“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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  • JohnE_o

    In what sense is Carson a statesman?

  • captcrisis

    Schiavo did not die a “painful” death. She was not able to feel pain.

    I understand the fear of pulling the plug too early, but that was not the case here. The most loving spouse on record was her husband, who went through training to become a nurse and attended to her brain-dead body for years. As for her parents, they were in denial, and as for the Republicans who sought to make political hay, they were cheap and cynical.

    Carson has seen many patients in a persistent vegetative state and is all too aware when someone is brain dead. This is the one area where he really is qualified and competent and he was correct to say what he said.

    • Sev

      Wow, I don’t know whether to give you a nasty rebuff or laugh in your face for being such a idiotic moron.

    • kathyschiffer

      Well, Capt., THAT’s not true! You could have learned that by simply reading my post; but since that didn’t work, perhaps this report from various medical experts will help you to understand the pain Terri underwent. I doubt that you’ll listen, but I’m trying.


      • captcrisis

        The site you link to cites a number of physicians who disagree with you. It only cites one who agrees: Dr Carole Lieberman, who was opining outside her specialty (psychiatry). She is also a fabulist who bizarrely called Michael Schiavo “an abusive husband”, claims she won 3 Emmy awards, and finally got sacked from her position at UCLA.

    • Zita

      “The most loving spouse on record”??? You’ve got to be kidding me. He moved in with his girl friend then became engaged while Terri was still living! Carson did not see Terri Schiavo before she was starved to death and prevented from having visits with her loving mother and other family members. There is also the testimony of some of her caretakers regarding the treatment of Terri.

    • Athelstane

      The most loving spouse on record was her husband…

      That would be the one with the live-in girlfriend for the last few years of Terri’s life.

    • Mrs. Harris

      Patients in a persistent vegetative state may feel pain. They also can experience times of limited wakefulness. Finally, PVS is not the same as brain death.

      removing hydration from a living person whose body is in fact being hydrated, is a terrible tortuous thing to do to them.

      • captcrisis

        Arguments against pulling the plug were destroyed by the autopsy. 40 percent of her brain had turned to fluid. It was almost as bad Karen Ann Quinlan’s (who was in a coma and for much longer).

        • Mrs. Harris

          and…PVS is still not brain death. Look it up.

          Do you mean the autopsy conducted after she was starved and dehydrated for thirteen days?

          Also “pulling the plug” is a euphemism that is not typically used to reference removing feeding tubes and hydration.

    • Kathy

      That is a lie. Why tell it? You are as sick as the judge that made the ruling.

  • Zita

    I’m willing to give Carson the benefit of the doubt because I remember how the media failed to give the facts about Terri Schiavo’s condition. One would only know that if they followed the family’s website showing video of Terri, proving that she was not in a vegetative state. When John Paul II was dying, he instructed the doctors to not prolong his life unnecessarily. This is confusing to some people because they do not know the difference between making someone comfortable as possible during the dying process and denying necessary treatment to those whose lives do not seem worthy to be lived by some. I can’t image that Carson would approve of the treatment that Terri Schiavo received if he knew all of the facts about her case.

    • kathyschiffer

      Zita, he’s not your ordinary man in the street. He’s a highly trained doctor, who should know what he’s talking about.

      • Zita

        Highly trained doctor or not he needs to know all of the facts in order to make a decision. I am not sure that he was aware of the facts in the Terri Schiavo case.

        • Justin Brink

          I agree, Zita. I think he’s referencing palliative care for patients with terminal conditions; in these cases, we can make as much fuss as we want – the condition is what it is and “will take them out”. Carson just didn’t know or remember the entire facts of the case.

  • Dave Snyder

    Kathy, Carson does not have the teachings of the Catholic Church to guide him. Many pro life protestants feel the same way as Carson as well as many Catholics for that matter.

    Carson’s real problem is yet to come. The press has not been able to take him out over the “lier, lier, pants on fire” thing but they can’t let him continue because he is the only one in the current poles that beat Hillary. So, they will eventyually play the “Evangelical Card” that they played against Romney. The dirty little secret is that an evangelical will never vote for a Mormon. This is dispicable but it is true and IMO is the reaon 5 Million of the GOP base stayed home in the last election.

    Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. Once the press starts looking into the theology of this religion and does test run with evangelicals they will find they have a winner again. While not quite an anathama to the evangelicals as Mormonism, SDA theology is so far away from mainstream Christianity, it will become an issue soon enough. This is unfortunatly the problem with fundamentalism. Hopefully, I am wrong in my opion on this.

