by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Doctor Brian Kopp was shocked: His friend, Father Gerard Ream, was being euthanized — starved and dehydrated to death in a hospital.
Kopp, a podiatrist from Johnstown, Pa., tried to tell the attending physician that this was not how Father Ream, a faithful Catholic, would want to die.
“[The attending physician] just rolled his eyes,” said Kopp, who related the episode at a July 23 conference at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan.
“The public has a misconception that death by dehydration is torturous, but that’s not true,” the attending physician told Kopp. “It’s the most humane way to do this, with the least discomfort. We’ll control any discomfort with morphine. That’s what we’re going to do.”
The attending physician — a Catholic — glared defiantly at Kopp, turned on his heel, and walked away.
The priest became another statistic documenting the infiltration of the euthanasia mentality in both medicine and society in general.
Concern about end-of-life cases was the focus of “Being Faithful Even Unto Death: Catholic Wisdom on the Treatment of the Disabled and Dying,” which drew more than 350 people from 15 states.
Conference attendees included doctors, nurses, medical administrators, lawyers, clergy and others interested in end-of-life issues from a perspective of Catholic medical ethics.
The event was sponsored by the St. Gianna Physician’s Guild, and hosted by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“I think the education of Catholics in this regard is woefully inadequate,” said Dr. Paul Camarata, a leading Kansas City neurosurgeon and a member of the Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood.
“I see a lot of confusion regarding end-of-life issues,” he said. “People don’t know where to turn, [or know] what is right and wrong. The issue of feeding and dehydration at the end of life is incredibly important, and it’s [something] one should really get acquainted with before the moment happens to you or one of your loved ones.”
The case of Father Ream and that of Terri Schindler Schiavo, who died in 2005, are not anomalous, said Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s supreme tribunal.
“More and more,” said Cardinal Burke in his keynote address, “the terms ‘hospice care’ and ‘palliative care,’ which certainly have a proper and morally good sense, are becoming code words for hastening the death of an elderly or gravely ill or otherwise heavily burdened brother or sister.”
“The denial of hydration and nutrition to Terri Schindler Schiavo and to others who are elderly, gravely ill or severely handicapped raises serious questions about our society’s understanding of the dignity of human life and the meaning of human suffering,” he continued.
“The natural and moral law,” he said, “teaches us that the diminishment of activity or intensity of suffering or approaching death can never justify the taking of a human life. In fact, they all call for protection and care.”
“While society may consider human suffering to be useless and a diminishment of our human dignity, we know the opposite is true,” said Cardinal Burke. “Human suffering, embraced with the love of Christ, brings immense blessings to the church and the world, and sheds an ever greater light upon the dignity of every human life.”
The siblings of the woman who personified the fight over euthanasia also spoke at the conference. Bobby Schindler and Suzanne Vitadamo, the brother and sister of Schiavo, talked about the routine euthanization of thousands of people in the United States.
“What happened to Terri continues each and every day in our country,” said Vitadamo.
“Please understand that we’re not talking about end-of-life situations,” she continued. “Terri was not dying, nor was she terminal. She was cognitively disabled after suffering lack of oxygen to her brain. . . . She was not on machines, she was not brain dead, nor was she kept alive by anything but what sustains us all in this room — food and water.”
Society is being indoctrinated into believing that persons who are living with disabilities should not be cared for, but killed, Vitadamo said. Her sister was killed by discrimination against the disabled.
In sharp contrast to the tragic story of Schiavo was an inspiring talk about St. Gianna Molla by her daughter, Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla. Saint Gianna was an Italian pediatrician who died in 1962.
Her mother wanted to be a lay missionary, said Molla, but her health was not sufficient. So she embraced another vocation — marriage and motherhood.
“When God called her to the vocation of married life, she embraced it with great joy and enthusiasm,” she said.
Her mother had a deep faith and a great love of life, she said. The saint was pregnant with Molla when she was diagnosed with a tumor on her uterus. Rather than abort the child, she opted to carry the child to term despite the danger to herself.
“She placed her trust in God through prayer,” said Molla. “My life was saved.”
Other speakers at the conference included Dr. Austin Welsh, a geriatric specialist and member of the St. Philippine Duchesne Latin Mass Community of Kansas City, Kan.; Peter Breen, executive director of the Thomas More Society; and Thomas McKenna, founder and president of the St. Gianna Physician’s Guild.
“I felt it was important for the physicians’ guild to address [these issues],” said McKenna. “A physician who doesn’t have the moral and ethical [teaching] of the Catholic Church could fall into some of these pitfalls . . . [and] many times Catholic physicians aren’t clear on the issues. I thought it was important that we form our doctors.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas offered a welcome, and Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph concelebrated a Mass the following Sunday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Mo.
Learn about advance medical directives
The Catholic bishops of Kansas have assembled a free packet of information about Catholic advance medical directives. It contains information about durable power of attorney for health care decisions, and “The Catholic Declaration on Life and Natural Death.” To receive a packet, write to: Ron Kelsey, Archdiocesan Pro-life Office, 12615 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City, KS 66109, or send him an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.