“Much Ado About Nothing”? Ben Carson Just Lost Me Over the Terri Schiavo Case

“Much Ado About Nothing”? Ben Carson Just Lost Me Over the Terri Schiavo Case November 15, 2015

Perhaps you’ve noticed: While I haven’t endorsed a candidate for the presidency, waiting to give them all the opportunity to present their positions on various cases, one candidate who has remained on my “very favorable” list is Dr. Benjamin Carson.

Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Carson is a gentle giant: a statesman who seems compelled toward public office by a sincere desire to serve society, not by a lust for power or prestige. He’s a political outsider like Donald Trump, but one with dignity and an inherent respect for the voters; Carson stands far above Trump’s bellicose self-aggrandizement and his bull-in-the-china-shop attacks on everyone from political adversaries to unattractive women.

But if what I read this morning in the Washington Post is correct, Doc Carson has some ‘splainin’ to do to his pro-life Republican base.

Carson was speaking at the Sunshine Summit in Orlando, when a reporter asked him about the Terri Schiavo case. Schiavo, you’ll recall, was the brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tube  was removed after her husband went to court, insisting that she was in a persistent vegetative state and could not hope for rehabilitation. Terri’s parents countersued, claiming that Terri was a devout Roman Catholic who would not wish to violate the Church’s teachings on euthanasia by refusing nutrition and hydration. But despite challenges by her parents, by pro-life activists and priests, the court ruled that her life could be ended. Schiavo suffered a two-week-long, painful death, deprived of food and water.

According to Washington Post reporter Ed O’Keefe, when Carson was asked about that case, he said:

“We face those kinds of issues all the time and while I don’t believe in euthanasia, you have to recognize that people that are in that condition do have a series of medical problems that occur that will take them out…. Your job [as a doctor] is to keep them comfortable throughout that process and not to treat everything that comes up.”

When the reporter asked whether Carson thought it was necessary for Congress to intervene, he said: “I don’t think it needed to get to that level. I think it was much ado about nothing.

Much ado about nothing?!

The Catholic Church has always taught that all human life has dignity, and that euthanasia–the deliberate taking of a life for a perceived “good purpose”–is wrong. In 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded to questions from the U.S. Bishops regarding the specific question of artificial hydration and nutrition. In the Vatican statement, signed by Cardinal Levada and approved by Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation offered clear answers to two questions:

First question: Is the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a “vegetative state” morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient’s body or cannot be administered to the patient without causing significant physical discomfort?

Response: Yes. The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented.

Second question: When nutrition and hydration are being supplied by artificial means to a patient in a “permanent vegetative state”, may they be discontinued when competent physicians judge with moral certainty that the patient will never recover consciousness?

Response: No. A patient in a “permanent vegetative state” is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means.

I hope that his potential supporters will challenge Dr. Carson on this point in future conversations. The support for Life, from conception to natural death, is pretty much a deal-breaker for me; and if he doesn’t backtrack and acknowledge that Terri was a person of intrinsic worth, and that taking that life by any means was a miscarriage of justice, I’m pretty sure I won’t be checking the box next to his name in the primary election.


Photo credit:  Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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