On March 17, 2005, we anticipated that in all likelihood Terri’s feeding tube would be removed the next day. We went there and were trying to negotiate Terri receiving the Sacrament of the Sick. I had arranged with the hospice worker that although I would not be allowed to be in Terri’s room, I would accompany the family to the hospice in order to be there to help them… and they agreed to that.” However, the hospice decided that their own priest would give Terri the sacrament rather than her spiritual advisor. When Br. Paul objected, so strong was the bias towards Terri’s advocates that he was removed by police officers from the building. “The hospice would not let us stay in the facility,” he said. “The parents and siblings could not be there. No one close to her or who loved her were not allowed to visit or be there. There was a thrift shop across the street that provided the family a little place with some privacy.”
Then came the news that Terri’s feeding tube had been removed. Amidst tears, the family handled the situation with grace – and the world was watching. “It would have been understandable for the Schindler family to go to their own corner of the world and grieve in their pain after Terri’s death,” Br. Paul said. “But they didn’t. Because of what happened to Terri, and how her family used that tragedy to help others, lives have been saved.”
Bobby Schindler shared what happened after Terri’s death. “We really wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my sister and what she went through,” he said, commenting on the unfortunate state of care for people with cognitive disabilities similar to those that his sister had. “People do not realize the magnitude of what is happening when it comes to this issue, and how many people are vulnerable to this movement… The one thing that I have learned that I wasn’t quite aware of is that there seems to be a disconnect between the abortion issue and this issue.” Bobby has found that many pro-lifers tend to focus on beginning- and end-of-life issues, but forget about the in-between cases, like his sister, who are vulnerable to quality of life judgments from guardians and healthcare professionals.
“We’re trying to figure out why that is, because obviously the pro-life movement has done a wonderful job raising awareness about abortion… There was a question I used to get asked during Terri’s battle: Who would want to live with that type of disability? […P]eople are becoming indoctrinated into accepting this kind of behavior. Terri was never dying. That potential only arose when they took away her food and water. Doctors believed she would have lived a normal lifespan. She wasn’t brain-dead; she wasn’t in a coma; she wasn’t terminal. She was a woman with a very severe and profound brain injury. If she were alive, she could be here today in a wheelchair. The point I’m trying to make is that those people, people who are not dying– that’s our issue. We are trying to educate the public about how people with cognitive disabilities are being killed every single day.”
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Schindler pointed out that what happened to his sister occurs in the thousands of hospices and healthcare facilities around the country very often. He acknowledged that people with brain injuries (like his sister) and elderly people who are not dying are seen as having no value. “We would be very shocked and surprised at how often they are being killed by euthanasia,” he said.
Bobby said that the pro-life movement needs to work towards educating the public about the value of the lives that like his sisters. “I’m here today to say, get involved,” he shared. “Start paying attention to these issues and get others to pay attention to them. The one thing in particular we can do to stop something like this from happening is legislation.” Schindler said that a large legislative problem is the fact that medically-assisted nutrition and hydration (aka feeding tubes) are now considered artificial life support, when in fact they are ordinary means of care. “This one shift [in legislation] makes it rather easy to take it away from people, to deny it. You can deny food and water to anyone,” he said.