Vatican Steps Up Condemnation of Starving Terri Schiavo to Death

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 11, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vatican Steps Up Condemnation of Starving Terri Schiavo to Death

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 11, 2005

The Vatican ( — With Terri Schiavo’s painful starvation death scheduled in one week, leading Catholic officials are stepping up their efforts to speak out. Moving from speaking in general against euthanasia, they are now making a rare pitch on behalf of one person — a disabled woman whose life hangs in the balance.

Removing Terri’s feeding tube and causing the 7 to 10 day long starvation process would be a "pitiless way to kill" someone Monsignor Elio Sgreccia said on Vatican radio Friday.

Sgreccia, the leading spokesman for the Vatican on bioethics issues, said the level of international importance of the debate about Terri led the Vatican to step away from its normal practice of speaking about issues in general.

"Still, the case of Mrs. Terri Schiavo goes beyond the individual situation because of its exemplary character and of the importance that the media have rightly given it," Sgreccia said.

"Silence in this case would be able to be interpreted as approval, with consequences that would go widely beyond the given case," Sgrecca added.

"By any decent count, Mrs. Terri Schiavo can be considered a living human being, deprived of full conscience, whose legal rights must be recognized, respected and defended," the Vatican official added. "The removal of the feeding tube from this person, in these conditions, can be considered direct euthanasia."

Sgreccia said the Catholic Church believes "extraordinary" measures are not required. However, the church does not consider providing a patient with food and water something out of the normal standard of medical care.

Last year, Pope John Paul II said that the lexicon used to describe some disabled patients — as being in a "vegetative state" was degrading and inhuman.

"A man, even if seriously sick or prevented in the exercise of its higher functions, is and will be always a man … [he] will never become a ‘vegetable’ or an ‘animal,’" the Pope said. "The intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being does not change depending on their circumstances."

Providing food and water to such patients should be a natural thing to do and "morally obligatory," but not considered extraordinary measures, the Pope added.

"In particular, I want to emphasize that the administration of water and food . . . always represents a natural means of preservation of life, not a medical treatment."