Catherine Short, Legal Director
To: All interested persons
Re: Comment of Bishop Steven Blaire re:
Conservatorship of Robert Wendland,
as reported in the National Catholic Register and
Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire's half-hearted apologia for the involvement of Catholic hospitals in the effort to starve Robert Wendland to death misses the mark in several ways. The fact that the legal issue in Robert Wendland's case is the standard of care for surrogate decision-making does not absolve these Catholic institutions from consideration of the context in which this legal issue has arisen. These Catholic health care providers, rather than standing as a bulwark against the advance of the culture of death, much less working to turn it back, instead are using the current drift of our laws toward euthanasia as the starting point for further erosion of the sanctity of life ethic.
Specifically, in their brief, these institutions argued against making any distinction between withholding medical treatment on the one hand, and food and fluids on the other. They also argued against making any distinction between patients who are in a "persistent vegetative state" and individuals like Robert, who are brain-damaged, but awake, aware, and function, albeit on a low level. In other words, because our society now accepts the starvation and dehydration of individuals in comas, it must, according to these Catholic health care providers, also accept the starvation of any individual incompetent to make medical decisions for himself or herself, including the mentally retarded and senile.
Imagine if Catholic doctors had filed an amicus brief in support of abortionist Leroy Carhart's challenge of Nebraska's partial birth abortion ban, arguing that the life of the mother exception in the ban was too narrow because doctors need full discretion in caring for their patients. They, too, could defend their position as merely relating to legal issues of procedure and standards of care. Would any Catholic bishop defend this sort of jesuitry?
Finally, Bishop Blaire refers to the Wendland case as involving "end-of-life issues." Robert Wendland isn't dying. He is living, seven years after the car accident which disabled him; that is the "problem" which his wife seeks to solve by discontinuing his food and fluids. Author and euthanasia expert Wesley Smith repeatedly emphasizes that the so-called "end-of-life" issues we are currently debating are not about the dying; they are about the disabled and frail elderly. The dying will die. It's the disabled and elderly who are at risk of premature death, apparently even in Catholic hospitals, because of the cost of their care.