A priest’s shameful testimony

A priest’s shameful testimony

I just finished reading some disturbing testimony from a priest in the court case between Terri Schiavo’s family and Michael Schiavo. Michael called a Fr. Gerard Murphy, a priest of the diocese of St. Petersburg who had been working as a hospital chaplain, to testify with regard to the Catholic Church’s teachings in order to counter Terri’s familiy’s contention that depriving her of food and water would be a grave sin of unjust killing.

Michael’s attorney, George Felos, asks Fr. Murphy:

... If a patient is in a permanent vegetative condition, maintained by artificial life support, and the patient’s intent is not known, can a loved one who has the best interests of the patient at heart authorize removal of artificial life support consistent with church teachings?

And Fr. Murphy responds affirmatively. The problem is that Felos is arguing from a false premise. Whether Terri is in a persistent vegetative state is not at all settled. Many doctors who have examined the evidence sya she is not. The Church has also clearly taught that assisted nutrition and hydration for someone who is not terminally ill is not artificial life support. Terri does not have an illness that is killing her. Given food and water, she could live a normal life span.

Yet Fr. Murphy allows himself to be used Felos and Michael Schiavo in their efforts to kill Terri. And he also allows Felos to use him to slander the Schindlers. Referring to their depositions, Felos says the Schindlers have said if they were in a similar state to Terri’s they would want all possible medical interventions made, even if, as Felos puts it, they had gangrene and had to have all their limbs amputated. Fr. Murphy says that while such views are not contrary to the Church’s teachings, they are “extreme opinions.” He calls their fight to save their daughter’s life “unhealthy grieving.” He says that we should not fear death, that it is part of life. Okay, but neither should we seek it out when it is not approaching. Remember, Terri is not terminally ill. She is not dying.

The priest goes on to contradict the family that allowing Michael to do what he wants to do is not murder. So if my mother is 80 years old and can’t feed herself, but must be cared for and I can’t afford it so I stop, and she eventually dies of starvation, is that murder or not? Is that a sin or not?

Terri is not dead and is not dying of a terminal illness. Her family is trying to make sure she doesn’t die of neglect either.

(The testimony is from the guardianship hearing before Judge Greer, January 24, 2000. I don’t know if it’s available online. But here it is in Word format.)