Apology Due to Michael Schiavo?

The Terri Schiavo autopsy results are out and nobody seems to be talking about them. Or rather, it seems nobody who was rallying the troops in her defense is talking about them. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong blogs, but the only ones that I’ve noticed mentioning the autopsy at all are those by folks who were supporters of Michael Schiavo’s position – and they’re gloating.

She wasn’t abused.
Her brain was damaged beyond all hope of repair.
She was blind.

In short, it seems she had long ago ceased to be a living, thinking human being by any reasonable definition.

I’m still waiting to learn more of the details before saying too much, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the pro-life community and Christians in particular may owe Michael Schiavo and his supporters an apology.


Update 06/19/05: Obviously, around the time I wrote this post, the skeptics (of the autopsy) started posting. Here are some examples.

"The autopsy also documented significant brain atrophy, and the medical panel called the damage ‘irreversible.’

"This is not the same as saying she had no cognitive ability. " – Pro-Life Blogs

To say that would be redundant to the CT scans taken of here brain (source 1, source 2, source 3). If the correct interpretation of scans is that she had no cortical function left, she could not have had any cognitive ability.

"For me, the whole tragedy surrounding Terri and the people who wanted her dead didn�t hinge on how severely brain-damaged she was. She was alive and wasn�t on life support, and her husband�s credibility was extremely low, too low to trust his assertion that Terri wanted to die if ever severely brain-damaged. Forget about what you�d want if you were ever in the same condition. Take yourselves out of the equation."

"The way they killed her was appalling, and I was angry for a long time afterward. I�m giving you a heads-up. Don�t be alarmed or disgusted by the liberal media and liberal bloggers (and some conservatives, too) declaring that Terri�s wayward husband is somehow �vindicated� by the autopsy report. The doctor-induced starvation was immoral." – LaShawn Barber

If Terri Schiavo ceased to be a a thinking, feeling human being years ago, was it actually wrong to starve her empty shell to death? I guess that hinges on whether Michael Schiavo could have had sufficient knowledge to demonstrate that she was, beyond reasonable doubt, lacking cognition.

BTW, Smart Christian seems to agree with my suggestion that there might be some apologies owed. For the record, I haven’t made up my mind on this matter. I’m just not content with plugging my ears, yelling "La, la, la. I can’t hear you!", and essentially ignoring the consequences of the autopsy report, as so many of my Christian and pro-life brethren seem to be.

Stay tuned for another post on this topic.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

85 thoughts on “Apology Due to Michael Schiavo?

  1. Marla

    I’m glad I don’t owe him an apology because I never condemned him in the first place, much to the chagrin of some of my readers. I always grappled with what was the right thing and ultimately concluded (without being conclusive) that removing the tube was actually more humane and spiritually ethical. I really don’t understand the position that someone is “alive” soley because their body receives nourishment through artificial means.

  2. Steve Nicoloso

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, according to orthodox Christian theology, a disembodied soul is not a person–certainly not a person created in the image of God, and certainly not the thing redeemed by God though Christ. The idea that the immaterial and material part of man might be separated is dualistic and false. St. Paul makes it clear that it is our bodies that are being redeemed (along with our souls), that these will be raised up on the “last day”, and that we will have bodies like unto Christ’s glorious body.

    There have been many theories of “ensoulment” throughout the ages–most of them stupid. None of these has been endorsed in RCC dogma, as far as I know. It is really a scholasticist game–irrelevant to the question of how we are advised to make “beginning of life” and “end of life” decisions. For these we have clear tradition and teaching that is completely independent of the question of the soul, consciousness, or any of a number of abstractions.


  3. Funky Dung

    I’m not cracking a joke. I’m suggesting that perhaps she was already essentially brain dead. She was no longer a human person. The Catholic Church accepts brain death as sufficient reason to allow the remainder of the body to die. Perhaps the medical community needs to expand the definition of brain death a bit. If the seat of reason, the brain, was destroyed beyond repair and beyond the point of any cognition beyond autonomic maintenance, Terri was already dead.

