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Terri Schiavo: A Case of 'Judicial Murder'

4/1/2005 - 3:48 PM PST

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By Michael J. Gaynor
Op/Ed

Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Vaticanís Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, spoke the words Pope John Paul II would have spoken if his circumstances permitted.

He called Terri Schiavo's death Thursday morning a "murder."

Cardinal Martino did not mintz words:

"When you deprive somebody of food and water, what else is it? Nothing else but murder."

Asked who should be held responsible for Schiavo's death, Cardinal Martino replied: "The judges, her husband, whoever denied access" to feeding.

Cardinal Martino explicitly stated that he was speaking on the case "according to the teaching of the pope."

Who had taken a great personal interest in the previously unfolding travesty of justice and was informed of Terri Schiavo's premature and cruel death shortly after it happened.

For those who think Cardinal Martino's reaction was overwrought instead of right and well reasoned, this is the essence of what Pope John Paul II said to the participants in the International Congress on "Life-sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas" on March 20, 2004:

"The evaluation of probabilities, founded on waning hopes for recovery when the vegetative state is prolonged beyond a year, cannot ethically justify the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration. 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."

Because:

"4. Medical doctors and health-care personnel, society and the Church have moral duties toward these persons from which they cannot exempt themselves without lessening the demands both of professional ethics and human and Christian solidarity.

"The sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed. He also has the right to appropriate rehabilitative care and to be monitored for clinical signs of eventual recovery.

"... 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."

The issue is one of life and death.

And the Pope was crystal clear as well as concerned and compassionate So, better still, take two minutes and read the full statement:

"Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

"1. I cordially greet all of you who took part in the International Congress: 'Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas'. I wish to extend a special greeting to Bishop Elio Sgreccia, Vice-President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and to Prof. Gian Luigi Gigli, President of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and selfless champion of the fundamental value of life, who has kindly expressed your shared feelings.

"This important Congress, organized jointly by the Pontifical Academy for Life and the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, is dealing with a very significant issue: the clinical condition called the 'vegetative state'. The complex scientific, ethical, social and pastoral implications of such a condition require in-depth reflections and a fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue, as evidenced by the intense and carefully structured programme of your work sessions.

"2. With deep esteem and sincere hope, the Church encourages the efforts of men and women of science who, sometimes at great sacrifice, daily dedicate their task of study and research to the improvement of the diagnostic, therapeutic, prognostic and rehabilitative possibilities confronting those patients who rely completely on those who care for and assist them. The person in a vegetative state, in fact, shows no evident sign of self-awareness or of awareness of the environment, and seems unable to interact with others or to react to specific stimuli.

"Scientists and researchers realize that one must, first of all, arrive at a correct diagnosis, which usually requires prolonged and careful observation in specialized centres, given also the high number of diagnostic errors reported in the literature. Moreover, not a few of these persons, with appropriate treatment and ...

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