By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 11, 2007
Those in our society today who seek to obliterate the Christian (and common sense) behavioral guidelines that in the past have kept our nation strong are relentlessly pressing forward. Recent examples from the twin fronts of sexual morality and respect for the inviolability of innocent human life appeared in (1) The New York Times for October 19th and (2) The Weekly Standard, issue of November 5th.
Pennsylvania: Higher Rent for Scouts:
New York Times, October 19, 2007
Philadelphia [where the constitution that safeguards our liberty was written] has decided that the local Boy Scouts chapter must pay fair-market rent of $200,000 a year for its city-owned headquarters because it refuses to enroll gay boys. The organization's Cradle of Liberty Council, which pays $1.00 a year in rent, must pay the increased amount to remain in its downtown building past May 31, said Robert N.C. Nix, Fairmount Park Commission president. City officials say they cannot legally rent taxpayer-owned property for a nominal sum to a private organization that discriminates. The city owns the land and the building the Scouts built in 1928. Scouting officials will ask the city solicitor for details on the appraisals that yielded the $200,000 figure, said Jeff Jubelirer, spokesman for the Cradle of Liberty Council.
* * * * *And may I share with you an important report, here slightly abridged, from that excellent magazine The Weekly Standard, by Wesley Smith, a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture, on the zeal that too many medical doctors are displaying for the withholding of nourishment and hydration from the comatose, perhaps with an eye to a more abundant harvesting of vital organs, despite mounting evidence that at least some of those diagnosed as immersed in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) have some awareness of their surroundings and in some cases have emerged from that state.
* * * * *Awakenings: The Schiavo Case Revisited
By Wesley J Smith
On October 19, only months after being nearly dehydrated to death when his feeding tube was removed, Jesse Ramirez walked out of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix on his own two legs. Ramirez is lucky to be alive. Early last June, a mere one week after a serious auto accident left him unconscious, his wife Rebecca and doctors decided he would never recover and pulled his feeding tube. He went without food and water for five long days. But then his mother, Theresa, represented by lawyers from the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, successfully took Rebecca to court demanding a change of guardianship on the grounds that Rebecca and Jesse's allegedly rocky marriage disqualified her for the role.
The judge ordered that Jesse be temporarily rehydrated and nourished. Then Jesse regained consciousness. Now, instead of dying by dehydration, he will receive rehabilitation and get on with his life-all because his mother rejected the reigning cultural paradigm that a life with profound cognitive dysfunction is not worth living.
Ramirez is only the latest instance of an unconscious patient waking up after being consigned to death by dehydration. Take the disturbing case of 12-year-old Haleigh Poutre in Massachusetts. Haleigh barely survived terrible child abuse and then was nearly done in by the very people charged with protecting her. Only eight days after she was hospitalized in the wake of a beating, the Massachusetts Department of Public Social Services, acting on doctors' solemn assurances that she was "virtually brain dead," requested permission to remove her respirator and feeding tube. This request was approved by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
But the doctors, social workers, and judges were wrong about Haleigh's prospects. Just before her life support was withdrawn, she began to exhibit signs of awareness-she picked up a stuffed duck when requested -leading to a last-minute reprieve. Today, while Haleigh's exact condition is not public information, reports in the media indicate she is awake and aware and able to eat some foods. Beyond these and other unexpected spontaneous awakenings, there is news that some patients diagnosed with persistent veaerative state may actually be cognizant. This discovery stunned the scientific community after doctors conducted a sophisticated brain scan upon a supposedly deeply unconscious British woman. Unexpectedly, the scan looked, well, normally reactive to stimuli. As reported by the Washington Post on September 3, 2006:
Without any hint that she might have a sense of what was happening, the researchers put the woman in a scanner that detects brain activity and told her that in a few minutes they would say the word "tennis" signaling her to imagine she was serving, volleying and chasing down balls. When they did, the neurologists were shocked to see her brain "light tip" exactly as an uninjured person's would. It happened again and again. And the doctors got the same result when they repeatedly cued her to picture herself wandering room to room, through her own home.
