From a Moral Perspective, Should Terri Schiavo's Feeding Tube Have Been Removed?



PRO (yes)

Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, commented in an interview with Larry King that aired Oct. 27, 2003:

"This [removal of the feeding tube] is Terri's wish. And I'm going to follow that wish, if it's the last thing I can do for Terri. I love Terri deeply. And I'm going to follow it up for Terri.

...Removing somebody's feeding tube is very painless. It is a very easy way to die... And it doesn't bother me at all. I've seen it happen. I had to do it with my own parents."

Oct. 27, 2003 - Michael Schiavo 



Reverend Richard P. McBrien, Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, argued in his Aug. 5, 2005 article "The Schiavo Case Re-Visited" published in The Tidings:

"For many Catholics--including priests and theologians educated in the years prior to, during, and immediately after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65)--the Terri Schiavo case was always morally clear-cut.

The traditional teaching of the Catholic Church for at least four centuries--a teaching reaffirmed and extended by the most prominent of the pre-Vatican II popes, Pius XII (1939-58)--distinguished between ordinary and extraordinary means of preserving life. No one, the church consistently taught, is obliged to use extraordinary means to sustain their life on this earth...

Almost every reputable Catholic moral theologian who commented on the Schiavo case concluded that continuing the use of a feeding tube to keep Mrs. Schiavo alive was a clear instance of an extraordinary means, and as such could be dispensed with. In the words of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, such means would be 'disproportionate to the expected outcome' (n. 2278).

The autopsy report removed all doubt that the withdrawal of the feeding tube, far from being an act of euthanasia or even outright murder, was entirely consistent with traditional Catholic moral principles.

Terri Schiavo, for her part, was re-born into eternal life."

Aug. 5, 2005 - Richard McBrien 



Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, wrote in her Apr. 4, 2005 Newsweek article entitled "The Culture of Each Life" :

"Arguments about Terri's case centered on something described as a 'culture of life.' It is an empty suit of a phrase, absent an individual to give it shape. There is no culture of life. There is the culture of your life, and the culture of mine. There is what each of us considers bearable, and what we will not bear. There are those of us who believe that under certain conditions the cruelest thing you can do to people you love is to force them to live. There are those of us who define living not by whether the heart beats and the lungs lift but whether the spirit is there, whether the music box plays.

There are many ways in which this case has been divvied up in public... But it is truly about that thing that defines free human beings: the right to self-determination instead of a one-size-fits-all approach in private matters, in those issues that take place in bedrooms and kitchens and hospices. It's a primal demand for a personal sense of control in the face of intrusive government, intrusive medicine and intrusive strangers who think holding a crucifix like a blunt instrument makes them righteous when it really only makes them sanctimonious...

The Schiavo case has asked us to look at our own definition of life, not at some formless notion cobbled out of the Bible, medical textbooks and impersonal sentiment.

...Once the feeding tube was removed, polls showed that the majority of Americans believed Terri Schiavo should be allowed to die. That's probably because they've been there. They are the true judges and lawmakers and priests. They've been at the bedside, watching someone they love in agony as cancer nipped at the spine, as the chest rose and fell with the cruel mimicry of the respirator, as the music of personality dwindled to a single note and then fell silent. They know life when they see it, and they know it when it is gone."

Apr. 4, 2005 - Anna Quindlen 



CON (no)

Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo's brother, spoke at a Walk For Life rally in Nebraska on Jan. 29, 2006 as Nebraska's Lincoln Journal Star reported:

"Death by dehydration... is terrifying and ugly and has nothing to do with mercy...

My sister was very much alive. This was not an end-of-life issue...

That became the battle cry of the media... If she's in a (persistent vegetative state), kill her. We have to stop describing people as being in a (persistent vegetative state).

All humans, even the brain damaged, are children of God, and they deserve life...

For example... one media poll during the Schiavo controversy asked: 'Would you want to live in this condition? Yes or no?'

Of course, no one would choose to be disabled... But that doesn't mean we should kill those who are."


Jan. 29, 2006 - Bobby Schindler 



J.P. Hubert Jr., MD, Catholic Biomedical Ethicist, argued in his Mar. 8, 2006 article "Fr. Richard McBrien and Others Mislead Catholic Public: Allege Schiavo Feeding Tube Removal OK" published by Catholic Online:

"There is no intellectually honest way to portray what occurred in the Schiavo case as anything but 'Euthanasia by omission' as Pope John Paul II described it in his 2004 allocution... The 2004 Papal teaching specifically addressed the issue of persistent vegetative state (PVS) and the moral necessity of providing sustenance as part of basic supportive and humane care, not extraordinary medical intervention...

While it is completely understandable and appropriate that people wish to be compassionate to those who suffer with PVS...ending their lives by dehydrating them to death is not a morally licit way to do so...

I feel the duty to reaffirm strongly that the intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being do not change, no matter what the concrete circumstances of his or her life. A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man, and he will never become a 'vegetable' or an 'animal'...

Even our brothers and sisters who find themselves in the clinical condition of a 'vegetative state' retain their human dignity in all its fullness. The loving gaze of God the Father continues to fall upon them, acknowledging them as His sons and daughters, especially in need of help."

Mar. 8, 2006 - J.P. Hubert, Jr., MD 



Paul McHugh, MD, Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote in his June, 2005 article titled "Annihilating Terri Schiavo" that appeared in Commentary Magazine:

"As soon as Terri Schiavo's case moved into the law courts of Florida, the concept of 'life under altered circumstances' went by the boards--and so, necessarily, did any consideration of how to serve such life...

Terri Schiavo's husband and his clinical and legal advisers, believing that hers was now a life unworthy of life, sought, and achieved, its annihilation. Claiming to respect her undocumented wish not to live dependently, they were willing to have her suffer pain and, by specific force of law, to block her caregivers from offering her oral feedings of the kind provided to all terminal patients in a hospice-even to the point of prohibiting mouth-soothing ice chips. Everything else flowed from there. How could such a thing happen? This, after all, is not Nazi Germany... But we in this country have our own, homegrown culture of death, whose face is legal and moral and benignly individualistic rather than authoritarian and pseudo-scientific...

Contemporary bioethics has become a natural ally of the culture of death, but the culture of death itself is a perennial human temptation; for onlookers in particular, it offers a reassuring answer ('this is how X would have wanted it') to otherwise excruciating dilemmas, and it can be rationalized every which way till Sunday. In Terri Schiavo's case, it is what won out over the hospice's culture of life."

June 2005 - Paul McHugh, MD