    I’m not saying that’s definitely how I feel, but I think it’s an idea worth discussing.

  4. Funky Dung

    I’ve never been confortable with Aquinas’ notion of substance and accidents (an idea borrowed from Aristotle, if I’m not mistaken). I think too much Eucharistic theology and respect=for-life theology has been aimed at explaining each in those terms and it strikes me as forced and ill-fitting. Perhaps it’s time for new language to explain these old truths.

  5. Funky Dung

    If that’s the case, by Theomorph’s definition, infanticide (up to a certain age) should not be considered immoral. What say you, Theo? Have you takena a shine to the ideas of Peter Singer? 😉

  6. John

    It strikes me that there is a difference between the zygote and the brain dead person. The zygote has the potential to become human. There is no potential for development in the brain dead person.

  7. Jerry

    John said: “It strikes me that there is a difference between the zygote and the brain dead person. The zygote has the potential to become human. There is no potential for development in the brain dead person.”

    John, to an extent I think you have hit on a valid point. I of course think that a zygote is human–e.g., will a zygote conceived from a human and sperm produce a butterfly?–and while you may debate the personhood of a zygote (as per Theo or Peter Singer), to say that the zygote is not a member of H. sapiens is quite bizarre.

  8. Funky Dung

    My point is that she couldn’t *want* anything. There was no cognitive capability for wanting left. It seems she had insufficient cortex to be self-aware in any way. Of course, this whole discussion hinges on the assumption that the autopsy produced accurate results.

  9. gbm3

    No apology.

    Please see
    *** http://www.wf-f.org/JPIILifeSustaining0304.html ***

    I think of it this way. If we are to defend the smallest of human persons beginning in fertilization, we must defend all human persons to their natural end. However, throughout the entire life span, basic needs are required to be met, here, namely nutrition and hydration (for the woman to eat and drink for the zygote). It is society’s imperative to meet the basic needs of its citizens.

    Zygotes don’t have brains or even hearts, but they are to be defended. There is even a high likelihood that they will never be born, but they are to be defended in their sanctity. The same with those terminally ill: defend them until death and feed them.

  10. Funky Dung

    OK…I guess that’s a touchy subject for you. 😉 Far be from it me to suggest we revel in our animal nature. I’m just wary of functional definitions of species membership. While function is certainly important, if we get bogged down by it, we risk sliping into Social Darwinism. That is to say, if you don’t meet all the functional requirements of human personhood (i.e. disabled in some way), you’re not worth keeping alive. I’m not saying your a Social Darwinist, Theo, but that’s what led me to look to genetics. Ironically, similar problems crop up with that, too. I’ll have to think on this some more.

    Food for thought: If there is no supernatural component to humanity (i.e. a soul), human potential is essentially determined by biology. Even our ability to challenge the limits of our biology is an inherent part of our biology.

    “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened, which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk.” – Keep Talking by Pink Floyd

  11. John

    On a less cynical note. Regardless of what you ultimately come to believe funky, it’s a very reassuring thing to see someone, especially in these times, be prepared to consider that a strongly held belief may have been in error. And that if it was, some kind of ammends ought be made.
    It’s a sign that we’re a little farther from civil war than I might have thought. Also, that I should search my own beliefs and see which of them have not withstood the light of time.


  12. John

    One thing that really struck me was people making reference to “the next time”. There are somewhere on the order of 30,000 people in persistant vegitative states at any given time in the United States.

    I sat in a bar on campus towards the end of the semester and spent all night talking to a man who was getting drunk because the woman he’d lived with for the past thirty years and had three children with was in a coma and her parents decided to pull the plug, and he didn’t want to, but since they’d never married he had no legal right to stop them.

    There was nothing out of the ordinary about the Schiavo case. These things happen every day. It was just a matter that politicians thought they could gain popularity from entering the fray and the media knew it could gain ratings from helping them.

