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When I was Hungry

By Deacon Keith Fournier

© Third Millennium, LLC

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous 16 will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' "

The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25

Terri Schiavo is communicating with her family - and with the world- on a daily basis. We all know that. Her smile has been embedded in our National conscience. That is, if we still have one. She is a lovely, disabled woman who her estranged husband wants to kill by starvation and dehydration. Terri Schiavo is not dying. For convenience and proper care, she is being fed at meal times through a feeding tube. There is medical evidence that, with proper care, Terri could be fed in the future with a spoon.

Terri is not in a "Persistent Vegetative State" Though I find the term repugnant (because a person can never be a vegetable), under Florida Law a "Persistent Vegetative State" is defined as a "permanent and irreversible condition of unconsciousness in which there is: (a) The absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of ANY kind. (b) An inability to communicate or interact purposefully with the environment." (Florida Statute 765.101) Terri communicates through her face, her movement and even verbally. She laughs and cries around those whom she loves. Terri is simply limited in her communications. So are millions of other disabled people.

Terri has needs and rights. She has a right to rehabilitation under any interpretation of the law. She is being denied that right. Florida law ( Florida Statute 744.3215) codifies the "Rights of Persons Determined Incapacitated":(1) A person who has been determined to be incapacitated retains the right. (i) To receive necessary services and rehabilitation.

This is a personal right that cannot be taken away, even by a guardian. What is being attempted in Florida, with the approval of a Judge who has set himself above the law, is the killing, by starvation and dehydration, of Terri Schaivo. This is illegal and unconscionable.

Here is the truth, Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage. Her communications skills were altered as a result of the injury. She is a disabled American woman. She is also a daughter to two wonderful parents who have lovingly cared for her and communicate with her regularly. In order to facilitate easier feeding of Terri, a so called "feeding tube" is being used. This does not constitute the use of "extraordinary medical means" by any stretch of that term, under any definition. This is not "prolonging the dying process" within any moral analysis, because Terri is not dying. However, if things continue without intervention, she will be killed.

Today, March 18, 2005 a judge’s order staying Terri’s execution expires. I use that expression with intentionality. She is under a stay of execution from this Judge. Hopefully, the Congress of the United States will put Terri ahead of their Spring vacation and act to stop this impending murder. Terri Schiavo is a human person and a United States citizen. As far as her potential to improve her communications skills goes, there is medical evidence that she could make substantial improvement. That is, if she is not executed. We all remember the wonderful story of Sarah Scantlin of Hutchinson, Kansas, who, after an accident twenty years ago, who began to speak. I am sure that her mother is watching the events in Dunedin, Florida today!

The whole world is watching the events in Florida.

Terri Schiavo must not be killed. To do so would be to sanction a new, profane "right" to exercise raw power over disabled people who are hungry and thirsty. That is precisely what is being claimed as a "right" by Michael Schiavo. You cannot have a "right" to do what is wrong. I have practiced law for twenty five years. There is absolutely no verifiable evidence that Terri desired to be killed by starvation and dehydration! That is still illegal in America. This is a contrived claim, advanced by an estranged husband, backed by a lawyer who should be disbarred, and funded by culture of death activists.

Without Congressional, Presidential or Judicial intervention, a death sentence will be carried out by a Medical Doctor who, in contravention of his oath, will starve a woman to death after having vowed to "do no harm!"

Some in the Press still refer to this entire story as a "right to die" story. This is not about a "right to die". We all have a "right" to die, that is when it is time and when we are called home. We should be surrounded by love when that time comes. This is not even about "passive" euthanasia, or "active" euthanasia. In fact, it is not about "euthanasia" at all, which must always be resisted as intrinsically evil. This is an effort to create a "right" to starve some disabled people. The story of Terri Schiavo is about the possibility of judicially sanctioned murder by a husband who no longer cares for his brain damaged wife. His will is being forced on her through the efforts of a misguided lawyer. There is absolutely no independent proof whatsoever of Terri’s so called "last wishes" as he claims. That is a subterfuge.

Terri has the real rights here, including a right to live; and a right to be loved and cared for by her parents and all those who have volunteered to serve her. Terri’s rights, authentic justice and our obligations in human solidarity should become the basis for Congressional, Presidential or Judicial intervention, TODAY.

If, God forbid, there is no action by the Congress today, than millions of people should flood the streets around the hospital to stop this killing. We must not allow the killing a disabled woman simply because she cannot communicate in a way that someone else has determined has "value". It is no wonder that the disabilities community has stood in solidarity with Terri. Will we? Or will we allow a new "triumph of the will" - in this instance the will of an estranged husband who no longer "wants" his wife? If we fail to act we will be allowing him to "dispose’ of his disabled wife with the protection of the State.

Tonight we will either see Congressional action that will allow Terri’s parents to continue their courageous fight for their beloved daughters’ life, or we will witness the beginning of the starvation and dehydration of a beautiful woman named Terri Schiavo.

'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?"

The answer is clear; in the eyes and the smile of Terri Schiavo.

How will we respond?

Deacon Keith Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Melkite Greek Eparchy with permission. He is a human rights lawyer and a public policy advocate.



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