The Orthodox Church will need to take a stance on “futile care” as the Antiochian North American Archdiocese has on Euthanasia. The tragic Terri Schiavo saga received some Orthodox Christian commentary by our Hierarchs.
According to U.S. laws, Terri was not euthanized; nor, I believe, were futile care laws applied to her. But the narrow frame of reference of U.S. or Florida law in this matter simply does not do justice to her situation and her ordeal. No matter what definition into which the law puts the removal of her feeding tubes to evade the charge of putting her to death, it was clear to those responsible for the decision that to do so would yield that outcome. Therefore these comments concerning Terri Schiavo contribute toward a further elaboration of our Orthodox Christian stance on euthanasia, “futile care,” and matters related to these.
First, His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese: http://www.stlukeorthodox.com/html/currentissues/schiavo.cfm
His Eminence speaks to St. Paul’s words, “It is better to be home with the Lord.” He feels that since the woman’s (Terri Schiavo’s) soul could not communicate with her body, she naturally would have wanted to go home to be with the Lord.
But this is only one aspect of the matter. There are videotapes extant which show Terri communicating, with her family. These were ignored by the decisionmakers, those who were legally responsible for her, who held her severely disabled life in their hands and ultimately chose to remove her feeding tubes. She then proceeded to dehydrate for thirteen days until she died. There were those who claimed that she was in a Persistant Vegetative State and did not feel the pain. But many who were more intimately familiar with the situation strongly disagree.
It would be better to be home with the Lord; this is indeed true for all of us. But the way it transpired for Terri, Andrea Clark, Venlang Yo, (http://texasadvancedirectivesblog.blogspot.com/2006/05/law-did-not-work-thoughts-on-andrea.html ) and others in their position needs to be addressed.
With permission, from the Spring 2005 News Page from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s journal In Communion:
Orthodox bishops opposed starving Terri Schiavo
Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago: “Human life is always precious and sacred. This is a fundamental tenet of the Orthodox Christian tradition. Each and every human being is created in the image of God the Creator, and can never cease to be loved by God. The highest measure of a quality of life is our personal relationship with God, and this relationship endures the best and worst conditions in which human beings may find themselves. It even endures physical death in this age, continuing in the age to come. Orthodox Christians are greatly saddened by the condition of Terri Schiavo, and must be saddened by the decision … to purposely end her life by the withdrawal of the basic care of feeding and hydration.
“As a gift, life is always to be respected, nurtured and defended by Orthodox Christians. It is not an abstract principle to be debated. We affirm that we are called to be wise stewards of this gift. This prohibits the conscious destruction of life at any stage in the human life cycle, and demands loving care at every stage, for ourselves and especially for the lives of others.
“We acknowledge that there are times when artificial life support is more expressive of a fear of death than concern for loved ones in tragic circumstances. We affirm that in light of the body functioning only by artificial and mechanical means, when it is unable to sustain life on its own in any manner, the cessation of such means is often acceptable, since this is not actually causing death. We do not view feeding and hydration in such terms, for in the case of Terri Schiavo and others who are in similar conditions, death is not imminent as long as the body is nourished.
“Therefore, the removal of Mrs. Schiavo from feeding tubes so as to hasten her death can in no way be accepted or supported. Doing so demonstrates a blatant lack of wise stewardship of God’s sacred gift of life and an extraordinary means of hastening her death by starvation.”
Metropolitan Maximos of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Pittsburgh: “She deserves to live. A miracle is always possible for her to be restored from minimum consciousness to full consciousness … I beg all those in charge to consider the plea of her parents, with whom I fully identify. Murder is a strong word that nobody wants to use, but that is what it is.”
These words, especially those by Metropolitan Iakovos of blessed memory, provide a foundation for an Orthodox Christian stance against the definition of “futile care” that is taking shape in American society.
Also, Metropolitan Jonah’s 2009 Sanctity of Life Speech also addresses euthanasia in a list of sins against humanity which he traces back to the decision to depersonalize others. Here it is: http://directionstoorthodoxy.org/mod/news/print.php?article_id=2379
The next post will be commentary on euthanasia and related issues from Orthodox priests.