Schiavo case puts humanity to the test

November 05, 2003|By The Rev. Frank Pavone

NEW YORK -- The case of Terri Schiavo is a test for all of us.

It's not a test of whether we will kill cognitively disabled people by refusing them food and water. That's a test we've already failed, because it happens routinely throughout the country.

Rather, Mrs. Schiavo's case is a test of whether we will wake up and realize that letting patients decide they want to be killed means that some patients will be killed against their will.

People often leave advance directives saying what treatment they do or do not want. But Mrs. Schiavo had no such directive, and her parents and siblings say she never indicated she wanted to be dehydrated and starved to death. The problem, of course, is that if dying is a "right," then why take it away from those who "forgot" to tell us they want it? Should this "right" be exercised only by those well enough to express it?

One advocate for Mrs. Schiavo's death, reacting to the reinsertion of her feeding tube, declared that it is "simply inhumane and barbaric to interrupt her death process." But Mrs. Schiavo is not a dying patient. She simply doesn't function at the same level as the rest of us. There was no "death process" under way until her food and water were taken away. That's what is inhumane and barbaric. And this is a test for all of us, to see if we remember the difference.

While there are such things as worthless treatments, there is no such thing as a worthless life. Food and water, furthermore, constitute the most basic care. We don't come back from a meal saying we just got our latest "medical treatment."

Mrs. Schiavo's parents and siblings are heroes. Were it not for their desire to care for Mrs. Schiavo despite her limitations, she would have been killed without us ever hearing her name. The future of society is determined by the strength -- or weakness -- of the family, by its readiness to care or its willingness to kill.

Some have said that the government should stay out of this case, and that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had no business ordering that Mrs. Schiavo should be given food and water. But Mr. Bush is a hero, too. He understands that no public servant is permitted to turn his back on members of the public who are being mistreated. He, and many others, have passed the test this case puts before us.

It falls to us to do the same.

The Rev. Frank Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life and the president of the National Pro-life Religious Council.

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