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The Schiavo case in Florida?
Question from Montford D. Naylor, Jr. on 11/6/2003:

Father Torraco,

It seems to me that Terri Schiavo of Florida should continue to be fed through the tube. Specifically, I ask if we should differentiate between the comatose and vegitative states as I ponder the question. Also, does it matter when morally examining this question? Please advise me about how Moral Law should apply from the religious point of view. Thank you for your anticipated input to my thinking. In the love of Jesus, Deacon Monte

Answer by Fr.Stephen F. Torraco on 11/6/2003:

First of all, one should avoid the term "vegetative state" completely. No human person should be labeled with that term. It would be preferable to speak of a person in a persistently unconscious state. Looking at such a person "from the outside" is no substitute for the internal life of that person, however unknown or unintelligible it may seem to us. Looking at such a person "from the outside" and concluding that such a person would not want to continue living in such a state cannot substitute for the internal life of such a person. Besides, no one is morally entitled to determine whether anyone's life is "worth living."

Secondly, one should avoid reducing the humanity of such a human person to "consciousness." It is true that what is uniquely human in us - the intellect and the will - is, as far as we can tell, severely impeded by an unconscious state. However, no one has ever encountered "human consciousness" walking down the street. The uniquely human is always encountered in a living, breathing body. The point is that respect for the uniquely human calls for respect for everything human.

With respect to artificial nutrition and hydration, if these are able to accomplish their goal - and the goal of these treatments is nourishment, not the restoration of consciousness - without imposing a burden on the person that outweighs these treatments, then the treatments are morally obligatory. And note that the focus here is on the TREATMENT at issue. As I said above, we must avoid putting ourselves in the position of determining whether someone's life is "worth living."

Finally, one cannot morally justify, for any reason or set of circumstances, the causing of the death of a person in a persistently unconscious state by starvation or dehydration. It is one thing to withdraw or withhold artificial nutrition and hydration if it is useless - that is, unable to accomplish its specific goal - or if it imposes a burden that outweighs the treatment. In such cases, the person would not die of starvation or dehydration but rather by some other unintended and unavoidable cause. It is quite another thing, however, to withdraw or withhold such treatment as a means or an end in itself. In such a case, one would clearly be intending to cause the death of the person.


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