Terri Schiavo's Brother on Euthanasia

Interview With Bobby Schindler

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ALKOVEN, Austria, JULY 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Euthanasia implies two choices -- either killing people because of their disability or caring for them and loving them as they deserve, says the brother of Terri Schiavo.



Bobby Schindler said this as a participant at an international conference titled "Sense and Obligation on the Present State of the Euthanasia Debate." The conference was organized in the Hartheim Castle, a site once used by the Nazis for euthanizing the handicapped.

President Heinz Fischer of Austria, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, and Josef Puhringer, governor of Upper Austria, all participated in the event.

In this interview with ZENIT, Schindler discusses the growing problem of euthanasia in the United States, the attitudes that are driving it, and how its growth can be curtailed.

Schindler is the executive director of the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, which is dedicated to helping people with disabilities.

Q: This conference took place at the emblematic location of Hartheim, one of the seven main euthanasia centers of the Nazi regime. Approximately 30,000 people -- mostly children -- were killed there. More than 60 years later, can you find any resemblance to that system of horror and the current tendencies of the so-called culture of death?

Schindler: Yes, you can. What happened here not so long ago was the killing of children because they were deemed physically or mentally inferior. This is exactly what happened to my sister Terri Schiavo in the United States.

What is more frightening is that this not only happened to Terri. This type of thing happened long before her case made the headlines, and it continues to happen every day in America.

Q: Do you think politics needs to consult ethics?

Schindler: Well, naturally. In the case of my sister, it went to a judge. He was the person responsible for why my sister died of dehydration and starvation. So the fact that a judge was involved, you have a branch of the government involved.

It was my family that fought the judge to simply bring my sister home and care for her. But we were denied that and ultimately the court ordered that my sister die a horrible death.

Laws have been changed in the United States to enable feeding tubes to be removed from persons like my sister.

One must remember that Terri was not dying. She was physically healthy; she could have lived many, many years. The laws have been changed and feeding tubes are now recognized as extraordinary care, as artificial life support, whereas once they were recognized as basic care.

But because the laws have been changed, the lives of tens of thousands people who are disabled like Terri are now threatened.

So, I think we have to change public policy, we have to get involved in public policy to do a better job of protecting the disabled because right now they are very vulnerable to the laws in the United States.

Additionally, I think euthanasia is a byproduct of abortion. We have euthanasia because abortion was legalized or decriminalized over 30 years ago.

We have to start politicians recognizing that they have to look at life as sacred so we can stop this horrible situation.

Q: In Central Eastern Europe, compared to the West, euthanasia has not arrived yet as a focal point of the public debate and legislation. What do you think are the points to emphasize in order to raise public awareness about the issue of euthanasia?

Schindler: I think in the United States you are seeing a shift from what once was a sanctity-of-life attitude, to now, where we have adopted a quality-of-life attitude. We no longer look at people, such as my sister, as if their life is sacred and of value, rather we justify the rationalization to kill them.

What my family has tried to do since my sister's death is to tell people that we have lost our sense of compassion. Precisely because someone is different or disabled, they need a lot of compassion -- more than those who are not disabled -- but people do not lose their moral worth because they developed some kind of disability.

What people kept asking me in the case of my sister was if I would want to live this way. It seemed to me that most people who were deciding the fate of my sister would not want to live this way and therefore felt justified in killing her.

Terri, I am sure, would not have chosen to become disabled, but there are people living this way. We are called as human beings to care for these people despite their brokenness.

It is not up to us to decide if it is worth it or not to live in the condition in which my sister lived. We have basically two choices in front of us: We are going to either decide to kill people because of their disability or we are going to decide to care for them and love them, which is what they deserve.

Q: How can the pro-life message be spread in Central Eastern Europe before advocates of euthanasia become more powerful?

Schindler: Well, I think we have a difficult task in front of us. There is a strong push in the medical community to define people like my sister as "nonpersons." They are dehumanizing them.

We have to spread awareness, education, and change hearts because there is such a strong push in our country and in others to legalize killing people, based on a quality of life.

What is frightening to my family and to others is how rapidly this attitude is spreading in America and all around the world.

I think this should not be looked as just a Catholic issue. This is an issue that affects all of us, despite what religion we are. We should look at life as having equal moral worth despite our religious background.

To classify this simply as a religious issue I think is wrong. We must understand that this affects all of us. We don't have to be Catholic to become disabled and our life could become threatened at any moment -- it could happen to any of us. So we have to look at it as a basic human rights situation rather than a religious case.

Q: What has been the impact of Terri Schiavo's case in medical ethics and in the United States in general?

Schindler: There has been a lot of misinformation about my sister's case that has been reported in the U.S. media and it has been a very difficult test to correct the information.

So one of the things we are doing at the foundation with the help of other people, who do understand my sister's case, is to correct the misinformation that has been reported -- especially the fact that Terry was not dying and that she was only receiving food and water in order to survive.

Many people don't understand this; they think Terri was terminal.

But as far as the medical community is concerned, it will be a difficult test because it seems that we don't want to take care of people like Terri because they are a drain on the society and on taxpayers' money.

It is in the medical industries' best interest to do what they can to justify, to legalize and to rationalize the killing of people like Terri in order to save money for the health care system.

I think before Terri's case, getting the publicity it did, not only nationally but internationally, people did not recognize that what has happened to Terri is happening every day.

My sister's case has done a lot of good to at least raise awareness on this issue and really wake people up to what is happening in many of the hospitals and hospices in the United States.

Q: How can we create a cultural climate favoring life?

Schindler: It is a difficult question because of the influence we are seeing from the American media. They seem to be endorsing the quality-of-life attitude. It is alarming that a number of our medical schools are teaching this quality-of-life attitude.

I think we have a very difficult task in front of us. In fact, I often say it is going to be much worse before it is going to be better but it does not mean we have to stop trying.

We have to keep fighting, letting people know that if someone is disabled it does not mean their moral worth is any less than the rest of us. All life is sacred.