Hello Megan O'Matz: A note from Rome

vaticano22.jpgPlease let me dive in here quick with a few thoughts on that South Florida Sun-Sentinel story about Terri Schiavo by reporter Megan O’Matz. I agree with the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc that this sidebar may have broken some kind of record for slanted presentations of basic information.

We appeal to reporters and copy editors out there: It is time to slap a magnifying glass on all copy about this hot-button case. People on both sides are throwing around loaded language and truth claims.

This is no time to go soft. Test both sides. Did Terri speak to her father? Do not leave this to the blogs. Go find out. Listen to the tape and watch the videos. Did she or didn’t she? There is a canyon growing between the language used on left and right and the MSM has to cover this. Want to see a blast from the left? Click here.

But I digress. In addition to cute little shots at African American evangelicals and neo-1950s conservative Presbyterians, O’Matz also noted this reference to the Catholic point of view down here in the tropics:

The Most Rev. John C. Favalora, archbishop of Miami, sent a memo to Catholic churches Saturday, calling upon “all people of good will to join in prayer for Terri Schiavo” and for “a change of heart among those responsible for Terri and for the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit for all our public officials.”

The archbishop asserted that bringing about Schiavo’s death by starvation is not in accord with papal teachings. “Food and water can only be denied if death is imminent or if it proves to worsen the individual’s condition,” he wrote.

Note the presence of the word “asserted” in this statement of papal — the story does not even concede “Roman Catholic” — teachings. I mean, perhaps the archbishop misunderstood the Vatican on this issue. You think?

Then again, maybe the archbishop knows what he is talking about. After all, there is this new Associated Press report on the wires from Vatican City. This seems rather clear to me:

“Who can, before God and humanity, pretend with impunity to claim such a right?” L’Osservatore Romano said. “Who — and on the basis of which criteria — can establish to whom the ‘privilege’ to live should be given?” . . .

“Who can judge the dignity and sacredness of the life of a human being, made in the image and likeness of God? Who can decide to pull the plug as if we were talking about a broken or out of order household appliance?” the paper said.

“. . . (There’s) a woman who is about to die from hunger and thirst. There is the slow dying of a person — not a ‘vegetable’ — which an impotent world is witnessing through TV and newspapers.”

It seems the Roman Catholic hierarchy has tried to assert its teachings quite clearly in this case.

I hope the Sun-Sentinel notes that in some future story.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Cathy

    I think if we are going to jump in on the Media frenze on this case and give up state rights to the Rep. “States rights advocate – except when we want to make a point for the Feds” we ought to at least get the facts Right… Here is a link to a web site that has the facts…
    Please read it and get off the ” this is a black and white issue” treadmill. Life is not that easy guys.

  • http://www.tmatt.net Terry Mattingly


    Thanks for that link to an excellent collection of the legal materials. Some amazing material in there.

    Of course, the obvious link for the parents and the fundamentalist-Vatican blogosphere is:


  • http://www.tmatt.net Terry Mattingly


    Thanks for that link to an excellent collection of the legal materials. Some amazing material in there.

    Of course, the obvious link for the parents and the fundamentalist-Vatican blogosphere is:


  • ECJ

    The Germans had a term for Terry Schiavo: “Lebensunwertes Lebens.” It doesn’t get more red, and black and white than that.


  • http://www.holytrinitynewrochelle.org Eric Swensson

    Could you interpret the German and give us the implication? My German isn’ so good, “The living value life?”

    Cathy double posted (from below) and I’d like to get a comment from her or anyone what I posted there.

    I’m not so sure that any of the sources are to be trusted without considerable fact-checking in this particular story!

    I posted below:

    To give an idea of how much misinformation is going around, and perhaps one reason (that is being filtered through human beings),I went to the law blog url’ed above and the third fact, that she had cardiac arrest was disputed by her father, sisiter and brother last night on live tv.
    I was surprised to see that her husband had moved in with them way back. I’d say wanting to swear out a murder warrent for him shows a shift in their relationship, huh?

