Schiavo Network Chair Talks about Euthanasia
At Holy Family Life Banquet
Mary O’Grady (left) received the fourth annual St. Michael Defender of Life Award for her prolife work including her current service as a fertility care practitioner. She holds the hand of her friend Patricia Bainbridge, former diocesan pro-life director, as she speaks to the audience. (Observer photos by Amanda Hudson)
Brother Paul O'Donnell, OSF
Collin Mendoza
Banquet-goers serve themselves from the buffet. (Observer photos by Amanda Hudson)
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
February 6, 2015

ROCKFORD—Brother Paul O’Donnell of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in St. Paul, Minnesota, has been at the forefront of the work to help assure life and dignity of those who have been injured.

“America has been sold a bill of goods,” Brother Paul said flatly as he gave examples of the challenges that families face once a loved one is labeled “a vegetable.”

Now chairman of the board of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, Brother Paul was the main caregiver for more than 12 years for the founder of his order, Brother Michael Gaworski.

In 1991, my friend was first called a vegetable, Brother Paul said of what is also called a persistent vegetative state. “Literally, we did have to fight for his life,” he said, noting for example that medical professionals “were perfectly comfortable not to treat him” for a urinary tract infection at one point.

News of the brothers’ care for their founder spread, and people from all over began contacting the brothers when they were faced with difficult choices and were being pushed by professionals and others who tried to dehumanize their ill or injured loved ones.

Brother Paul noted a recent article in a British medical journal that said some 40 percent of people diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state are misdiagnosed. “When we talked about the brain regenerating, we were laughed at,” he said, adding that he was convinced that Brother Michael knew what was going on around him.

He mentioned a book called “Ghost Boy” written by a young man in Africa who was in a vegetative state for 12 years. The author was fully aware of his surroundings for all but the first two years and eventually came back to full functioning.

He also spoke of a 21-year-old man named Brendan whose mother had to fight for months for the care he needed after a car accident.

He eventually came out of his vegetative state. While in rehabilitation, Brendan met Nicole who also had recovered from a coma. They fell in love, got married, and “two weeks ago they told me they are having their second child,” Brother Paul said, adding that Brendan was left with only a slight speech impediment from the accident.

The Brothers of Peace became involved in the much-publicized case of Terry Schiavo, who, Brother Paul said, “received communion every Saturday night” and who responded when her mother entered the room.

“She was warehoused for 10 years,” he said, noting that visiting Christmas carolers were always directed away from her room.

Schiavo died in 2005 after 13.5 days of being deprived of food and water per a court order.

“What happened to Terri Schiavo was a perfect storm,” Brother Paul said, adding that “Everything her (biological) family wanted to do was in accord with Catholic teaching.”

Catholic teaching on this issue has been more clearly expressed in recent years. Brother Paul noted that in 2004 Pope St. John Paul II made clear that food and water is ordinary care, even if given by artificial means. The future saint also encouraged abandonment of the term “vegetative state,” Brother Paul said.

Additional communications from the Vatican and the U.S. bishops have further clarified the issue.

Brother Paul also shared his parents’ experiences with their advance orders to never again be put on a ventilator. After five open heart surgeries, his dad had had enough. But in the midst of another episode, he opted to be put on a ventilator and receive a recommended defibrillator. He went on to dance with his wife on their 50th anniversary and to see the birth of his grandchildren.

After her four days on a ventilator, Brother Paul’s mother also said, “Never again,” making her activist son promise to honor her wishes. Sometime later, he got a call from a doctor who explained that his mom would die within a couple of minutes if she was not put on a ventilator. Brother Paul stuck to his promise, until the doctor said, “Your mother is indicating to me, she will go on a ventilator.”

“You know, when they told me I had two minutes to live, I changed my mind,” she told her son after the medical crisis had passed.

We don’t know how we’ll feel during a crisis moment, her son told his Jan. 30 audience. What you think and how you’ll feel at 20 is not the same as when you are 40 or 60 or 80.

“The ugly hand of euthanasia” is at work in America, Brother Paul said, calling on his listeners to “Bear the light of truth and hope and build a culture of life.

“Love and care is always the answer.”