I had the privilege of blessing the grave of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, who was murdered on March 31, 2005 by dehydration. Her grave is not far from the place where she died, and where people from around the world had gathered to protest and pray. Those who visit the gravestone, however, will notice something highly unusual. While on most graves there is an inscription of two dates — when the person was born and when he or she died — on Terri’s there are three. Here’s exactly what the grave says:
Born December 3, 1963
Departed this Earth February 25, 1990
At Peace March 31, 2005
The whole world knows that she died on March 31, 2005. National and global media were present at the scene for days, covering every detail. Media were present again when I preached at her funeral Mass. We know when she died.
But her gravestone has become a pulpit for the euthanasia movement. Those who killed her are now using her grave as a platform for their twisted ideology. What they are trying to say is that once her brain was injured in 1990 and she was no longer functioning like most of us, she wasn’t one of us anymore. She “departed this earth.”
This is actually a variation on an ancient heresy, which says that we are really spirits inhabiting a body. Terri couldn’t communicate normally. So, her “spirit” must have left her. The body was just a shell left behind. Those who believe she really “departed this earth” in 1990 can therefore pretend it was OK to kill her in 2005. After all, it wasn’t really her. She was already gone.
This is heresy, because Christianity teaches that we are a unity of body and soul, not simply a soul “using” a body. The body matters. What we do to the body, we do to the person.
Moreover, the gravestone inscription is a deep insult to all who are disabled, and to all those who love and care for them. Should they be considered already dead, too? Are we just wasting our time caring for them? Euthanasia advocates would have us think so.
A recent news story about a disabled unborn child quoted one as saying, “There’s no human life there.” Isn’t that the same idea? They think the baby has already “departed this earth,” so they don’t hesitate to abort the body.
As I blessed Terri’s grave, I also prayed that God’s people would be kept safe from this falsehood. And I recalled being in Terri’s room the day she died. I remembered her face, dehydrated from not having had a drop of water in two weeks. I recalled seeing the flowers, inches away, on her night table. They were immersed in water. And as I left the grave, I gave a final glance to the vase of flowers that was standing by the stone.