A Test for Us All
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
The case of Terri Schindler-Schiavo is a test for all of us.
It's not a test of whether we will kill cognitively disabled people by
refusing them food and water. That's a test we've already failed, because it
happens routinely throughout the country.
Rather, Terri's case is a test of whether we will wake up and realize that
letting patients decide they want to be killed means that some patients will be
killed against their will.
People often leave advance directives saying what treatment they do or do not
want. But Terri had no such directive, and her parents and siblings say she
never indicated she wanted to be dehydrated and starved to death. The problem,
of course, is that if dying is a "right," then why take it away from those who
forgot to tell us they want it? Should this "right" be exercised only by those
well enough to express it?
For that matter, why should the right to escape a burdensome existence be
limited to those with cognitive disabilities or other illnesses? What about the
teenager whose life has suddenly become burdensome because he lost his
girlfriend, failed his courses, and got thrown off the football team? In those
cases, of course, if the student indicates a desire for death, we call the
suicide hotlines. I guess we still need to catch up with ourselves.
One advocate for Terri's death, reacting to the re-insertion of her feeding
tube, declared that it is "simply inhumane and barbaric to interrupt her death
process." But Terri Schindler-Schiavo is not a dying patient. She simply doesn't
function at the same level as the rest of us. There was no "death process"
underway until her food and water were taken away. That's what is inhumane and
barbaric. And this is a test for all of us, to see if we remember the
While there are such things as worthless treatments, there is no such thing
as a worthless life. Food and water, furthermore, constitute the most basic
care. We don't come back from a meal saying we just got our latest "medical
Terri's parents and siblings are heroes. Were it not for their desire to care
for Terri despite her limitations, she would have been killed without us ever
hearing her name. The future of society is determined by the strength -- or
weakness -- of the family, by its readiness to care or its willingness to kill.
Some have said that the government should stay out of this case, and that
Governor Jeb Bush had no business ordering that Terri should be given food and
water. But Jeb Bush is a hero, too. He understands that no public servant is
permitted to turn his back on members of the public who are being mistreated.
He, and many others, have passed the test this case puts before us.
It falls to us to do the same.