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Euthanasia and Terri Schiavo

Opinions of Terri, her husband, her parents, physicians, the Roman Catholic Church, the media, etc.

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Opinions of Terri, and her husband and parents:

There was a consensus that Terri could breath on her own, make noises, but was unable to eat. On other matters, her parents and siblings disagreed about her status and future prognosis. She had been kept alive through constant care and via nutrients supplied through a feeding tube directly into her stomach. The tube was removed on 2005-MAR-18. She died on MAR-31 at 9:05 ET.

bullet The decision of a number of Florida courts is that during two funerals earlier in her life, she discussed with her husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law the possibility of being profoundly disabled in the future. She indicated that she would prefer to be allowed to die naturally. However, she never signed a formal medical directive or living will which put this in writing.
bullet Her husband accepted the determination by numerous physicians appointed by the court that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state, with no possibility of improvement. His wish was that her feeding tube be removed, that she be given medication to eliminate any pain due to lack of nourishment, and that nature be allowed to take its course so that she can die with dignity. Florida courts have repeatedly agreed with his stand.
bullet Her parents believed that Terri's condition is at least partly reversible through therapy. They wanted to provide her with this treatment and a more stimulating environment. "...more than a dozen medical experts, including neurologists, who have submitted affidavits on behalf of the Schindler family, including Terri's parents, indicating that the woman is consciously attempting to interact with her environment and is a good candidate for therapy." 1

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Opinions of physicians:

HCD Research and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies (a Conservative Jewish group) conducted a survey concerning Terri Schiavo among 851 physicians in the U.S. between 2005-MAR-18 and 20. Results were:

bullet 77% agreed that "it is medically ethical to remove Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube."
bullet 79% said it was medically ethical to "to remove a feeding tube from a person for whom that feeding tube -- and possibly other artificial methods -- is undoubtedly their only means of staying alive"
bullet 83% felt that a patient's spouse, should be required by law to be involved in a decision to remove a feeding tube from a patient for whom the tube is their only means for staying alive.
bullet 65% felt that the immediate family should also be involved.
bullet 61% felt that peer review physicians should also be involved.
bullet A minority of physicians believe that others should also be involved:
bullet 30% would include professional ethicists;
bullet 12% psychiatrists,
bullet 11% clergy
bullet 6% would include lawmakers or Congress

Glenn Kessler, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of HCD Research, said: "Physicians believe that, in general, it is ethical to remove feeding tubes in patients for whom it is their only means of life support. Apparently, with respect to this specific case, a significant majority of doctors agree that removing the feeding tube from Ms. Schiavo is medically ethical."

Alan Mittleman, Director of the Finkelstein Institute, said: "From a religious point of view, it is troubling that physicians are not more reluctant. Religious communities are divided in their evaluations of active euthanasia--and for good reason. We must proceed very cautiously here." 2

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The position of the Roman Catholic Church:

Terri Schiavo is a Roman Catholic.

On four occasions, Vatican officials condemned Michael Schiavo's decision to follow Terri's wishes, to withhold nourishment, and thereby cause her death.

bullet Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said on Vatican Radio:

"Without the tube which is providing life-giving hydration and nutrition, Terri Schiavo will die. But it is not that simple. She will die a horrible and cruel death. She will not simply die; she will have death inflicted upon her over a number of terrible days, even weeks. How can anyone who claims to speak of the promotion and protection of human rights - of human life - remain silent?" 9

bullet Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, expressed "disconcert and sadness." He said on Vatican Radio:

"I must confirm the moral judgment which does not change: It is an illicit and grave act. It is especially grave, as it seems that the decision over a person's life or death today is a court issue."

"Therefore, I confirm the negative judgment, not only on the fact that food has been taken away from her, but also on the decision that tries to legitimize such a thing. I hope that these examples will not be followed by other similar decisions."

[The court's decision] "is not euthanasia in the literal sense of the term; it is not a 'good death,' it is a death that is induced in a cruel way. It is not a medical act. It is about taking water and food away to cause death."

"I think that those who have expressed solidarity with the family are doing an act of great merit." 10

The Florida Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church issued a statement of concern about her. 3 Some of their points are:

bullet There is no consensus about whether Terri is in a "persistent vegetative state," whether she had previously expressed a wish to not continue living under these conditions, and her future prognosis.
bullet "...there should be a presumption in favor of providing nutrition and hydration even by artificial means as long as it is of sufficient benefit to outweigh the burdens involved to the patient."
bullet Pope John Paul II discussed nourishment of patients in Terri Schiavo's condition during 2004-MAR:
bullet "...the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering."
bullet "...we are called to provide basic means of sustenance such as food and water unless they are doing more harm than good to the patient, or are useless because the patientís death is imminent.", a pro-life agency, commented that:

"Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, outraged Catholics when he offered his only statement during the 13 days it took Terri to die from dehydration, encouraging her family to reconcile with Michael Schiavo in the name of 'peace'." 9

After Terri's death, Father Pavone, national director of Priests for Life -- a Roman Catholic para-church group, said: "This woman was killed. She didn't die of a terminal illness. She was killed, and it is a matter, therefore, of conscience, right now, for us all to ask: 'Is this what we are going to continue to do with brain-injured people?' Because, whether they have expressed their wishes or not, obviously it can result in their death, as has happened today." 7

These statement would seem to indicate that all patients who are unable to eat should be force-fed nutrition, even if it is contrary to their own wishes as stated in a living will, or during earlier conversations, or when they are near death. This position is not shared by many Americans.

