A Still-Precious Life

Sept. 23-29, 2004
A Still-Precious Life
By Karen Kukla/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Pamela Finch
Facing the Challenges that Erode the Right to Life

WHITESBORO — In a society where it is cheaper to replace than repair and convenience is considered necessary, perhaps the most extreme example of a “throw away” mentality manifests itself in the debate over the sanctity of life versus the quality of life. Such is the case of 40-year-old Terri Schindler-Schiavo. She is at the center of controversy with long-reaching implications for the millions of Americans who have or will become incapacitated through illness or injury. Her brother, Bobby Schindler Jr., was among those speaking at the New York State Right to Life Convention held Sept. 11 at Hart’s Hill Inn.

“The reason that I’m standing here today is that I want to tell you what happened to my sister can affect everybody in this room,” said Schindler, a parochial school teacher in Tampa, Fla. who began speaking out against euthanasia two years ago. “We need to ask ourselves, are we going to protect these [injured] lives as human beings made in God’s image?” Robert and Mary Schindler raised their three children as Catholics and Terri was a practicing Catholic when she collapsed at home in 1990, Schindler said. Her family is fighting her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, over his request to remove her gastric feeding tube. A judge granted the request even though Terri did not have a written, advance directive. Six days later the Florida legislature passed an emergency statute named “Terri’s Law” which gave Florida Gov. Jeb Bush authority to order the tube reinserted.

Michael Schiavo presently lives with another woman and stands to inherit a substantial trust fund upon Terri’s death, Schindler said. He said that Schiavo has denied the family’s request to take Terri home to care for her and continues to limit their access to her. The Right to Life movement encompasses many issues, including euthanasia, abortion and stem cell research. Pope John Paul II addressed the Catholic Church’s belief on these issues in his message to the International Congress on April 23, 1996, saying: “The way one conceives the ‘quality of life,’ concerning which we often discover rather reductive interpretations, must take into account the transcendent dimension of the human person open to God, his origin and his goal. Man, ‘though made of body and soul, is a unity’; as the image of God, he cannot become an instrument nor be reduced to the value of his qualities.

“Man today is capable of deeply grasping the reality of life, which is not limited to our time on earth but is rooted in God and extends dynamically into eternity. Therefore this life cannot be limited to the earthly dimension, but is imbued with God’s gift and marked by eternity.… ‘Man’s life comes from God; it is his gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life. God, therefore, is the sole Lord of this life: man cannot do with it as he wills.” State lawmakers will address several bills on the topics of cloning and embryonic stem cell research when they reconvene this fall. David A. Prentice, PhD., explained how these procedures, while being conducted in the name of scientific research, cross the line of moral and ethical behavior. Prentice is an internationally recognized expert in stem cell research and cloning. He is also a founding member of Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics. “You can’t suspend ethics and morality in the name of research,” he said. “Cloning is unsafe, unethical and unnecessary.… There are no normal clones. All have problems starting as a one-cell embryo.” He summed up the topic by stating, “It raises the question of what does it mean to be human and who are you going to count.”

Embryonic stem cell research supporters claim it is necessary to harvest fetal stem cells to cure conditions like multiple sclerosis, lupus and cancer. Prentice argues that while embryonic stem cell research has failed to meet desired results, tests using adult stem cells (available through ethical sources) are a success. Adult stem cells are found in umbilical cords (which are typically discarded after a birth), bone marrow, hair follicles, brain tissue and skeletal muscles, he said. “Adult stem cells have really shown promise and are delivering, not just in a dish, but in patients,” Prentice said. It’s working and it’s working on patients now.”

According to Thomas G. Conway, chairman of the NYS Right to Life Committee Board of Directors, in the past two years the group has successfully blocked “clone and kill” legislation and bills authorizing embryonic stem cell research while forcing lawmakers to withdraw a bill authorizing physician assistants to perform abortions. The New York State Right to Life Committee was founded in 1967 and works directly with the National Right to Life Committee, Inc. in monitoring all legislation which affects the lives and status of the pre-born, newborn, those with disabilities and the dependent elderly.

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