Even though the woman remains physically unable to react, she is clearly, cognizant.
In other medical devopments, a few unconscious patients have been awakened by medication-paradoxically, the sleeping agent that goes by the brand name Ambien. It doesn't always work, but in a few cases people who have been unresponsive for years have become responsive for the time during which the medication is active in their systems. In Japan, deep brain stimulation of patients in a persistent vegetative state via implanted electrodes has left three of eight patients awake, aware, and communicative, and a fourth markedly improved. Research into these potentially groundbreaking advances in the care of the profoundly brain injured continues. Looming over all this good news like the proverbial elephant in the living room is the Terri Schiavo debacle. Almost every story reporting these hopeful events emphasizes that the Schiavo case was "different." Maybe the writers are experiencing subliminal guilt over the part their biased and misleading reporting played in the wrong that was done to Schiavo. Indeed, in the wake of polls showing the public supported her 2005 dehydration, the media have portrayed the effort by Republicans in Congress to pass a law to save her life as an attempt to impose their religious views on a private family....
The denigrated legislation was enacted in almost record time by one of the most bipartisan congressional margins seen during the Bush presidency. Indeed, passage in the Senate required unanimous consent, which means any senator.... could have stopped the bill in its tracks by simply saying no. None did so.... This political revisionism about the Terri Schitivo case coincides with a panicked retreat among, many who once robustly opposed dehydrating the cognitively disabled. Emboldened are those who seek to supplant the equal sanctity of human life with a "quality of life" value system that accords to the profoundly cognitievly impaired less value than the rest of us. This cultural tide now endangers thousands of people whose lives depend on how they are perceived by doctors, family members and society.
In this climate, Jesse Rarnirez-type stories can become more numerous, yet still barely penetrate the public consciousness. Increasingly, we hear about sustenance being withdrawn within days of a serious brain injury. And now that these helpless people are deemed dehydratable, there is a gowing clamor in the professional journals to transform them into natural resources to be excploited like a corn crop---as sources of vital organs and subjects for experimentation. To show how far this line of thinking has already gone, bioethicist writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics recently advocated transplanting pig organs into people diagnosed with PVS [Permanent Vegetative State] to determine the safety and efficacy of xenotransplantation (the trainsplantation of animial organs into human patients).
A serious cultural consequence of the Terri Schiavo drama has been the devaluation of the weakest among us into a disposable and exploitable caste. But it is not too late to reverse the tide. Jesse Ramirez, Haleigh Pourre, and the ground breaking research into the treatment of serious brain injury are powerful reminders that where there is life, there is hope. Those who understand that all persons, regardless of capacity, deserve to be treated as beloved members of the human family have good reason to shake off the Schiavo rout and return to the fray.
* * * * *Let me add a summary comment of my own. Once again the scientific evidence jibes with the teaching of the Church. It is the teaching of the Church that withholding nourishment and hydration from those whose bodies can accommodate such sustenance is murder. And the evidence shows that at least some of those being starved to death can feel the pain of starvation and that some of them, had they been given nourishment. might even have emerged from the so-called Permanent Vegetative State.
* * * * *
Another Bulletin from the Pro-Life Front
This weekend the motion picture Bella is scheduled to open in at least some local theatres. Check your newspaper for time and place. With a number of our parishioners I saw a "sneak preview" of the film a week ago. Mv own evaluation? GO AND SEE IT! AND SEE IT SOON! BEFORE THE ANTI-LIFE LOBBY TRIES TO GET IT OFF THE SCREEN! A big box-office in the opening week will persuade the theatre managers to keep film running. The movie has a great story and the acting is excellent. And the message is persuasive! If you haven't seen a movie since Mary Poppins, get yourself to a theatre to enjoy-and to lend your support to- BELLA! (One caution: the film is not for younger children).