    No one on this list is speaking from a”black and white” perspective, and I see no reason to negate my opinions or religious faith in this blog. My opinion is that justice is not being done. My opinion is that this is a perfect example of how we live in a culture of death. My opinion is that it is a lie to say that Terri would have wished to die of thirst. My opinion is we are all as neurotic as hell to not be able to see that clearly. This is a real good case for how “media doesn’t ‘get’ religion,” as well as “liberals don’t ‘get’ conservatives.”

    However, I think this story can help lead us into some clarity. I’d like to address the idea of “media frenzy” also. Now, I’m a pastor for 12 years now, but I graduated from a good J-school, and know a little about how media works, as well as politics, though I’ll be quiet and listen respectfully to the experts after I make my comment and ask a question.

    I’ve heard (and from all signs, from liberal minded folk) that this is “odious” how Republican lawmakers are over stepping their grounds, and they are doing this only to get votes. When that point is made, should we not consider that they are indeed responding to an avalache of opinion, that they are being bombarded by emails and phone calls? Is this not completely legitimate?

    The reason this relates to media frenzy: theough media does not “get religion” they know outrage when they hear it. And they are humans, too. We know this case is important, we just have such few facts and such, speaking from the perspective of a fiction writer, such rich characters (faithless husband, faithful parents, callous judges, outraged populist leaders) that it forms a “perfect storm” for us to pour our yet unvented rage which comes from many sources of unempowerment.


  • ECJ

    Lebensunwertes Lebens: “Life unworthy of life” (German) – Term derived from the work “The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life” (“Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens”) by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, published in 1920. This work was referring to the mentally and physically handicapped and regarded the killing of these segments of society as a “healing treatment.” This term and this work became a base for the right of the state to kill unwanted segments of the population.

    From http://history1900s.about.com/library/holocaust/aa081997.htm

    The implication should be clear. Black and white even.


  • http://www.clientandserver.com dw

    Lebensunwertes Lebens

    Godwin’s Law is now invoked!

    For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, read on up:

    You know what else the Nazis did? Drank puppy blood. Steins and steins of puppy blood. And that puppy blood gave them power so great that anytime any discussion of life or liberty reaches its true end these long dead Nazis rise up as their names are invoked. In fact, they’re really getting tired of being pulled into every conversation, and they regret ever drinking that fresh and tasty puppy blood instead of good German beer.

    The point is, this isn’t just a black-and-white issue, and to wave the puppy blood-stained shirt of “well, this is how the Nazis started” is so cliche that you might as well throw in the puppy blood charges as well.

    Jeremy, tmatt, and Douglas haven’t been “black-and-white” on any of this. They’ve done an exemplary job covering the various nuances in the media. The O’Matz article is a great example of them calling out a journalist for painting the Schiavo-supporters with an I-95-wide brush. Have you seen one puppy blood reference in their coverage? I haven’t.

    Truth is, the Terri Schiavo case is a caricature of the right-to-die vs. euthanasia is murder argument, and it’s obscuring the true issues. The media, Christian, corporate, and otherwise, isn’t really investigating the claims of one side or the other. Their analysis isn’t analysis, it’s just regurgitation of semi-facts and semi-denials. And Terri Schiavo, whatever her true state is, is now getting abused by all sides for the sake of “their cause.” And that’s just not Christian.

    For the record, I would like the tubes restored, some fact-finding brought it, gag orders issued, and both parties ordered to a mediator to work this all out so that Terri can be allowed some dignity in whatever she has left of her life. I would also like an end to the puppy blood, which hides the true moral questions of Terri’s case behind a line of long-dead, puppy blood drinking Nazi ghosts.

    I also like puppies and never want to see anyone drink their blood.

