Heroes for Life: Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo

Opinion   |   Bill Saunders   |   Apr 7, 2011   |   10:51PM   |   Washington, DC

Last week was the six year anniversary of the death of two beautiful witnesses to the intrinsic dignity of every human person, Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo. 

Pope John Paul II was the fearless leader of the Roman Catholic Church, a tireless advocate for the life of every human being from conception until natural death. He was a brilliant theologian and philosopher, writing countless profound pages of that will be a treasure to all of Christianity for years to come.  He played a great role in bringing the Soviet Union to its knees.  And his life demonstrated the intrinsic dignity of the human person.

John Paul II was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1993, at the age of 73. As the disease progressed, the Pope’s physical abilities deteriorated. He suffered from tremors and lost his ability to walk or speak normally. He became more and more hunched over every year. There were times when he was in great pain. Despite his physical infirmities, he continued to be an imposing force for good, with his great intellect, gracious heart, and moral authority. On April 2, 2005 he died from septic shock.

Similarly, Terri Schiavo taught the world an important lesson about the dignity of the human person.  First it is important to note that Terri did not suffer from a terminal disease the way John Paul II had. She was not dying until the doctors started the starvation process. Terri was a healthy woman suffering from a brain injury that she incurred when she was 26 years old. She was responsive to her mother’s touch.  Her father, mother, bother, and sister wanted to take her home and care for her. Unfortunately, Terri’s husband wanted to have the doctors remove her feeding tubes. In the end, he prevailed in the courts and Terri died from severe dehydration after 14 days without nourishment on March 31, 2005.

Terri’s tragic witness created awareness in this country about the dignity of those with brain injuries. Hundreds of people waited and prayed outside of Terri’s hospice, over 180,000 signed a petition to Governor Jeb Bush asking him to intervene, and the US Congress passed a law giving Terri’s parents the right to ask a federal court to protect her rights.   

We remember Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo and we thank them for their gift of life and inspiration, as we work to protect the life of every human being, regardless of their age or physical condition.