The Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health  and Ethics

 revisiting the world's sacred traditions



Terri Schiavo and Catholic Moral Theology

Dan Maguire has been busy in the press and on TV, commenting on the prolonged dying of Terri Schiavo. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he criticized Vatican hard-liners for their "fetishism of life signs whereby any sign of life is used as justification for postponing death. They are putting tremendous stress on the physical life signs rather than survival of the personality." Death is a process, not a moment and her dying has been delayed fifteen years. With 80% of her brain gone and the other 20% radically compromised, and with a flat EEG, her death is already well advanced.

Dan told the L.A. Times that Vatican theology, which he distinguishes from Catholic theology, is boxing the Vatican into "a very interesting conundrum." Since this pope has departed from the wisdom of his predecessor, Pope Pius XII who held that no extraordinary means–including nutrition and hydration-- should be used to keep the life signs going when there is no hope of a return to normal functioning. As a result, Maguire said "you could have a totally incompetent pope for an indefinite period." In that case, Maguire has said in other interviews, the Vatican would suddenly rediscover the wisdom of Pope Pius XII and traditional Catholic theology and they would "pull the plug."

Against his better judgment, Dan Maguire accepted an invitation to be interviewed on Fox’s On the Record. Gretta Von Sustern in her introduction kept referring to him as "a former priest" not as a theologian. When Dan got to speak—and he was cut off very quickly—he said that he was indeed a former priest and that he was also a former high school student, but that he was not appearing as such but as "a Catholic theologian, trained in a pontifical university in Rome and teaching on a Catholic faculty at Marquette University." In this and in other interviews, Dan remarked that the press usually interviews priests or bishops who are not theologians but play one on television. Thus the press is regularly getting misinformation on true Catholic teaching from those who could not pass a graduate exam in theology but happen to be priests of bishops. Gretta then immediately, with much deference, brought on a priest who was not a theologian to refute Dan.

Dan told the unwelcoming Fox interviewer that this macabre Schiavo spectacle signaled an inability of the dominant American cultures to accept that death is as natural as birth. Mrs. Schiavo should have been allowed to die fifteen years ago, he said, as soon as they discovered that her brain had already deteriorated drastically. In other interviews Dan called ours a "cryonic culture," referring to the freeze-away-for-a-better-day approach to dying...i.e. freeze the body in hopes for a technical fix at some future time. He has also said that the so-called "pro-life" mourners who want Schiavo’s heart and lungs kept going while her cerebrum has died have no tears for the 26 murders of prisoners by U.S. forces or for the more than 100,000 civilians killed in Iraq. Pro-life has become a shallow motto shielding the hypocrisies of right wing militarism, Maguire said.

See related stories:

Pope's Pronouncement on Feeding Tubes Stuns Catholic Hospitals

Diverse Faiths Find No Easy Answers in Terri Schiavo Cases

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