  13. gbm3

    Please clarify:

    “The Church does not claim that the physical body be entirely reduced to constuent molecules (or even cells) in order for the soul to ‘leave’.”

    Do you mean decay after death?

    Also, when “zygote” was written, I meant the human person at conception. It was technically incorrect.

    Finally, talking in terms of when the soul leaves the body is irrelavant in a discussion about the theology of the body. We should talk in terms of “from conception to final conclusion”.

  14. Tom Smith

    Regarding ensoulment, it was once thought that the “quickening” of a woman’s pregnancy was the point of ensoulment. Quickening was defined variously as the point at which the mother could first detect the developing infant or feel it kick the first time (there were other opinions as to the point of quickening, but I don’t know them off the top of my head). Quickening as the point of ensoulment was the opinion of Aquinas, if I’m not mistaken. Now, however, it seems that we realize that there is no real change at the point of quickening (or even that it exists), and the most accepted point of ensoulment is at conception. But that makes me a tad uneasy, simply because women tend to miscarry.

    Similarly, theological opinions of when the body is desouled vary. In the liturgy of the Funeral Mass, there is a ceremony known as the Final Commendation. However, in preconciliar days, it was once known as the Final Absolution. The notion that the dead could be absolved was obviously one of the last vestiges of the antiquated opinion that the soul might remain after physical death. If one thinks about it, though, why is it really the case that the soul departs from the body as soon as physical death occurs, or that death removes personhood? I tend to think the reason it doesn’t is reflected in the transubstantiated Eucharistic elements. When the species of bread and wine are no longer present, we’d say that the substance of the Eucharist has departed. When a person dies, the accidents of human personhood remain. Namely, the body. Why are we to believe that accidents are no longer indicative of substance in this scenario, but we are in the Eucharist and in everything else? It was once generally accepted that accidents indicated substance — if a block has the accidents of wood, it has the substance of wood. I think the same works for humans, as well.

    One more thought that’s a little far afield. Religious folk would generally agree that the soul does not die, but is eternal. If that’s the case, is a body also necessary for personhood? Is a disembodied soul not a person?

  15. Funky Dung

    Regarding personhood, the Church teaches that there is a physical element and a spiritual element. The spiritual element (i.e. the soul) depends on the physical element to be present anywhere by Heaven. The exact nature of the connection between the two has been the topic of much debate.

  16. Steve Nicoloso

    Rob asks:

    She had a bladder infection and pneumonia.

    Would withholding antibiotics have been acceptable to everyone?

    A good question. According to the standard set by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, while not authoritative to all participants, is yet quite well reasoned, one may withhold treatment if such is “burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome.” Clearly antibiotics are neither burdensome, dangerous, or extraordinary. So the only question is whether antibiotics would be treatment “disproportionate” to the “expected outcome.” In this case, I think the expected outcome is: cure the infection, toward which giving antibiotics would not be seem to be disproportionate.

    Gilbert Mailaender discussion Living Life’s End in last month’s First Things does an excellent job of applying a roughly Catholic sensibility to end of life questions.

    My $0.02

  17. Funky Dung

    The gist I get from the autopsy results is that there was no longer a human person present in her body at all. She could not have related to her parents in any way other than reflexively. Not only could she not reach for, chew, or swallow her own food, she was forever damaged in such a way that she could never be aware that she was eating, let alone understand what is means to eat. If the brain is essentially reduced to a functioning cerebellum and some poorly connected bits of cerebrum – minus the cortex, mind you – is there really a human person still there? My education and my catechesis tell me no.

  18. Jerry

    The real allegations against him were how he was treating her in the hospital and hospice. Yes, some invoked the spectre of abuse, but that was not the crux of the matter.

    If you really were going at the abuse angle without definitive proof, go and apologize about that. To truly let go of the main point of the debate, however, would require far more knowledge, and assume that the information would get Schiavo off the hook, not further on it.