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Opinion by Tony Alamo Christian Ministries:

Tony Alamo circulated an Email on 2005-MAR-29 saying, in part:

bullet "Anyone watching Terri Schiavo being dealt with in this inhumane, satanic way and agrees with it and does nothing about it, is just as sick and guilty in the eyes of God as the demonic, depraved government agencies that are doing it and enforcing it."
bullet "God uses His chosen people on earth to show His life-giving power, His life-giving strength. When all seems hopeless, there is hope with God....If I am permitted to spend some time in the room with Terri Schiavo (her father and brother can be there or anyone else as long as there are no distractions), I know that if I were permitted to talk to her and explain to her the things that God has already provided for her, such as salvation and healing, and if I were permitted to pray with her for her, I know that she would be healed. I've done this before with people who seemingly were hopeless."
bullet "God never says, 'Kill the sick.' God never says, 'Starve the sick to death.' Rather, He says pray for them, 'and they shall recover' (Mark 16:18). What Mr. Schiavo and the U.S. government is doing is the exact opposite of what the Good Samaritan did when a man was almost dead."
bullet "The authorities have become like animals. They believe that it's merciful to starve someone to death, to murder them. This should never be done to a dog, let alone a human being who is created in the image and likeness of God. In World War II the Nazi doctrine was to put everyone to death that they thought was not beneficial to society, such as the mentally handicapped, the aged, and the mongoloid, and now their doctrine is sweeping the entire world: Anything to save a buck and anything to stop the gospel, the Word of God, from being preached and taught that these people might be saved, healed, and not destroyed." 6

He never got the opportunity to attempt to perform a miracle.

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Opinion of Americans United:

After the autopsy results in mid 2005-JUN showed that Terri Schiavo was not the victim of abuse, was in a persistent vegetative state, was blind, and had no potential to reach even a minimally cognitive state, Americans United (AU) criticized the role played by religious conservatives.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director for Americans United, said: "These Religious Right zealots owe the entire country an apology. They intervened in a personal family matter, gave this poor woman's parents false hope, libeled her husband with unfounded accusations and turned a tragic situation into a political football. Have they no shame?....I've worked in Washington a long time, but I've never seen anything as manipulative as what Perkins and the FRC did over Terri Schiavo. They took a terminally ill woman and turned her into a political tool to gain leverage in Congress. If this is an example of the FRC's holier-than-thou values, I'll pass."

An AU news release stated that: "Lynn singled out Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, for special mention in the Religious Right Hall of Shame. During the controversy over Schiavo, Perkins repeatedly issued commentaries that referred to her husband as 'estranged,' despite the fact that Michael Schiavo was caring for her, and mentioning the 'questionable circumstances' surrounding her collapse, clearly implying foul play." 8

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Opinions by and about the media:

Newspaper columnist Antonia Zerbisias commented on what she calls "a media feeding frenzy over a brain-damaged woman...An MSNBC host intimated that Schiavo's husband Michael is a 'Nazi' for wanting to remove her feeding tube. Fox News has come under fire for failing to identify demonstrators as members of an anti-0abortion group. It even invited cancelled TV psychic John Edward to red Schiavo's mind.....syndicated radio host Glenn to have raised $5 million (U.S.) in pledges 'to buy' Schiavo from her husband 'if he will divorce her and give guardianship rights to her parents'.... Meanwhile, the media, cowed by the 'moral values' crowd rarely asked legitimate questions that needed asking, For example, how U.S. President George W. Bush, who cut short his vacation to preserve the 'sanctity of life' can also justify the death penalty." 4

Zerbisias focuses on the real cause of Terri Schiavo's tragedy which she feels are the media and their advertisers "...who promote unrealistic images of tall, willowy women without an ounce of excess flesh -- except of course in the two right places." She quotes author Jean Kilbourne who said: "Women, young women, get the message that their value depends entirely on how they look and, these days, on being extremely thin.....Imagine if all this energy and media attention focused instead on the self-loathing and hatred of their own bodies that our culture generates in women, and the rampant eating disorders that often result. Now that might save the lives of many young women for whom it is not too late." 4,5

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References used:

  1. Jeff Johnson, "Christian Medical Expert Disputes Secular Views in Schiavo Case," LifeWay, at:
  2. "Doctors Overwhelmingly Support Ethics of Removing Feeding Tube," The Providence Journal, 2005-MAR-20, at:
  3. "Continued Concerns for Terri Schiavo," Florida Catholic Conference, 2005-FEB-28, at:
  4. Antonia Zerbisias, "All-out coverage of Schiavo wears thin," The Toronto Star, 2005-MAR-29, Page C6.
  5. Jean Kilbourne is the author of "Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel," Free Press, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  6. "Letter from Tony Alamo on behalf of Terri Schiavo," Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, 2005-MAR-29.
  7. "Terri Schiavo 'Responsive' Until Death. 'This is a case of throwing away a disabled person'." LifeSiteNews, 2005-APR-01.
  8. "Schiavo autopsy report exposes lies of religious right, says Americans United," Americans United press release, 2005-JUN-15.
  9. Gudrun Schultz, "Terri Schiavoís Husband Re-Married in Catholic Church,", 2006-JAN-23, at:
  10. "Vatican Publishes Fourth Appeal for Life of Terri Schiavo,", 2005-MAR-23, at:

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Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics > Euthanasia > Terri Schiavo > here

or: Home page > "Hot" topics  > Suicide menu > Euthanasia > Terri Schiavo > here

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Copyright © 2005 & 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-MAR-21
Latest update: 2006-MAR-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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