  • Cathy

    I just want you to know where I am coming from.. I have been in this situation I had medical authority for my best friend when he was dieing of LachimiaÂ…. 16 weeks in the hospital (after a 2 year illness) and a lot of very tough decisions. I think the whole idea of the government being involved and the rest of the country being involved is repugnant. And yes he had a feeding tube (against his wishes in the living will that he legally filled out, no one at the hospital bothered to look in the file) and was brain dead when I had to make the decision to plug pulled. To villainize any party in this case is ridicules if we where actually having valid discussions about the right to life and the right to die with dignity and not just a bunch of grenade throwing by each camp I would not be upset. This kind of decision is not easy, and they are not as black and white as they are being made out in the MSM. It will be 4 years next week and I am crying as I write this over the turmoil that I still feel in carrying out his wishes. I think anyone in their right mind would not want to be going through what Terri is going through, having the people you love an from the information from the site I mentioned above, the people that use to love each other fighting over youÂ…. As my 90 year old Grandma would say “It is just a terrible shame…..” and shake her head with the dismay that world is coming to this…

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    When ECJ mentioned the German phrase in question, they were actually apt, since advocates for the handicapped – especially for those who are severely handicapped – should be very worried about the implications of letting a human being starve to death because they are “beyond hope.”

    I won’t say “who draws the line?” on what beyond hope means because it’s obvious that society does. However, after this week, that line has blurred.

    (It’s interesting to me that Christians would believe anyone is “beyond hope.”)

    All that said, this case is very gray, and is getting grayer each day. The husband deserves a degree of villany because he clearly wants this to be over so he can move onto his NEW lover and illigitmate children. That’s repulsive on a certain moral level.

    On the other hand, it’s come out that he did do a great deal early on to try to do all he could for her, at least more than many do. So it’s a tough call as to what I would do in this case were I the judge.

    It seems as if this episode is winding down to its inevitable conclusion, but it would be good if something good could come out of it.

    For starters, maybe some clear legal standards on how these conflicts can be handled in the future to ensure everyone’s rights, but without the media circus?

  • Stephen A.

    Online, comparison to Hitler and the Nazis is often used to shut off debate or as part of an ad hominem attack. In this case, as heated as the issues are, I think the comparison’s legitimate and historical.

    Though no one is advocating wholesale murder of the handicapped (obviously), unless we keep an eye on trends and laws, their right to life could indeed be curtailed against their wishes as a result of this case.

  • ECJ

    Perhaps I am alone, but I will still say it: The Emperor has no clothes. There is no grey – there is no great moral complexity in this situation. The question is simple. Does Terry Shiavo’s life possess value because she is, or does Terry Shiavo’s life possess value because she does? Is the value of her life intrinsic or extrinsic? If the former, then she makes claims upon us even as she is. But if we ever once establish the latter as precedent, then we open up a whole range of possibilities. For there are many people whose interests would be substantially advanced by the death of another person. You think you will draw lines. But they will not stand. Money talks.

    Yet I am told the question is difficult. But difficulty is not synonymous with complexity. More often a question is difficult because of the implied cost – and our unwillingness to bear it. Do we do what is right and carry the burden, or do we evade the burden and carry the guilt? Perhaps there is a third way? Evade the cost and avoid the guilt by arguing complexity? Man is expert at justifying any behavior behind a cloud of complexity. But whose interests are being served? The Son of Man – did He come to serve or to be served?

    Terry Schiavo is being killed, and not out of any desire to serve her interests. Let’s speak bluntly. Terry Sciavo is being subjected to death by dehydration because she doesn’t have the good graces to die. She is being subjected to death by dehydration because someone who shot her in the head or poisoned her would be prosecuted for murder. So we pretend that food and water constitute extraordinary treatment. That way we can remove them and stay within the letter of the law. If I treated my children that way, I would be arrested by the same courts now ordering her death. Insanity.

    This is not said to belittle the difficulty of people who find themselves in these situations. I have not been there. But I should pray that I would not prove myself a hypocrite if Providence so dictates. As a wise teacher once taught me: “You get your doctrine straight before the crisis occurs. Afterwords, it’s too late.”


  • Cathy

    Ok so let me get this straight Terri is better off here as a veggitable then in heaven with God. My choice if I where her, would heaven with my Lord and seeing my family when/if they get there…

  • ECJ


    It is not given to us to decide the scope of our own lives, let alone to determine the scope of another’s life. Indeed, the presumption to do so is an act of high-handed rebellion against the very God who made us. Who is it who has the right to determine the beginning from the end – Man or God?

