"There is no rational justification, moral or medical, to withdraw food and water from Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo."
In a statement released Saturday, the Catholic Medical Association referenced the consistent Catholic teaching regarding nutrition and hydration, recent Papal teaching, as well as developments in MRI technology which shed new light on Terri Schiavo's condition.
The Statement can be found here. It isn't yet up on the CMA website, but I received it from Robert J. Saxer, MD, Executive V.P. of the Catholic Medical Association. Also of note is the CMA's 2003 Statement on Terri's case.
the Provision of Artificial Nutrition and Hydration
in the case of Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo.
The mission of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) is to uphold the truth of the Catholic Faith in the science and practice of medicine. In July 2003, the CMA published a statement regarding the provision of artificial nutrition and hydration in the case of Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo. The circumstances surrounding this case have been widely publicized. In 2003, after summarizing the ethical directives found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, we concluded that based upon the current teaching of the Church the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration could not be justified.
Two subsequent events compel us to update our former statement to uphold the truth and defend the life of Mrs. Schindler-Schiavo.
In March 2004, Pope John Paul II addressed an international congress of health care professionals convened in Rome to discuss the scientific advances and ethical dilemmas in the vegetative state. In the statement by the Vicar of Christ, “Life Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State,” he declares clearly and unequivocally that “the sick person in a vegetative state still has the right to basic health care…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…Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission.”
This papal statement makes it absolutely clear that the withdrawal of food and water from Mrs. Schindler-Schiavo constitutes euthanasia, a gravely immoral act. We would add furthermore, that it represents a violation of her constitutionally protected right to life and a violation of her religious freedom as a Catholic.
Second, recently published data in the journal Neurology indicates that magnetic resonance imaging can be a very powerful tool in the evaluation of “awareness” in patients with severe neurological injury. The findings were so remarkable Dr. Joy Hirsch, director of the Functional MRI Research Center at Columbia University Medical School and an author of the study, said, “The most consequential thing about this is that we have opened a door, we have found an objective voice for these patients, which tells us they have some cognitive ability in a way they cannot tell us themselves. The patients are more human than we imagined in the past, and it is unconscionable not to aggressively pursue research efforts to evaluate them and develop therapeutic techniques.”
These two events, the definitive papal statement and the scientific evidence of new diagnostic techniques required to adequately assess the severely brain injured patient, support our former conclusion in July 2003. There is no rational justification, moral or medical, to withdraw food and water from Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo.
Finally, we recognize that many will not agree with our conclusion. In a country that legally justifies the destruction of innocent human life in its most vulnerable stage of development, within the womb of the mother, it will come as no surprise that our courts have failed to defend her right to life. The darkness of death shrouds the conscience of America.
Therefore, we conclude this statement by making a sincere appeal to all who do agree with us. Please join us in prayer on behalf of Terri, her family and our country; that by the Grace of Almighty God some intervention will save her life and save us from the inevitable consequences if she were euthanized.
Catholic Medical Association
1241 Highland Avenue
P.O. Box 920480
Needham, Massachusetts 02492
Tel: (781) 455-0259
FAX: (781) 455-0357