Yesterday, the Florida bishops issued a statement titled Continued Concerns for Terri Schiavo. Among other things, they quote the Holy Father's address last spring to a conference on the Persistent Vegetative State, saying:
"In a statement provided in March 2004, Pope John Paul II urges us to see every patient in a so-called "vegetative" state as a fellow human being, retaining his or her full dignity despite diminished abilities. Regarding nourishment for such patients, he said:
I should like particularly to underline how 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."
By saying this, the Florida Bishops have gotten to the heart of the matter: Food and water are not medical treatment, they are the underlying support and sustenance of human life. As such, they cannot be treated like other medical treatments. Until 10-15 years ago, this would have been considered standard medical ethics.
The Bishops' statement is a positive development, but I think they could go farther.
The fact is, Michael's efforts to end Terri's life are wrong. Michael is trying to end the life of an innocent woman, whom he promised to "love, honor, and cherish". He has repeatedly refused to provide her with the therapy which could improve her condition. He has repeatedly refused to have non-invasive diagnostic procedures done, such as MRI and PET scans, which most neurologists consider standard and necessary to diagnose PVS or other serious brain injury. He has been aided and abetted by the Florida courts, which have simply refused to admit any evidence which would question Judge Greer's "finding of fact" that Terri is PVS. The efforts of George Felos, Michael's attorney and passionate pro-death advocate, have been aided and abetted by the Florida legislature, which changed Florida law in 1999 to specifically include "artificially provided sustenance and hydration" under the definition of "medical treatment".
Make no mistake, Terri's case is about more than just Terri. This is the front line of an attack against the dignity of life itself, and over who will have power over life and death. More is needed than statements of concern and promises of prayer.
The bishops need to say "This is wrong, and we cannot allow it to stand!" A woman's life hangs in the balance, and many more lives will follow if Michael Schiavo and George Felos are successful. The bishops must speak the Truth to power, in this case, the unrestrained use of raw judicial power, and say "No! This is evil, and we will oppose it!"
Where have been the bishops out at the hospice with those keeping vigil? Where have been the bishops appearing before the press, and urging Catholics to stand up against this? There have been precious few priests, and most of those from outside of Florida.
Why can't the bishops just come out and say "This is wrong". We know what the Church's teaching is, we know, as the Catholic Medical Association said last week, that there is "no rational justification, moral or medical, to withdraw food and water from Mrs. Terri Schindler-Schiavo."
A moral theologian I know told me the other day that the bishops would be on firm ground to say that removing Terri's feeding tube is objectively wrong, and that Michael, whatever his subjective frame of mind might be, is wrong for pursuing it.
Why won't the bishops say it?