To the editor,
Father Richard McBrien’s August column suggests that the Terri Schiavo autopsy report legitimizes the removal of her feeding tube. The autopsy “disclosures” cited by Father McBrien were facts that were already known. Perhaps the most important finding was what was listed as the cause of death: dehydration.
In my years of medical practice, I have cared for many patients with severe cognitive problems, brain injuries, and blindness, some of which were more severely involved than Terri Schiavo. There are hundreds of thousands of such patients in our nation’s nursing facilities and group homes. Many are on feeding tubes, inexpensive hoses that allow food to be ingested where the risk of aspiration needs to be minimized. Feeding tubes are not “extraordinary” life-support systems akin to heart-lung pumps, respirators, or hemodialysis units. If Catholic teaching tells us that euthanasia is morally wrong even in terminally ill patients, how can starving someone who is not terminally ill be right?
Unlike a patient with an inoperable malignant cancer and a limited life expectancy, Terri Schiavo was medically stable and, by all accounts, had a normal, or near normal, life expectancy. Many of us would agree that removing a feeding tube from a terminally ill patient who has clearly established a living will is both appropriate and moral. But in this case, the patient was NOT terminally ill and her wishes regarding life support measures were unclear and disputable.
To insinuate that the deliberate, unnecessary killing of this woman was morally righteous and approved by Catholic teaching is just plain wrong. Do we really believe Christ would condone or applaud this? It is unfortunate that a professor of Catholic theology wouldn’t do the same and has misinterpreted an autopsy report to support his misguided and disturbing position.
O. Gregory Zazulak, M.D