Signs of the Times

Federal Judge Denies Parents’ Bid to Reinsert Schiavo’s Feeding Tube

After a Federal judge refused a request by the parents of Terri Schindler Schiavo to have her feeding tube reinserted, church officials condemned the decision and said that the brain-damaged woman must be given nutrition. The parents went to federal court after Congress and President George W. Bush rushed into place a law granting federal court jurisdiction in the case. But the law signed by the president on March 21 failed to achieve its goal when U.S. District Judge James Whittemore ruled against the parents’ request on March 22.

Whittemore said Schiavo’s life and liberty interests had been protected by the state courts and that her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, had not established a substantial likelihood of success in the federal court process. The ruling was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, Ga., on March 23.The parents plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already twice refused to take up the case.


The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, called the reasons behind the court decision absurd and chilling and said the judge has decided that Terri’s life is not worth living. Schiavo has been condemned to die an atrocious death: death by starvation and thirst, the paper said in its March 23 edition.

Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, praised President Bush and members of Congress for the new law. Terri Schiavo is not terminally ill; she is a woman with cognitive disabilities, he said March 21, three days after the woman’s feeding tube had been removed.

Washington’s Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick noted at a news conference on March 21 that Pope John Paul II has stated that people considered in a vegetative state still have the right to such basic health care as nutrition and hydration. Deliberately removing water and food in order to hasten a patient’s death would be a form of euthanasia, which is gravely wrong, Cardinal McCarrick said. We join the Catholic bishops of Florida, he said, in praying that those who hold power over Terri Schindler Schiavo’s fate will see that she continues to receive nourishment, comfort and loving care.’

On March 19, as several hundred members of Congress hurried back to Washington from an Easter recess to vote in emergency session on the Schiavo legislation, Archbishop John C. Favalora of Miami, Fla., said that removing the feeding tube violates the practice of moral theology in such disputed cases. The archbishop’s statement said that food and water can only be denied if death is imminent or if it proves to worsen the individual’s condition.

Schiavo, 41, has been brain-damaged for the past 15 years. She can breathe on her own but requires nutrition and hydration through a feeding tube. She has been receiving food and water through a feeding tube since 1990, when she collapsed at her home in St. Petersburg because of what doctors believe was a potassium imbalance. At that time, her brain was deprived of oxygen for several minutes.

The new law allows Schiavo’s parents to bring the suit. The Schindlers have been in a legal battle with their daughter’s husband, Michael Schiavo, who wants the tube removed. The husband says this is what his wife would have wanted, and his position has been upheld by the Florida courts.

Michael Schiavo strongly criticized the actions by Congress and the president in passing the law, saying they were intervening in a family matter. This is a sad day for Terri. But I’ll tell you what: It’s also a sad day for everyone in this country, because the United States government is going to come in and trample all over your personal, family matters, he said on March 21 on ABC’s Good Morning America. The parents have been fighting the husband, saying that their daughter would want to live, based partly on her Catholic beliefs.

The hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., where Terri Schiavo lives has been the scene of protests by supporters of leaving in her feeding tube. The rapid work by Congress and President Bush to get the law passed resulted from a decision on March 18 by Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer reaffirming Michael Schiavo’s right to order the tube removed.

Several Catholic moralists have said privately that the Vatican’s and bishops’ opposition to withdrawing the feeding tube represents a change in church teaching, which would have considered the feeding tube an extraordinary medical intervention that could be withdrawn for a patient in a permanent vegetative state. Experts in the field were caught by surprise last year by the pope’s statement characterizing feeding and hydration by artificial means ordinary.

New Campaign Against Death Penalty

Bolstered by trends in public policy and new polling data showing that Catholics increasingly oppose capital punishment, the U.S. bishops on March 21 kicked off Holy Week by launching the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

The U.S. bishops as a group have spoken out against the death penalty several times since the 1970’s, including a comprehensive statement in 1980 and an appeal on Good Friday in 1999. Individual bishops and state or regional church organizations also have issued dozens of statements and pastoral letters on the topic.

But this campaign is new, said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C., at the press conference where the campaign was announced. It brings greater urgency and unity, increased energy and advocacy and a renewed call to our people and to our leaders to end the use of the death penalty in our nation.

Cardinal McCarrick said the campaign will include educational efforts through schools, parishes, universities and seminaries; advocacy with Congress and state legislatures and before the courts; working to change the debate about the death penalty and challenging the notion that justice allows an eye for an eye; as well as prayer and reflection.

The pollster John Zogby presented data from two recent polls by him showing that nearly half of all Catholics now oppose capital punishment, a shift of about 20 percent from polls as recent as 2001, when 68 percent of Catholics polled by CBS supported the death penalty. He said he found the Catholics most likely to oppose the death penalty are those who go to church most frequently. Fifty-six percent of those who attend Mass at least weekly oppose the death penalty, compared with 50 percent of less frequent churchgoers, he found.

A phone survey of more than 1,700 Catholics interviewed in November found 48 percent of all Catholics supported the death penalty and 47 percent opposed it. A follow-up survey in March of about 1,000 Catholics found supporters and opponents split at 48.5 percent and 48.2 percent, respectively, Zogby said.

Broader polls done by Gallup and Quinnipiac University last fall found Americans overall supported capital punishment by 66 percent and 62 percent, respectively. Both the Gallup and Quinnipiac reports said those figures represented a decrease in support of several percentage points from the most recent previous polls.

Gallup’s all-time high point for support was in 1994, when 80 percent of Americans said they supported the death penalty. Until recently, Catholics have tended to support capital punishment by about the same percentage rate as the general public.

Zogby said the shift in opinion among Catholics seems to be attributable to their hearing and taking to heart the church’s teaching that fundamental respect for human life includes even those guilty of crimes. Pope John Paul II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church say that while the state has the right to resort to capital punishment in order to protect society, in the modern world the death penalty is unnecessary because such circumstances are essentially nonexistent.

Information on the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty can be found on the Internet at:

News Briefs

Cedric Prakash, S.J., who heads the Indian human rights organization Prashant in Gujarat, praised a U.S. decision to deny a visa to Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, because of his role in the 2002 riots there that killed more than 1,000 people.

Ignoring White House and House efforts to slash funding for social programs, the Senate on March 17 rolled back billions of dollars worth of proposed cuts in funds for Medicaid, education, community development block grants, local emergency workers and other programs. The funding was supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ lobbying efforts.

In a country afflicted by poverty and social upheaval, Peruvian public officials and ordinary citizens are increasingly looking to Catholic bishops to mediate disputes. In early March, retired Bishop Luis Bambarén Gastelumendi, S.J., of Chimbote, former president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, helped end a two-week strike by doctors in the public health system after the physicians rejected the government’s offer of a pay raise as insufficient.

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency based in Baltimore, Md., had collected, as of March 16, $121 million for tsunami relief operations. The Chronicle of Philanthropy listed C.R.S. as the U.S. charity that has collected the second highest amount for tsunami relief programs. Listed first was the American Red Cross.

Ecuadoran and international human rights organizations are expressing concern about recent threats and attacks against journalists, human rights workers and government opponents in the Andean nation. The targets include a Jesuit-run foundation that operates housing and social outreach projects, as well as Jesuit services for refugees and migrants in Ecuador.

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