To the editor:
Father McBrien’s most recent column concerning the case of Terri Schiavo is misleading.
First, Father McBrien provides findings from the autopsy and states how the medical examiner found the condition of Terri’s body “consistent” with someone in a persistent vegetative state. He fails to note that PVS cannot be diagnosed post-mortem and is an elusive diagnosis to pin down with a living patient.
He then laments that the “moral dimensions of the case were overwhelmed” by politicians. The only moral dimensions overwhelmed were the ones having to do with Terri Schiavo’s humanity. He worried about political maneuverings while some of us worried about the inherent value of her life.
Finally, McBrien relies on the “traditional teaching of the Catholic Church” to argue that intentionally starving and dehydrating an otherwise healthy, although brain-damaged, woman is morally justified. He ironically turns to the “traditional” teaching he so often rejects — as with contraception — and concludes that Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube constituted “extraordinary means” and was therefore dispensable.
While Father McBrien claims “almost every reputable Catholic moral theologian who commented on the Schiavo case” found the feeding tube an “extraordinary means,” he leaves out the opinion of Pope John Paul II, the pre-eminent theologian of our time. In an address to the Pontifical Academy of Life in 2004, our late Holy Father stated the Church’s current teaching: “The sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed.” Likewise, other Vatican officials, Bishop Clark and the USCCB publicly condemned this act of euthanasia.