Today, March 31, marks the somber 10th anniversary of the inhumane and tragic death of Terri Schindler Schiavo. Terri fell victim to her husband’s legal quest to starve and dehydrate her to death. Terri’s death was a testament to the futilitarian ethics that have pervaded the culture, including the judicial and medical branches.
Each year, on the anniversary of Terri’s death, Pro-Lifers everywhere commemorate the “International Day of Remembrance for Terri Schindler Schiavo and All of Our Vulnerable Brothers and Sisters.” The day includes a National Memorial Mass for Terri Schiavo, which will be offered by Archbishop Charles Chaput in Philadelphia. The Life & Hope Network, founded to raise awareness of Terri’s case and individuals similarly victimized, will hold their 3rd Annual Life & Hope Gala with keynote speaker Glenn Beck, whose unabashed Pro-Life advocacy is a breath of fresh air in mainstream media.
Texas Right to Life has partnered with Terri’s family through The Life & Hope Network to assist patients in Texas who are victims of the draconian Texas Advance Directive Law. Current Texas law authorizes physicians and hospitals to withdraw treatment, including food and water, against the expressed wishes of a patient after providing only ten days notice. Many Texas families call The Life & Hope Network for help and guidance when this notice is given to them, and Texas Right to Life helps the The Life & Hope Network navigate the transfer process. Thus, Texas Right to Life is a proud sponsor of the gala to help raise awareness and funds to help protect disabled, hospitalized patients.
Thirteen years prior to being killed, Terri endured an injury that left her cognitively disabled and she had difficulty swallowing and therefore needed a feeding tube. Terri was not dependent on any mechanical or artificial life support, nor was she sick or dying. Terri reacted to the presence of loved ones. Despite the willingness and ability of Terri’s family to care for her, through suspected collusion, her husband and Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer of Pinellas County, Florida, ordered her death sentence after a protracted court battle. Terri died a slow and excruciatingly painful death as her heartbroken family stood helplessly outside Terri’s care center.
Bobby Schindler trembles about people underestimating the dangers of hospitalization and futilitarian quality of life value judgments:
People do not realize the magnitude of what is happening when it comes to this issue, and how many people are vulnerable to this movement… Terri was never dying. That potential only arose when they took away her food and water. Doctors believed she would have lived a normal lifespan. She wasn’t brain-dead; she wasn’t in a coma; she wasn’t terminal. She was a woman with a very severe and profound brain injury. If she were alive, she could be here today in a wheelchair…We are trying to educate the public about how people with cognitive disabilities are being killed every single day.
The Life and Hope Network encourages everyone to pause on Terri’s Day to learn about her story and those like her, and to pray for those who are threatened by a similar, discriminatory fate.
Terri’s death challenges this pop culture notion of “death with dignity,” which is a myth. We live our lives with dignity through our acts, by the love we show to others, especially our ailing and disabled brethren. Our dignity is based on how we value and respect each and every human life around us and across the globe. Those who live with dignity need not be troubled by loss of dignity in illness or at death.
Wesley J. Smith, of The Discovery Institute, prominent attorney and nationally-known bioethics expert, poignantly says, “We do not inject dignity into the veins of dying patients when they are struggling to take their last breaths.” Nor do we subject the disabled to horrific death by dehydration under the guise of allegedly ending one’s suffering.
Dehydrating and starving to death can take up to sixteen torturous days, and the victims suffer these unbearable symptoms:
Mouth dries and become caked or coated with thick material;
Lips and tongue become parched, cracked, and bleed;
Eyes recede into their orbits;
Cheeks become hollow;
Lining of the nose cracks and causes the nose to bleed;
Skin hangs loose on the body and becomes dry and scaly;
Urine is highly concentrated, leading to burning of the bladder;
Lining of the stomach dries, causing the patient to experience dry heaves and vomiting;
Body temperature would become very high;
Brain cells shrivel without moisture, causing convulsions (seizures);
Respiratory tract dries, and the resulting thick secretions could plug the lungs and cause death; and
After five days to three weeks, the major organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain succumb, causing death.
[S ource: Brophy v. New England Sinai Hosp., 398 Mass. 417, 444 n.2, 497 N.E.2d 626, 641 n.2 (1986) (Nolan, J., dissenting).
This is hardly dignified, let alone humane. We do not bestow dignity to a patient by withdrawing medical treatment and speeding his death.
During this holy week when we are called to reflect on the death of the Savior;we are reminded that His death was anything but dignified. He was mocked by His own followers; He was brutally flogged and persecuted, and His crucifixion was a public spectacle. The death of the Savior was in no way dignified, those who follow Him and seek to mimic His humility and holiness may recognize that they should neither hope nor be entitled to a more dignified death than the One who died to save the world.
Dignity is not ours to bestow, nor is death ours to schedule.