  19. Funky Dung

    The real issue at hand is whether or not the life that was ended was ontologically continuous with the human person Terri Schiavo. Was she still a living person and thus have inherent dignity or had she ceased to be a living person years ago and long thus no longer occupying the body that was killed.

  20. Steve Nicoloso

    Well, Stuff, I admit there may be a gray area between what clearly constitutes treatment proportional toward outcomes and treatment that is disproportional. If a person is dying from condition X, and we know that some day, some flare up of condition X is going to kill her, then at some point (perhaps even an early point) refusing to treat the flare up is licit. But I don’t think we have that in the Shiavo case. In contrast to a case of say, Alzheimers, Terry Shiavo wasn’t dying of a chronic or untreatable infection–she wasn’t “dying” at all.

    It is possible that the treatment of an unusually difficult infection, as you describe, might rise to the level of burdensome, though it is far from clear that this was true of Shiavo’s particular infection. (She wasn’t hospitalized the whole time anyway, AFAIK, and I have no specific knowledge of her infection) Yes, that determination can and should be made on a case by case basis. But what I would argue strongly against is factoring in the patient’s “quality of life”, or “(guessed at or otherwise) will to live” to such determinations. If the procedure is to be deemed “burdensome”, then it should be a procedure that might reasonably deemed burdensome by anyone. Again, the “expected oucome” here is not the patient get’s totally better and races in the Tour de France–that is the desired outcome. The expected outcome is that the infection will be cured. If the cure is arguably riskier or more painful or in some other way “burdensome”, then it may licitly be refused.

  21. Emily T

    What about the denial of proper therapy when she first collapsed?

    Even if doctors make that determination, isn’t it still something that is a bit out of our realm?

  22. Emily T

    Whether it is slower and more painful, is dehydration a way you would want to die? She was *not* terminal and therefore death was imposed upon her.

  23. Emily T

    Whether she felt pain or not, whether she wanted to die that way or not, I think those are irrelevant. She had people willing to care for her and death was still imposed upon her.

  24. Therese Z

    Who cares if she was blind?
    Who cares if her brain was shrunken? (although how much of that was due to the dehydration?)
    Who cares if she was bedridden and would never roller-skate again?

    Her body worked sufficiently to digest food and water. She related (I won’t even say communicated) in primitive ways with her parents. She was ALIVE.

    The implication of violence by her husband; yes, that was unprovable hyperbole. But just because she couldn’t reach for and chew her own food made her a candidate for death? Not according to our way of thinking. Nor without her written explicit demand to be allowed to starve.

    Now it will all be swept under the rug. Everyone can feel better. “See, she was not ruled out (by the way, not proven) to be in a PVS. So it was okay to STARVE AND DEHYDRATE HER TO DEATH.”

    Wait for the next one and the next. She is just a sickening little wavelet in the flood of murders.

  25. h2

    Wish I’d chimed in before the list got this long… but on the topic of owing Michael Schiavo an apology:

    One of the most sickening spectacles of this whole ordeal was having to observe my brothers and sisters on every talk show they could get onto. Too many “Christians” showed no qualms with breaking at least one of the ten commandments — that is, bearing false witness. I recognize that some people on the othe side were hitting below the belt too, but I expected more from supposed Christians, people with whom I basically agreed on the issue of Terri Schiavo.

    People trashed Michael Schiavo mercilessly, mostly based on conjecture and hate. Members of his family here in Pennsylvania had their lives threatened by people sympathetic to Terri’s parents — how incredibly screwed up is that? -that someone who purports to believe in the sanctity of life would resort to such idiotic behavior?

    I think some people definitely owe Michael Schiavo an apology, and I think many of those same people need to examine themselves, especially the ones who claim to be saved by the love of a merciful God, because they didn’t do much to reflect that love when they engaged in behavior intended to destroy Michael Schiavo’s reputation.

    A lot of what went on was shameful at best.

  26. Pingback: Terri Schiavo's Autopsy Results @ Ales Rarus

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