Targeting the Disabled: Turning Crimes Into Acts of Compassion

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 22, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Targeting the Disabled: Turning Crimes Into Acts of Compassion Email this article
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by Bobby Schindler
May 22, 2007 Note: Bobby Schindler is the brother of Terri Schiavo and works with the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation to help disabled and other patients like her to receive the lifesaving medical treatment they deserve.

I recently returned from Austria and Germany where I had the fortunate opportunity to speak in front of several organizations to give witness to my family’s struggle to care for my sister Terri.

Along with the circumstances of Terri’s life and death, I spoke about how the medical community continues to target the disabled by convincing the American people that if someone’s "quality of life" is deemed unacceptable then it’s "okay" to kill them by withholding their food and water.

The audiences were profoundly disturbed and unable to understand why our country could permit Terri to be dehydrated to death, and also by the fact that we no longer protect our most vulnerable American citizens.

One of the speaking engagements I had was with two high schools in Fulda, Germany. The students were wonderful and, incredibly, knew more than I could have ever imagined about Terri’s story. Afterwards, I had the chance to speak with many of them and it touched me to hear of the impact Terri has had on their lives.

Among the more memorable events of the trip was the International Conference on Euthanasia held at Castle Hartheim in Linz, Austria. In attendance were the President of Austria, the Governor of Austria and His Excellency, the Cardinal and Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn.

Castle Hartheim was an especially fitting location for this event, as it was one of the centers where the physically and mentally "inferior" were killed as part of the Nazi T-4 Euthanasia Program during World War II. After I spoke, I toured Castle Hartheim which has now been made a memorial to the more than 30,000 handicapped people who were deliberately killed there.

While touring, I read something inscribed on the wall that was particularly chilling to me in light of the current struggle we face as we fight the growing threat of euthanasia here in the states.

The inscription read, "From the spring of 1940 till August 1941, patients who were, "incapable of improvement" were transported from hospitals, nursing homes, and old age homes to Hartheim and murdered." I then read that in order to carry out these killings, the staff were "sworn to extreme secrecy" in fear of being convicted for murder if what they were doing leaked out.

I thought to myself, "that is exactly how they described (and continue to describe) Terri — as ‘incapable of improvement’ — in order to justify killing her." However, just as alarming to me was how these atrocities were carried out, as they said, in "total secrecy" for fear of being prosecuted.

How far we truly have drifted, to where killing the physically and mentally disabled is not only accepted, but essentially done out in the open. Even more disturbing is how, as in the case of Judge George Greer who ordered Terri’s death, we now hand out awards for "courage" to people who prey on the disabled.

I believe it was a Dutch journalist who recently said, "It’s taken only one generation to transform a war crime into an act of compassion."

Fortunately, however, in the two years since Terri’s death my family and I have had a great deal of encouragement, as well. Having had the experience of not only speaking to many groups in the US, but also in several countries outside the US, we have been blessed by the outpouring of support – not only for Terri’s cause, but for the cause of life in general.

In spite of how so many people, especially in the mainstream media, describe my sister as having a life of no value or worth, the one thing that those who killed Terri could never have predicted is that she continues to touch people every day and all over the world. This gives me hope that our country, as well as the rest of the world, will one day treat people like Terri with the compassion and the kindness they deserve.

On behalf of Terri and her Foundation, we thank you for your continued support.