Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bishop Milquetoast

Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg

The "Statement of Bishop Robert N. Lynch Concerning the Terri Schiavo Case" would be truly laughable if the stakes weren't so high. Rather than involve himself with the minutia of Terrri's case (i.e., her family's struggle to prevent her execution by means of a slow and painful death), the Roman Catholic Bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida pontificates (no pun intended) with a slew of platitudes that essentially echo the sentiments of that famous peace activist Rodney King: Can't we all just get along....".

After pouring over relevant Church authorities for guidance in this matter (well, somebody in his office must have at least picked up a Time or a Newsweek while drafting the Diocese's statement), the good Bishop of St. Petersburg issued his ever-so bold conclusion that we are all well advised to prepare a living will. Well golly gee... perhaps Michael Schiavo can mention that to his wife so that we can avoid all the unpleasantness that has been generated of late.

Hmm... but what about Terri you ask? Does the Bishop of St. Petersburg weigh in on her fate? Of course... here, the shepherd of the flock in St. Petersberg courageously urges the faithful of his Diocese to avoid the use of "excessive rhetoric like the use of “murder” or the designation of the trial judge or appellate judges as "murderers” inasmuch "as this is a much harder case than those who use facile language might know."

Point well taken... but seriously... what about Terri? Well, according to the brave Bishop, maybe we should try to get a better handle on Terri's medical condition. Or, going even further out on that limb, the Bishop suggests that it might even be appropriate if Terri's family is permitted to prepare medical protocols that might improve the quality of her life.

And people wonder why the moral authority of the Catholic Church has been eroded in the United States. Actually, they should properly wonder why that authority has been ceded by cowardly lions such as Bishop Lynch.

Bishop Lynch goes to great pains to rely upon the statement of Florida's Catholic Bishops in “Life, Death and Treatment of Dying Patients: Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Florida, 1989". The banal Bishop quotes this pastoral statement for his proposition that the Church has traditionally viewed medical treatment as excessively burdensome (and therefore something than can be denied) if it is “too painful, too damaging to the patient’s bodily self and functioning, too psychologically repugnant to the patient, too suppressive of the patient’s mental life, or too expensive.” There you have it... if your medical bills are too expensive, ya better watch out because, Bishop Lynch just may decide pay ya a visit. So this is what the self-proclaimed religion of life stands for?

Well, if that wasn't clear enough, Bishop Lynch goes on to state that “nourishment or hydration may be withheld or withdrawn where that treatment itself is causing harm to the patient or is useless because the patient’s death is imminent, as long as the patient is made comfortable. In general, the terms ‘death is imminent’ and ‘terminally ill’ imply that a physician can predict that the patient will die of the fatal pathology within a few days or weeks, regardless of what life prolonging methods are utilized.”

Given that Terri has lived for years with the condition that currently afflicts her, it would seem obvious to all but the feeble minded that she is neither terminally ill nor is her death imminent (using the very definition relied upon by Bishop Lynch). As such, you certainly would have expected the Diocese to weigh in with the full weight of its authority to condemn the evil being committed against Terri Schiavo. Instead, we are treated to a sermon commanding us to use nice language against those who would perpetrate evil.

Perhaps the good Bishop would spend his time in a more constructive fashion by giving up a round of golf for an afternoon devoted to the reading of Pope John Paul II's 2004 address entitled "Life Sustaining treatment and the Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas", in which he declared, “The obligation to provide the ‘normal care due to the sick in such cases’ (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Iura et Bona, p. IV) includes, in fact, the use of nutrition and hydration.” The Pontiff goes on to state that even if the vegetative state was of prolonged duration, the cessation of minimal care including hydration and nutrition can not be ethically defended. “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.”

The Pope has once again demonstrated that he is a man of moral clarity. Would that the same be true of the Bishop of St. Petersburg in Terri Schiavo's hour of need.

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