My dear readers, I am not going to lie. In November 2003 when I first became aware of Terri’s plight, I was a little skeptical. After all, the Catholic Church had yet to make a pronouncement on the status of artificial means of nutrition and hydration. The assignment to write an article on Terri was given to me with less than 3 hours to complete. I had to explain a situation I knew little about, and that was one of the hardest articles I wrote! Being completely unfamiliar with the case, I spent the first two and a half hours on the internet, browsing various news articles, the Terri Foundation website, commentary from moral theologians, and more.
Over the next year an a half, I listened to public radio talk shows about “the woman in Florida,” kept up on the news, asked questions, prayed, and continued to form my own opinion about the case. Though working actively to save her life, it was not until her autopsy was made public that I fully understood why her death was wrong. It is a great tragedy of a society failing to protect the most vulnerable. It is the ruins of moral relativism. Many have taken the “freedom of choice” slogan, and now use it to justify the killing of themselves, their loved ones, and the vulnerable in the name of compassion.
Let’s take a look at what caring for the elderly, disabled and vulnerable teaches us as persons.
In a previous post, I spoke about my family’s involvement with Holy Angels through volunteering. And, as the Terri Schiavo tragedy continues to unfold, the pro-life movement is forced to admit more openly to the importance of caring for the disabled persons among us.
In March 2005 at the height of Terri’s tragedy, I began to receive many more letters from people who were the parents, siblings or friends of persons with severe brain injury, mental and physical disability, or terminal illness.
These were the heroic caregivers for those who were unable to care for themselves even in the most basic sense. The all spoke of the joy of the sacrifice of caring for these individuals, and of the tragedy that loomed, no, was already present, with the abuse of Terri Schiavo. All of these people took it as a personal insult to their loved ones.
A woman named Andrea Harwick writes to share her thoughts. Her brother was severely disabled with autism and passed away in 2001 at age 45.
“Our family misses him very much,” she testified. “In general, people have so little contact with the profoundly disabled that they are tempted to think of them as less than human. It is so important that pro-life groups become outspoken advocates for the severely disabled as well as the unborn and the elderly.”
“So little contact”? How did this happen? It’s true; there are not many disabled persons among us. There are many elderly persons with various diseases and ailments, but children with incurable mental and physical handicaps… where are they? They have been aborted. Doctors and parents, those whose responsibilities include nurturing life and bringing it forth into the world, have been the ones responsible for eliminating one entire sector of our society.
Yet, abortion of a handicapped child is considered one of the “hard cases” of abortion. It is these children who are some of the greatest blessings for families and for society. They teach us how to serve, how to love unconditionally, what it means to be fully human.
It is very important that those people who sustain injuries or disabilities, or are simply at the fragile end or beginning of their lives are not seen as having any less "quality" to their being. In Terri Schiavo's case, she was fully sustained on her own. The only "treatment" she received was the same treatment you and I and everyone else receive daily: 3 full meals.
With all of that said, I pray that my vocation will lead me to serve many disabled children and adults, perhaps through foster care, perhaps through other service opportunities. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!