Currently, the Office of Life, Justice and Peace of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is offering a parish online volunteer training program titled Caring for the Whole Person. This course is intended to educate the laity about Catholic moral teachings concerning end-of-life issues. It focuses on how to care for parishioners with serious illness, as well as topics like palliative medical care, advance care planning, and hospice care.
One of the presenters is Dr. Ira Byock, a self-described secular humanist and supporter of gay rights, Planned Parenthood, and abortion.
If that isn’t disturbing enough, Dr. Byock promotes “stealth euthanasia” by means of terminal sedation and “voluntary stopping eating and drinking” (VSED) in hospice. Furthermore, he has made erroneous remarks regarding the condition and death of my sister, Terri Schiavo. Clearly, Dr. Byock is no friend to the pro-life, pro-family, Catholic community.
Why is the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, under the leadership of Archbishop José Gomez, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, permitting Dr. Byock to participate in training parishioners? Are there no genuine pro-life physicians who respect the dignity of the human person available to teach this course?
Dr. Byock has been involved in hospice and palliative care since 1978, so it’s not as if his track record of supporting policies and practices that are antithetical to Church teaching should be unknown to the bishops.
In a 2005 edition of Assisted Living Consult, Dr. Byock made the following comments just after Terri’s death: “It troubles me that they now consider the thoughtful discontinuation of artificial nutrition and hydration—something we have done openly and within ethical guidelines for years in American hospitals and in hospice programs—as ‘killing.’” Dr. Byock continues, “It is not euthanasia to selectively choose medical treatments that enable someone with a progressive illness to orchestrate a gentle end to this life.”
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The 1981 Pontifical Council Cor Unum document, after affirming that “a doctor must follow the wishes of a sick person who refuses [extraordinary] measures,” states:
There remains the strict obligation to apply under all circumstances those therapeutic measures which are called ‘minimal’: that is, those which are normally and customarily used for the maintenance of life (alimentation, blood transfusions, injections, etc.). To interrupt these minimal measures would, in practice, be equivalent to wishing to put an end to the patient’s life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2277) is clear:
“Whatever its means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission, which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and the respect due to the living God, his Creator.” [Emphasis added.]
For those who do not remember, in 1990, at the age of 26, my sister, Terri experienced a still-unexplained brain injury while home alone with her husband, Michael Schiavo, who subsequently became her legal guardian. Because Terri had difficulty swallowing, her life was sustained by food and water via a feeding tube. After a lengthy legal battle, Terri’s feeding tube was removed. It was the only life-sustaining care she needed. My sister’s life was deliberately ended by dehydration and starvation that took nearly two agonizing weeks.
There was nothing “ethical” about how Terri’s husband went about causing her death. Furthermore, there was nothing “artificial” that was needed for Terri to live, and she never had a “progressive illness,” as Dr. Byock claimed.
Moreover, Terri’s death was anything but “thoughtful” or “gentle.” It was morally illicit and barbaric. Her intentional killing was in direct violation of Church teaching (CCC 2277). To say otherwise, by allowing Dr. Byock to teach courses for Catholics, is to mislead the laity into accepting a modernistic value system and create confusion within the Catholic community regarding treatment and care for the medically vulnerable.
Indeed, in March 2004, one year prior to Terri’s death, Pope John Paul II issued an allocution titled, Address to the Participants in the International Congress on “Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas” clarifying existing Church teaching and that food and water, even if provided by a feeding tube, are not medical treatments and should be considered ordinary and basic care which is required to respect a person’s God given human dignity.
Through this worldwide proclamation, St. John Paul spoke on the interrelated nature of the basic dignity of all patients, and the fundamental need to provide food and water regardless of their delivery mechanism. In fact, what can only be described as providential, the day my sister died, March 31, 2005, St. John Paul was administered a feeding tube.
Catholic leaders have the duty to defend our medically defenseless. They cannot stand indifferent, nor invite medical professionals like Dr. Byock to convey a perverted version of Catholic teaching so that misguided laypersons will support the fatal starvation and dehydration of vulnerable patients.
Allowing Dr. Byock to instruct Catholics brings scandal to the Universal Church, aids in the death of an untold number of patients who ought to be cared for and increases confusion for those seeking moral instruction on how to properly care for our brothers and sisters who are most at risk.
LifeNews Note: Bobby Schindler is the brother of Terri Schiavo and president of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network