Catholic Church Renews Calls for Saving Terri Schiavo From Starvation

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 21, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholic Church Renews Calls for Saving Terri Schiavo From Starvation Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 21, 2005

The Vatican ( — Catholic Church leaders have renewed their call for American courts to protect Terri Schiavo’s life and not cause her a painful starvation death. A Vatican newspaper on Monday criticized the Friday afternoon removal of Terri’s feeding tube, which provides her with food and water.

"Who can, before God and humanity, pretend with impunity to claim such a right?” L’Osservatore Romano said. "Who — and on the basis of which criteria — can establish to whom the ‘privilege’ to live should be given?”

"Who can judge the dignity and sacredness of the life of a human being, made in the image and likeness of God? Who can decide to pull the plug as if we were talking about a broken or out of order household appliance?” the paper said.

The Catholic newspaper declared that Terri is "not a vegetable" — a reference to the contention made by Terri’s estranged husband Michael and his attorneys that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state.

The newspaper’s comments reflect earlier remarks by Pope John Paul II and other leading Catholic officials who have strongly backed Terri’s right to live and her family’s efforts to protect her.

Earlier this month, Monsignor Elio Sgreccia said starving Terri to death would be a "pitiless way to kill" someone.

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."

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.