    Have you considered that the logic you are positing would justify the woman in Texas who drowned her five children in the bathtub? She also thought “they would be better off with God.” Except we think of that circumstance as different because those children were healthy and whole. But we shouldn’t. The crime is not different in either degree or kind – regardless of what a court says. Regardless also of our perception of sentience. Neither has the power to erase that Image of God which we possess by nature, and which establishes our value as human beings.

    Things happen for a reason – ultimately to glorify God’s name. Nothing is pointless. Nothing is beyond His reach. Nothing is outside His decree. Not even the life of a poor woman like Terry Schiavo. To say otherwise – to say she would be better off dead – is to deny the very Providence of God.


  • W Harris

    Eric Swenson, above, noted the media frenzy surrounding this sad affair. Indeed. Religion not only enters in through the door of morality, here, but also through that of politics. The actions in Washington are also part of the plot and look to many like a veiled assertion of theocracy (e.g. one could certainly get that impression reading the comments on The World blogs). That is, there is preference in selected cases, to override the regular political procedures by an appeal to religious or moral authority.

    There is in the media frenzy something of the same whiff of propaganda that clung to the start of the Iraq War. As with that period, it may also be a journalistic question to ask cui bono — who benefits from all this noise?

  • ECJ

    btw I felt that Steven did a sufficient job responding to the assertion that I went beyond the pale in my use of Hitler’s euthanasia program. I wish only to say that the “Puppy Blood” comments served as little more than chaff intended to smear the radar image. But it cannot obscure the cultural, political, and historical pedigree of the events in this case.


  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    Chaff? ODL.

    Hitler and Nazi comparisons are empty rhetorical devices. They’re only appeals to fear used for shock purposes, guised as “history” or as ad hominem straw man comparisons. These arguments are the true chaff, because they are the puppy blood thrown over the top of everything to make it a “simple black and white argument.” Puppy blood makes arguments simplistic, not simple.

    If the question is whether Terri Schiavo should live, the answer is yes. What to do with that answer, though, is the dilemma, and that’s not simple. Terri doesn’t have most of her brain, and barring a miracle from God, she won’t be getting more than a few neurons of that back. This is a difficult concept; holding out for a miracle knowing that there may never be one coming, and that Terri may outlive her parents, but may be barely aware for the rest of her life. Michael gave up four years in. I would pray we could last that long in a similar situation.

    The broader questions hang there still, left unanswered. ECJ lays out a position that I fear may be untenable, since it suggests that any medical procedure that kills should be abandoned, while any medical procedure that saves must be taken up. Try parsing an ectopic pregnancy through that logic set and see if you can find a solution.

    I’ve had about enough of this all, anyway. This isn’t a debate, it’s puppy blood cheapening the life of a woman who needs someone to be Christ in her life right now. Some of Bonhoeffer’s costly grace is in need now, but I see a lot of cheap grace mixed in that puppy blood.

  • Cathy

    Please comparing this situation to the woman in texas that killed her kids in the bath tub, even my 12 year old could tell you the difference…
    You are not imposing your thology on this situation?!? Who thinks they are God here.??

  • Stephen A.

    “She’s better off in heaven.” If this statement had come from a right-winger, it would have been shouted down and condemned. Media types would say the person who said it would be confirming their “ignorance” and perhaps “bigotry” towards the profoundly disabled.

    I have to say I’m floored to have read that statement myself. (But the constant talk of “puppy blood” is a close, revolting second place.)

    It’s amazing that leftists will go to great lengths to save a beached whale, but will give up on a human being.

    Where is the “Social Justice” in not protecting the human right to life of a profoundly disabled person? Again, it sets precedent.

  • ECJ

    “…any medical procedure that kills should be abandoned…”

    One would certainly hope so.

    “…any medical procedure that saves must be taken up.”

    You would think.

    “Try parsing an ectopic pregnancy through that logic set and see if you can find a solution.”

    Which would involve two lives, not one. And which by definition is inevitably terminal for the unborn child. The only decision is to save the mother or watch both die. And what exactly does that have to do with the forced death of a disabled woman who is otherwsie in no imminent danger of dying?