The Italian Schiavo

Also titled, the not-so-fine line between death and murder.

I know nothing about this story other than what I am reading in this one article.  So, I know I am asking a lot from a reporter to actually give me some facts.  But it seems that Italy is currently going through their own Terri Schiavo debacle.  If I am not mistaken, they had another one a while ago, though it could be the same fight still going on.  In any case, the girl’s name is Eluana Englaro.  She has apparently been in a coma for 17 years.  An excerpt from the article:

[F]or the past 10 years he has been fighting in the courts for the right to remove her feeding tubes and “let nature take its course”. On Friday, Italy’s Supreme Court finally said he could. But the Church continues to do everything in its power to thwart him.

Now we hear that the hospice in Udine which had agreed to host Eluana during her final days has had a change of heart. So in the end Mr Englaro may have to take his daughter abroad – the obvious choice is Switzerland – to die.

For the church the issue is simple: as long as there is life it must be preserved. But advances in medical science mean that today, life functions can be sustained long after consciousness has faded forever.

Four things stand out to me.

1) Removing feeding tubes is, of course, distinctly not letting “nature take its course”.  It is simply removing the nutrition and hydration that all human beings need to survive.  The intentional suspension of someone’s food and water supply has traditionally been referred to as “starving someone to death”.  Which is a bad thing.  Giving medical treatment is clearly no longer necessary for the poor girl.  But feeding someone is not medical treatment.  It is simply the basic care that it due to all human beings, healthy or not.

2) The stament that the issue is a simple one for the Church is belied by the fact that the author of the article gets it wrong.  Surely then it is not that simple.  For indeed, the Church’s position is not that, “as long as there is life, it must be preserved.”  Certainly, the Church’s position is that, as long as there is life, the person must be fed.  But:

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. (CCC 2278)

So clearly the Church recognizes that one is not always under a moral obligation to impede death.  It all depends on the expected outcome.  However, none of this applies to Eluana’s case, as far as I can tell from this article, as it is not disproportionate medical procedures that they are seeking to bring to an end.  It is rather “the ordinary care owed to a sick person [that] cannot be legitimately interrupted” (CCC 2279) that they are seeking to interrupt.

3) So the double-standard that Peter Popham implies is being used by the Vatican is not, in fact, a double-standard, but rather a coherent application of the Church’s moral principles.  It’s not that popes get to do what they want, while the lowly plebs have these weird and antiquated rules enforced on them.  It’s simply that you can’t starve someone to death.  John Paul II did not “remain in the Vatican” to be starved to death.  He remained in the Vatican to allow death to run its course.  In fact, if you’ll recall the events, Peter Popham, it was made quite public that John Paul II, in his last days, was being nourished via a feeding tube.

So, no, there is no double-standard.  Just the application of first principles to different situations.

4) When did Switzerland become this Haven of Death for Europeans?


~ by Rob on November 19, 2008.

One Response to “The Italian Schiavo”

  1. […] to Death As a marked contrast to the story of the poor Italian girl who has recently been condemned to die by the courts, do read this post about a similar girl.  In […]

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