Thursday, October 07, 2004

Priest Says Schiavo Is Alert and Aware

Father Pavone visits Terri Schiavo
By Francis X. Shannon, Clearwater

Hours prior to addressing an overflow gathering at a pro-life banquet Sept. 18, Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, and an outspoken right-to-life advocate, visited with Terri Schiavo.

The visit was the first time the priest has visited the disabled young woman who has been at the center of a contentious legal struggle between her husband, Michael, who wants to have the feeding tube that sustains her, removed. Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, believe she can benefit from rehabilitative therapy.

During his visit Father Pavone prayed for Terri with Msgr. Thaddeus Malanowski, her parents, brother and sister. "It was beautiful," Father Pavone said. "'Many people are praying for you from around the country,' I told her."

Father Pavone, who also spoke at a luncheon for fellow priests and deacons before visiting the Clearwater nursing home where Terri resides, said Terri seemed to show awareness during the visit. Medical experts differ on whether changes in Schiavo's eye movement and verbal and facial expressions are voluntary or involuntary. Father Pavone seemed to agree with the former assessment.

"She was following everything that was going on," he said. "She talks with her eyes. She's very much aware and alert."

Terri Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990, when she suffered cardiac arrest, possibly related to an eating disorder, in the St. Petersburg apartment she shared with her husband. Her brain suffered oxygen deprivation, which resulted in brain damage and made her dependent upon a feeding tube for nutrition and hydration.

In 1998, after a falling-out with her parents over malpractice money and Schiavo's medical care, Michael Schiavo began his efforts to have his wife's feeding tube removed. Schiavo cannot swallow food on her own, so the removal would result in her death.

Michael Schiavo has insisted that Terri would not want to live in her current state and that she indicated that before her collapse. Terri's parents and her supporters question his compassion. They point out that although Michael Schiavo is legally married to Terri, in the years since his legal battles began with her parents he has fathered two children by another woman.

Last year, an appellate court allowed Michael Schiavo to remove Terri's feeding tube for six days before "Terri's Law," passed by Florida's Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, required the resumption of feeding. That law was recently ruled unconstitutional.

Father Pavone singled out the judicial system and the medical professions as having a particular responsibility and impact in such cases involving the sanctity of life.

"All these fields have authority," he said, "What they cannot do is put a value judgment on the lives they're caring for. The job of our whole culture is to affirm life."

Father Pavone reiterated these points later that evening in his address to the Celebrate Life Banquet, hosted by Right to Life of Hillsborough County. The Schindlers were guests of honor. The priest emphasized the importance, especially in an election year, of people of faith being active in the electoral process, and getting other people of faith to be active and voting. He likened it to "picking oranges from an orange tree."

"There are plenty of oranges on the lower part of the tree, within reach," Father Pavone said. "Pick the oranges you can reach and don't worry about the ones you can't."