Death by Dehydration Endangers Us All

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Whenever an unconscious or semi-conscious patient is deliberately deprived of food and hydration, it sets a dangerous precedent that may one day affect us all, which is why two high profile euthanasia cases have spurred a cry of outrage from both the public and the Vatican in recent weeks.

The first case involves a 36 year old Italian woman, Eluana Englaro, who has been in an irreversible coma since an automobile accident in 1992. Her father, Beppino Englaro, has been fighting since 1999 to have her feeding tube withdrawn to allow her to die.

On July 9, an Italian court ruled in his favor, deciding that Eluana was indeed in an irreversible coma and that her father had convinced the court that she would not have wanted to live in this condition. It is believed that the actual removal of Eluana’s feeding tubes will take place after a recommended 60 day waiting period in order to allow the state to appeal.

“This is a victory for legal rights, at long last the end of the worst nighmare that any human being can experience,” Mr Englaro told the press. “The judges made a courageous decision. Now, at last, we can set Eluana free.”

The Vatican does not agree. Monsignor Rino Fisichella, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, said the court’s decision amounted to “an act of euthanasia.”

The Bioethics Committee of Rome’s Catholic university hospital, which reflects the Vatican position, issued a statement declaring that “The interruption of food and drink will result in a slow death for Eluana Englaro, guilty only of being still alive. We must underline the gravity of this decision. It places in the hands of the guardian a power of life and death, undermining the principle that one must look after patients who are unable to think for themselves.”

For the family of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, the case brings back bad memories.
“This court’s ruling seems to indicate that American ‘medical ethics’ are spreading like a virus among the international community, threatening countless numbers of elderly, ailing and disabled persons in an increasing and alarming way,” said Terri’s brother, Bobby Schindler.

“Our heart goes out to this family as we know very well the profound affect that these types of injuries can have on loved ones. However, we must remember that we have a grave obligation to do all we can to protect those with disabilities, recognizing that a person with a brain injury is a human being with an inherent dignity and a right to life. This young girl needs only food and water and her family’s love to survive. At the very least this should be provided to her.”

The second case involves a young man who died in the very same hospice where Terri Schiavo spent her last days.

Doctors at the Hospice of Florida Suncoast pulled the feeding tube of 26-year-old Bradley Whaley who entered a coma three years ago following an overdose of painkillers and alcohol after he injured his hand while punching out a window.

According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, Bradley’s mother claims she was able to communicate with her son. When she would tug on his chin, he would mouth the word “Mama.” If she leaned close, he would try to kiss her.

Bradley’s parents kept a faithful vigil by his side hoping he would improve, then decided to allow the hospice to withdraw his feeding tube, thus subjecting him to a long and painful death by dehydration and starvation. He died on July 2.

Attorney Wesley Smith, one of the worlds leading authorities on euthanasia and bioethics, says we all need to be concerned that cases like these will open the door to allowing someone else to take our lives – even if we’re conscious.

“For more than ten years I have been telling anyone who will listen that unquestionably conscious cognitively disabled patients are being denied sustenance in every state in this country, so long as no family member objects,” he said about the case. 

Ultimately, the decision to kill a conscious patient has horrible ramifications for patients nationwide and yields a bias against the disabled.

“Once we decided that people who are diagnosed as persistently unconscious could have sustenance denied based on quality of life, then we stripped all profoundly cognitively disabled people from moral equality,” Smith says.

“Now, virtually anyone who needs a feeding tube and can’t make their own decisions–conscious or not–can and are being denied food and water,” he concludes. “What a testimony about the state of the times in which we live.”


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