Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Smiling Friar and the Schiavo Case!

The Smiling Friar's take on the Schiavo case provokes me to further comment more than I might in his comments box.

Br Andy basically argues, seemingly following Kevin O'Rourke OP, that Terri Schiavo be denied nutrition.

He starts off with a seeming non sequitur
Back to Florida. I find it very sad that so many people attack each other in this case when just 50 years ago there would have been no discussion on this issue, Terri would have died from the heart attack and stroke caused by her eating disorder. Now she lays there in bed, unresponsive to the world (please don't tell me she is responsive, the medical professionals have examined her and they are all saying the same things: most of her brain is literally gone and replaced by spinal fluid).

The issue of what medical science would or would not have been able to do 50 years ago is irrelevant and other than presenting the image of a comfortable and convenient 'slipping away' for the poor patient in question adds nothing to the argument. It's just an emotional appeal for euthanasia ('peaceful death' in Greek.).
The issue of Terri Schiavo's cerebral/mental capacity I will address in due course.

He also argues:
I am also miffed by the analogy of starving a dog to death. If a dog were brain damaged even mildly, most owners would euthanize it. That comparison just does not work. No one is injecting Terri with deadly poison, they are just allowing her to pass away in a manner that is in line with her broken body.
He's miffed? I find this line of thought offensive. Starving an animal to death is cruel. Animals are afforded the respect in law that they be not killed in such a cruel manner. So, a brain damaaged dog should be euthanised. Fair enough.
How do we get from there to the point that it's okay to remove nutrition from Terri Schiavo? Why is something unacceptable to the welfare of a dog permissable to impose on a human being?
There is a very clear point here - removal of food means that Terri is going to die of starvation, not of her injuries. The removal of food is an act morally equivalent to and potentially much more painful than poisioning. (O'Rourke denies this point.) I know he doesn't intend to so argue, but the Smiling Friar is dangerously close to suggesting that poisoning is an equivalent or better solution.
The guts of his argument seems to be the following point, seemingly based on O'Rourke's insistence on cognitive-affective function as being the key determination of when life should be preserved or not:
I will continue to present the arguments that have been brought forward in reference to her ability to further her standing in eternity. If a person cannot think, then they cannot pray. So why prolong her life in a state where she is not cognative? I do not buy the slippery slope argument, this is not a person in a coma or with mild brain damage. This is a person who will not eat or drink on her own. Her brain will not tell her mouth to chew or her hands to open a box of Mac and Cheese. Now that is a little off the point, a baby cannot do this either, but a baby will some day. Terri won't, short of the most profound miracle since Lazarus was raised from the dead by Our Lord.

I just find this mind-boggling. This is so different from any type of Catholic bioethics I've ever encountered that it seems to me sufficent to simply list the various objections to this position:
1. Ms Schiavo's capacity and medical condition is in grave doubt - part of the argument made to restore feeding is the determination of her medical status and her capacity for therapy.
2. Even in more 'clear cut' cases, the determination of the existance of the cognitive-affective function and its impact on one's relationship with God is speculative.
3. Catholic bioethics is rightfully wary of linking the right to life to any stage of human capacity or incapacity short of encephalic death.
4. The removal of nutrition is an act which directly and of itself leads to death. It is not the same as allowing a fatal and incurable illness to run its natural and inevitable course in as painless a way as possible. It is a seperate act which has death as its end. I fail to see what form of double-effect argument can avoid the fact that Ms Schiavo is due to die due to imposed starvation and not due to her injuries.
One could go on, but I think that I've raised enough questions regarding the argument proposed.

Finally, I will admit that I don't find this sort of argument pleasant, and suspect that I could probably have better spent my time in prayer for all involved.

[Edited to add: I see that Fr. O'Rourke is mentioned on Open Book too. I wonder what implications Fr O'Rourke's thesis on cognitive-affective function has for the nature of the human soul and its relationship with the body. How does his denial of the possibility of amicitia with God for one without such a function relate to the spiritual nature of the soul? I think this bears further and deeper reflection.]

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