PINELLAS PARK (BP)–Calling the Terri Schiavo situation “one of the most profound moral and ethical issues of our time,” civil rights leader Jesse Jackson prayed with her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and their family March 29 while spending a few hours outside the hospice where the disabled Florida woman is in her 12th day of a court-ordered starvation.
And in a development the afternoon of March 29 at the hospice, Thaddeus Malanowski emerged from the Pinellas Park facility and said he had been told he may not administer communion to Terri — and was threatened with arrest if he proceeds to administer the sacrament.
Terri as a Roman Catholic has the responsibility and right to receive communion once a day, said Malanowski, especially since her death is imminent.
“Every citizen in this country has a right to their religious practices and beliefs,” Malanowski told reporters. He said Michael Schiavo had forbidden the practice to continue.
Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother, said he was told by hospice personnel that since Terri had received a drop of consecrated wine — which to Catholics becomes the actual blood of Christ — through her feeding tube just before it was disconnected March 18 and on Easter Sunday, Michael Schiavo had fulfilled his obligation to a court order on the matter issued by Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer.
Schindler said he believes “only God knows” if Terri is in danger of passing away soon, but said, “We all know Terri is dying.”
Malanowski confirmed, “We think her condition may be getting worse.”
Paul O’Donnell, a Franciscan monk from Minnesota who is a family spokesperson, said he believes “no court, no Congress, can tell another human being” how to practice their religion.
“This is not a legal issue,” O’Donnell said. “No court should have any authority.” He called it a religious liberty issue and said people who believe in the separation of church and state should be alarmed at this turn of events.
Jackson, addressing reporters under a sweltering Florida sun earlier in the day, said he has been watching and praying from a “distance” — but finally made the trip when the Schindler family called.
“I’ve come quickly and I’ve come gladly,” Jackson said, calling on a bipartisan approach to find a solution to what Jackson said is a dilemma over a healthcare issue.
The Schiavo issue has focused the world’s attention on end-of-life issues, Jackson said, and as the 41-year-old woman lay dying of starvation and dehydration inside the hospice, she is the “singular person that brings clarity” to the issue.
“There are congregations of people coming together to pray for her who ordinarily wouldn’t pray together,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he called members of the Florida Senate and asked them to work on a solution after praying with Schindler family members in a thrift store across from the hospice where the family has been staying on and off since March 18 — the day healthcare workers removed Schiavo’s feeding and hydration tube and began a process which medical experts have predicted will lead to her death at any time.
Barred from visiting Terri by Michael Schiavo, whom Jackson said also declined to pray with him about the situation, Jackson said he believes there is evidence that Terri’s life can still be preserved and that there could be a legal remedy.
So far, Terri Schiavo’s plight has been pleaded in state and federal courts and has been to the U.S. Supreme Court and back several times. Congress acted a week ago to request a full review in federal court, but those court officials have found that the issues lie within state court jurisdiction.
“Things are not now what they were a week ago,” Jackson said. “You can’t hide behind the law and not have mercy. It takes the law and mercy.”
Describing Terri Schiavo’s situation, Jackson said she is not on a breathing machine, nor did she have an illness that would have led to her death if the feeding tube had not been removed.
“Unless we are anxious for her to die, we must not be this callous about human life,” Jackson said.
Bob Schindler told reporters that although Terri is “failing” she looks “pretty good” under the circumstances. He said her bodily functions are still working.
“You can still see the impact 12 days without food and water is having,” Bob Schindler said. “I pray to God that she continues to have the strength to go on…. It’s not too late to save her.”
Mary Schindler, who has spoken only briefly to the press in the past week, pleaded with state lawmakers to do all they can to save her daughter.
“Please, please pass this new bill,” Mary Schindler said, pausing briefly to look down. “Terri is still fighting, she is still alive; she’s trying with all her might. She does not want to die.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.