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Cardinal says Schiavo death raises questions for society

Cardinal William H. Keeler, chairman of the US Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has issued a statement suggestion that yesterday's death of terminal patient Terry Schiavo will raise "critical questions for society".

Catholic News Service reports that Schiavo, 41, died nearly two weeks after her feeding tube was disconnected. She had been in what doctors defined as a persistent vegetative state since 1990, when her brain was deprived of oxygen after her heart stopped. Doctors appointed by the courts had said she had no real consciousness or chance of recovery.

However, her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, fought with her husband, Michael Schiavo, for seven years over the right to make medical decisions for her.

They tried unsuccessfully to persuade state and federal courts at all levels that they should have the right to care for her, and, later, that her feeding tube should be reinserted. Their last appeal to the US Supreme Court was rejected without comment hours before she died at a hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla.

It was under a court order that her feeding tube was removed on 18 March, based on Michael Schiavo's testimony that his wife had told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially.

In a statement issued shortly after she died, Cardinal Keeler said Schiavo's situation raised the question of how to care for the most helpless patients who cannot speak for themselves.

He cited the comment of Pope John Paul II last year at a conference on end-of-life medical ethics that "the administration of food and water, even when provided by artificial means," should be considered morally obligatory, as long as it provides nourishment and relieves suffering for the patient.

Cardinal Keeler quoted poet John Donne, saying "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."

"We are all diminished by this woman's death, a death that speaks to the moral confusion we face today," said Cardinal Keeler. "Ours is a culture in which human life is increasingly devalued and violated, especially where that life is most weak and fragile."

He said he prayed that the "human tragedy" of Schiavo's situation "will lead our nation to a greater commitment to protect helpless patients and all the weakest among us."

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said he hoped that Schiavo's death "rightly disturbed consciences."

"There is no doubt that no exceptions can be allowed to the principle of the sacredness of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Besides being a principle of Christian ethics, this is also a principle of human civility. We can only hope that this dramatic experience leads to a maturation among the public of a greater awareness of human dignity and leads to a greater safeguarding of life, including on a legal level," he said.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Schiavo's death represented "a homicide in which it is impossible to idly stand by without becoming accomplices."

Prior to the announcement of her death, Cardinal Martino said that not allowing for the reinsertion of a feeding tube represents "an unjust death sentence of an innocent person." He said having Schiavo die of starvation and thirst was "one of the most inhumane and cruel" ways to die.

"Beyond the possible political exploitation" of the Schiavo case, her "painful, heartbreaking agony" should be enough to force humanity to prevent what will be an otherwise tragic end to her life, he said.

In the UK, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said it was a "moral obligation to provide a person with food and water unless the means of doing so become useless or unnecessarily burdensome."

"The removal of Terri Schiavo's means of nourishment has deliberately brought about her premature death and I regret this very much," he said.

Schiavo's death mourned, said to raise questions for society (Catholic News Service 31/3/05)

Bishop says Schiavo case may influence Australian laws (CathNews 1/4/05)
Vatican calls for keeping Schiavo alive (CathNews 22/3/05)
Vatican bioethicist says patient's tube 'direct euthanasia (CathNews 14/3/05)

Catholic bishops reaffirm opposition to euthanasia (Irish Times 30/3/05)
Brain-damaged Terri Schiavo dies (BBC 31/3/05)
Terri Schiavo has died, says family ( 31/3/05)
Ellen Goodman: Schiavo's lesson for us all (Boston Globe 31/3/05)
Terri dies in Florida, "family's faith remains strong" Fr. Pavone says (Catholic News Agency 31/3/05)
Cardinal Martino, pro-lifers on Terri's death (Catholic News Agency 31/3/05)
Terri Schiavo has died, says family (Catholic World News 31/3/05)
Reactions to Terri's death warn of the implications, precedents set (Catholic World News 31/3/05)
Vatican Cardinal Condemns Schiavo Death (The Guardian/Associated Press 31/3/05)
Mel Gibson cries murder (Herald-Sun 1/4/05)
Terri Schiavo Torture and Execution Completed - It is Finished (LifeSite 31/3/05)
Schiavo Dies Nearly Two Weeks After Removal of Feeding Tube (New York Times 31/3/05)
Schiavo to Undergo Autopsy to End Debate -- Lawyer (Reuters 31/3/05)
Terri Schiavo Dies After Bitter Legal Battle (Reuters 31/3/05)
Schiavo death seen as a watershed for US and the spiritual equivalent of 9/11 (Spirit Daily)

32 Apr 2005