  • Lisa_Ann

    I think this is what happens when you think contraception is a being pro-life. (when in fact contraception is just chemical silent abortion…instead of surgical abortion)..if you don’t value life at the beginning then you don’t value life at the end. Man is seeing the consequences to rejecting Humane Vitae. Pray and do penance for the conversion of sinners.

    • Bemused

      Lisa Ann, I’m afraid someone has misled you about contraception. The Church allows contraception use for reasons other than birth-control in part because it is not a chemical abortion. What it does is prevent ovulation. There are many women who have not taken their pill for two days and become pregnant because of that, who stay pregnant even though they did take their pill for another couple of weeks until they found out they were pregnant. If the Church’s stance on birth control was only related to abortion, they would not oppose other means of birth control like the various barrier methods.

      • kathyschiffer

        Dear Bemused: It is not only about abortion. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage has two purposes: the unitive and the procreative. Barrier methods intercept the husband’s sperm, thus accepting the pleasure that comes with the sexual embrace (the unitive purpose) while rejecting the procreative. http://wwwmigrate.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/love-and-sexuality/

        • Bemused

          That’s what I was saying, the Church’s stance against the pill isn’t about abortion (if it was, the Church wouldn’t care about barrier methods, which is what I said above). The Church is against contraception if it is used for purposes of birth control. However, the Church allows a woman to use the pill for other medical reasons. If the Church thought the pill caused abortions, a woman wouldn’t be allowed to use it for any reason. However, there are far too many people who use the political but incorrect argument that the pill causes abortion to explain why they are against it. It’s not a good argument to use because it isn’t true and if someone knows that, they will distrust everything else that is said..

      • Sev

        ??!!?? Where the heck do you get your information from?? The Church is against any and all “barrier methods”. To anyone else who reads this I tell you that this person is WRONG. I won’t get into a lengthy debate. All you have to do is look up this information on the web yourself!

        • Bemused

          Of course they oppose barrier methods, because the Church’s stance is to be open to life. If their stance was only to be against abortion, they wouldn’t. I think you misread.

      • Kathy

        Birth control also acts as an abortifacient. Birth control does nothing that other treatments cannot do that don’t cause abortion.

        • Bemused

          According to the scientific studies, hormonal birth control prevents ovulation. While there is some pure speculation otherwise out there, there isn’t the evidence to back it up. There are also medical situations in which hormonal birth control is the most effective method of treatment. It’s important to have the right medical information as well as the right theological argument. The Church teaches that in some situations it’s a matter of conscience for the individual involved and they need to be able to make their decision based on full knowledge, not just on one or the other biased personal opinion (no matter how sure a person is that their theological viewpoint is the right one). And the Church teaches that willful ignorance is the same kind of issue as giving false information. You can have a theological opinion that hormonal birth-control causes all kinds of problems, and that is fine, but the Church’s teaching is that in situations where the primary consideration is not family planning, the decision to use or not use hormonal birth control is a matter of conscience.

  • JTLiuzza

    Carson never “had” a lot of us to begin with. I guess the love letter that is the first part of your article turned out to be wrong after all? Perhaps your “conclusions” about other candidates are as well. So much for your political instincts.

  • Joe Michael

    Sorry you don’t get my vote Kathy to take a few words out of context that Dr. Carson says means that you are a narrow minded person. This nation must get behind Carson or the Atheist Socialist Democrats will continue to wreck this nation, if you don’t see that urgency then I do not know how your are respected enough to write anything for a faith based website!

    • Zita

      You should get behind the person that you think is best for the job as president, not the one you think will win. For me that is RICK SANTORUM!

  • Korou

    I’m impressed that Carson has managed to say one sensible thing in his campaign.

  • Johnny Davis

    Dr. Carson is likely answering the question based on the widespread false reporting by the media she was already brain dead. So I think making this a litmus test is a mistake.

  • Kevin Rahe

    I agree that Dr. Carson has some ‘splainin’ to do, but I think that what many people have missed – and what we should all point out should such a case come to the fore in the future – is that depriving someone of food and water is morally no different than merely suffocating them. Food, water and oxygen are ultimately all equally necessary for life. The only difference between them is the amount of time one can survive without one vs. another. Depriving someone of oxygen leads to their death much more quickly than depriving them of water does, but there is no moral or ethical difference between the two courses of action, other than perhaps the fact that depriving them of oxygen makes their death much shorter and possibly less painful than depriving them of either food or water does.

  • BT

    And thus the importance of an end of life directive that’s written down, located where everyone that matters can find it.

    My wife knows that should that day come, withholding food and water is precisely what I want if I’m in that state and can not recover. My entire family knows as well, and in a few years when he is ready, my son will know.