Vatican official enters Schiavo feeding tube fray

Published February 26, 2005

A Vatican cardinal known for his outspokenness opposes removing the feeding tube keeping Terri Schiavo alive, the first time a Vatican official has spoken publicly about the Florida case.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told Vatican Radio Thursday that if Michael Schiavo "legally succeeded in provoking the death of his wife, this would not only be tragic in itself, but it would be a serious step toward legally approving euthanasia in the United States."

On Friday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge George Greer ordered the feeding tube removed at 1 p.m. March 18, despite pleas for a stay from Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.

Last year, Pope John Paul II stated that health care providers are morally obligated to provide food and water to patients in persistent vegetative states, but did not specifically mention Schiavo.

That led to a challenge by the Schindlers, asking Greer to order a new trial about whether their daughter would want to die rather than live by artificial means. They said Schiavo, as a devout Catholic, wouldn't want anything done to her that went against the Pope's words. Greer rejected the argument.

David Gibbs III, a lawyer for the Schindlers, said Friday that Vatican officials had relayed a query about whether they needed to make an announcement condemning euthanasia that specifically mentioned Schiavo by name. Gibbs said he and the Schindlers were pleased that the Vatican went ahead with such an edict.

"I don't know how clear it can be," Gibbs said, during a news conference outside the Pinellas Park hospice where Schiavo lives. "Killing Terri is a clear violation of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church."

Martino told Vatican Radio Thursday that "quality of life should not be interpreted as economic efficiency, beauty and physical joy, but it consists in the supreme dignity of the creature made in the image and likeness of God." No one can be the arbiter of life except God, he said.

Martino, 72, has earlier criticized the Persian Gulf War and the war in Iraq. Bishop Robert N. Lynch, head of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, could not be reached for comment Friday. But spokeswoman Mary Jo Murphy said the diocese position about Schiavo has not changed since statements in 2003. Lynch wrote then that if the feeding tube "were to be removed simply because she is not dying quickly enough and some believe she would be better off because of her low quality of life, this would be wrong."

Times staff writers Graham Brink and William R. Levesque contributed to this article. Information from Times wires was used in this report.