And much comment in Catholic circles. Very few recognize the extreme damage done to the pro-life position.
A commenter “Ian” at Amy Welborn's always thoughtful Open Book says it best:
I think those who were supporting Terri discredited their effort by justifying her life based on the potential to recover. Like many, I wanted to believe this was possible, but the evidence wasn't there. With the release of this autopsy report, pro-lifers have lost credibility among those who don't have an opinion one way or the other. These are the ones we should work to convince; the Left is against us and always will be.
Amy disagrees saying:
I really do believe that if you look back over years of commentary on this case from prolife experts and institutions (rather than spleen-venting on the internet), you would very rarely find any defenses of continued feeding of this woman based on her potential to recover. I for one, never made it part of my argument, and most I know and read did not either. That is not the point, and falls into the "You're human and worthy of life if you can perform" mentality.
I disagree cautiously with her on this point. She for one has been single consistent proponent of the value of any life and opposed removal of feeding tubes whether or not there was any hope of recovery simply because we treat human beings with dignity regardless of their condition. [I hope I summarized her position properly.] I agree with this position--but that was not the public positon that was argued.
Perhaps pro-life experts and institutions did confine themselves to this argument but the vast majority of pro-life supporters did not. The emphais was clearly on misdiagnosis. It’s clear that hope of recovery/misdaignosis was the basis for Congressional action, as well. Senator Frist, as a doctor, reported in favor of legislation that she had been misdiagnosed, but now claims he never said that. Congress would not have interefered if he had not taken that position. The comments in blog comments boxes often expounded conspiracy theories approaching “UFO-ness. Now her family is raising questions about a “50 minute gap” essentially accusing the husband of murder 18 years ago. This is nonrational thinking by the family members and, for them, it can be excused.
The problem is that others have jumped on this “conspiracy” bandwagon. Certainly both the posts and the comments at Thrown Back were not in the constrained vein Amy suggested was the real position. Maybe she considers that internet spleen venting, and that’s fair, but even the televised quotes from Father Pavano emphasized potential consciousness and recovery. The televised vigil services being held outside the hospice made no mention at all of this issue. Most insisted on calling Michael Schaivo a “murderer.” Many, if not most of the accusations were based on the fact she was conscious and could or would recover, or at least, recovery could not be ruled out. I think it’s more accurate to say that the matter was handled in a “shotgun” fashion and all available potential arguments and conspiracy theories, plausible or not, were made with equal vigor.
I think this public relations tactic was both intentional and seriously mistaken, harming the pro-life movement. The tactic was intentional because the vast majority of Americans do not favor ceasing medical efforts for comatose people who have a reasonable prospect of recovery. Consequently, the emphasis on recovery was essential to this strategy and the criticisms are still being made today based on swallow tests, MRI’s etc by people who need to invoke this tactic.
This tactic has to be employed because otherwise, accepting the autopsy at face value and medically accurate, we are presented with the situation in which a person is hopelessly in a vegetative state. In such cases the vast majority of Americans would be in favor of family members deciding to discontinue artificial nutrition and hydration. Making Amy's argument would simply not be persuasive.
Then we have the teachings of the Catholic Church. Those teachings handle the two cases very differently.
As to situation one--the potential recovery scenario--I believe the Church teaches that medical care cannot morally be withheld.
As to situation two—the non-recovery scenario—The Church’s teaching are prudential. People may legitimately decide that the burdens outweigh the benefits based on the facts of each case.
Catechism section 2278: "Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected."
There is no one right answer for every situation. Consequently, at least some pro-life advocates conceded the possibility that Terri Sciavo’s husband made a morally correct decision. One of these people was her own bishop. Was he given the respect for his teaching position? You be the judge.
If I was in Terri Schaivo’s position I would hope my family would lovingly and prayerfully remove all artificial efforts to prolong life. If I was in Michael’s shoes, I would probably wait several years until there was no hope and make the same decision he did, if that decision was allowed by the Catholic Church, as it is today.
In short, Michael’s decision may or may not have been moral. I don’t know what he was thinking, I do know it was not objectively wrong to make that decision. Pro-lifers who actually have read the Church’s teachings, including, for example, American and Australian Catholic Bishops, recognize the decision is prudential. There is no one size fits all answer. Catholics who claim there is misrepresent the teachings of the Church.
But, the Schaivo situation became a public relations affair, not a calm discussion on the sanctity of life. And it got that way by supposed pro-lifers. They seriously damaged their cause.