March 21, 2005
WASHINGTON— Early this morning President Bush signed into law a "private relief" bill passed by Congress over the weekend for the parents of Terri Schiavo, the young woman at the heart of a controversy over withholding food and water from people with cognitive disabilities. The law gives Ms. Schiavo's parents the right to make claims in a federal court for the protection of her constitutional rights.
"We commend the President and members of the House and Senate for making it possible for Terri Schiavo's parents to present their case in federal court," said Richard Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Terri Schiavo is not terminally ill; she is a woman with cognitive disabilities. This law ensures that the decision to discontinue her assisted feeding will be reviewed with full attention to her legal rights."
In March 2004, Pope John Paul II affirmed the Church's teaching that the provision of water and food, even by artificial means, to a patient diagnosed as being in a "vegetative" state is "morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering." It is disputed whether Terri Schiavo herself can be said to be in a "vegetative" state, because family members and others say she is aware of her surroundings.