Statements of Bishops on the Terri Schiavo case

Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Oregon:

The Catholic Church teaches that hydration and nutrition are simply water and food.  These must always be provided as long as the food or water itself or the method of delivery is not unduly burdensome to the PATIENT.  There does not appear to be any indication from Terri that the provision or the method of provision of food and water is burdensome to her.   

The one 'burden', which so many seem so determined to lift from her, is that one thing that allows Terri to continue to be a living breathing human person, life itself.  Life itself cannot be the burden from which we in the Catholic Church seek to deliver the faithful. This is the Assisted Suicide attitude.   

Life is a grace and a blessing and yes the living of that life does entail some burdens, sometimes great burdens, but the solution can be neither murder nor suicide - these are offenses against life itself and the Lord who gives it.   

Terri is alive. She is kept alive by the same things that keep me alive - Food, water, air. Her disability deprives her of the ability to ingest these things, it does not deprive her of the ability to digest them.  She may well die in the future from an inability to digest food but it would be murder to cause her death by denying her the food she still has the ability to digest and which continues to provide for her a definite benefit - life itself.

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Archbishop John F. Donoghue of Atlanta, Georgia:

In recent days, the case of a Florida woman, Terri Schindler-Schiavo, ill since 1990, and now requiring medically assisted hydration and nourishment, has come to the attention of the general public. Medically assisted hydration and nourishment means that she must now be given food and water by the use of a feeding tube. The latest court decision is that this life support will be terminated on October 15 , and she will be allowed to starve to death. What makes this case very sad is that there seems to be irreconcilable disagreement between Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings, who wish her care to continue, and her husband and the courts, who seek what we consider a too hasty end to this unfortunate woman's life. What makes this case critical for our consideration is the necessity that Terri Schiavo's life be protected, that Church teaching be applied, and that we give due consideration to the circumstances of our own lives and deaths, and try to prevent this same kind of tragic impasse from occurring within our families and our communities.

I believe that in the case of Terri Schiavo, where there is considerable doubt about her medical condition, and where the feeding and hydration cannot be shown as producing harmful effects to her body and mind, where her care cannot be considered too burdensome for her family or her care-givers, and where death cannot be shown to be imminent, then we must make a decision to preserve life - a decision to provide her with the means to keep living, and to do so as comfortably as possible. This, I believe, is a responsibility shared by her family, her Church and the entire community. The Church teaches, that when uncertainty exists in situations such as Terri Schiavo's, then we must show a preference for the preservation of life. This preference is overwhelmingly supported by the facts of Terri Schiavo's particular case, facts which may be examined at:

Finally, this tragic case reminds us of the attention we should give to preventing such situations at the time of our own death, by discussing these matters with our families and our doctors, by making our wishes regarding our own death known, by entrusting the power to make medical decisions on our behalf to a medical surrogate, and by depositing with the appropriate agent, a "living will," making our wishes clear, should our competence be impaired.

May God bring peace and resolution to Terri Schiavo, to the Schiavo family, and to all their friends and loved ones, and may He strengthen His Church daily in her resolve to protect human life, a gift shared with the Father through His Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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Bishop Raymond Burke of La Crosse, Wisconsin:

The case of Mrs. Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman whose husband has petitioned the courts to remove her feeding tube, has drawn national attention. Last week, the Catholic Bishops of the State of Florida issued a statement, requesting that artificial nutrition and hydration "be continued while all parties pursue a more clear understanding of her actual physical condition." I join my voice to theirs in urging the courts in Florida to determine more clearly her physical condition to prevent a wrong diagnosis of persistent vegetative state (PVS), which would lead to discontinuing her nutrition and hydration.

Last year, the Catholic Bishops of Wisconsin published a pastoral letter on end of life issues entitled Now and at the Hour of Our Death, in which we reminded Catholics and other people of good will of the conditions that make it morally permissible to remove food and water. Citing The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare, we wrote "there should be a presumption in favor of providing nutrition and hydration to all patients, including patients who require medically assisted nutrition and hydration, as long as this is of sufficient benefit to outweigh the burdens involved to the patient" (p.6).

We presume in favor of nutrition and hydration because food and water are ordinary means of keeping anyone alive, even if this is done through a feeding tube. If Mrs. Schiavo were facing imminent death, or were unable to receive food and water without harm, then removing nutrition and hydration would be morally permissible. It is however never permissible to remove food and water to cause death. Food and water are basic human needs, and therefore basic human rights.

I would join my prayers to those of Bishop Robert N. Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg Florida for "a peaceful, moral, legal and just resolution of this case."

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Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Virginia:

The Church has taught consistently and without compromise that every human life has a value and dignity that cannot be measured by standards of productivity, competence, or even physical health.  Each human life is incomparably precious and inviolate.  Such is the case with Theresa Schiavo.  As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities has stated (April 2, 1992), decisions about patients who are diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state 'should be guided by a presumption in favor of medically assisted nutrition and hydration.'  The inherent worth of the life of Theresa Schiavo obligates all concerned to provide her with care and support and to reject any omission of nutrition and hydration intended to cause her death.

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