The following is excerpted from a leaflet distributed by the Schappacher family on the death of their son Peter:
Peter William Schappacher lived nine years, three months and one day, a novena of years. Peter had a traumatic birth which left him without oxygen for fifteen minutes. Because of this, he was profoundly brain damaged and was not expected to even make it through the first night.
His first miraculous year involved many small surgeries and adaptations for our family. Since then he spent time in and out of the hospital, at many specialists and with nurses at home. He was unable to cough or swallow and had frequent infections, pneumonia, and seizures.
Although at first glance, it appeared that Peter was unable to communicate, he talked through his eyes. When he was happy, his eyes would sparkle and his face would glow. This was most evident when he was in the jet tub for his nightly, hour-long soak or if he was being held by one of the family. He would cry in pain from kidney stones or seizures and sometimes would appear to be having a temper tantrum if he had a change in his daily schedule. Peter was famous for being a venting friend for brothers, sisters, friends and nurses and would blink his long black eyelashes in sympathy. Peter knows more secrets than anyone should and we all hope he is taking our petitions to Our Lord.
Although we feel sorrow at Peter’s sudden death, we also feel blessed. We often feared that God would take Peter from this world after a long illness of suffering at the hospital, without his family, or with someone feeling responsible. Peter slipped away quietly Monday afternoon without pain, suffering and surrounded by family.
We did everything in our human power to revive Peter but soon realized God had the whole situation in His hands. When nothing would bring Peter back, we looked at his face and his expression was heavenly. It was a look that held no pain, no sorrow of any kind.
Nine years, three months, one day later, we are thankful Peter was part of our family. We have all grown in faith, the meaning of pure, unselfish love, and belief in miracles. Thank you, Peter, for everything you have taught us. You will be terribly missed……with God’s grace we will meet again!
A more eloquent and touching tribute to this little boy – or to anyone -- is hard to imagine. But it is more than a tribute to Peter: what it reveals about his family says even more – a family who, lovingly, without fanfare, cared for this little fellow as perhaps no one else would or could. How many of us would have done the same, and to that extent? How many would have made that sacrifice, that labor of love – of God’s Divine Love? Many of us preach, but how many of us “practice”? Many are they who say the “right” things, but how many do the right thing. This family did the right thing.
Peter, of course, was totally helpless. He could do almost nothing on his own. Except for doctors’ visits or trips to the emergency room, he never went anywhere or did anything. Materially speaking, he never “accomplished” anything or made any significant “contribution to society.” What “good” was he? What “grand purpose” was there to his existence? What kind of “impact” did he have? What kind? -- the most powerful kind of all: he taught all of us what humanity and the sanctity of human life are all about – perhaps more so than anyone else on this planet.
Luckily for Peter, he had parents who believed in the sanctity of life – and in not “snuffing it out” when “difficulties” arose. Terri Schiavo was not so lucky. Her life was ended by a husband who plotted to have her put to death – and who succeeded. In Terri’s case, this monstrous action was defended by, believe it or not, one who calls himself a traditional priest. The irony here is that at the time of Terri’s death, little Peter’s parents were (but, happily, no longer are) attending the church of this selfsame priest who defended the action of Terri Schiavo’s husband. It is also ironic that this priest, who slammed the mainstream news media and those “Oprah-watching idiots” for acting “emotionally” and not having their facts straight, relied on those same media for his “facts.” If he had troubled to get the real facts -- which were all available to him at the time – he would have realized that he was totally wrong. He did not, nor has he done since.
Luckily for Peter, his parents did not heed what this priest had to say in his following comments regarding the sustaining of life by “extraordinary means”: “The resolution of the moral issue [i.e., what constitutes “extraordinary means” in sustaining life]…hinges upon the definition of the term “extraordinary” – not as the term is defined by medical science, but rather as it is defined by moral theologians. …Moral theologians categorize as extraordinary those treatments that are physically painful, invasive, repulsive, emotionally disturbing, dangerous, rarely successful, expensive, etc.
“Nowadays the latter burden – extraordinary expense – is mostly hidden, because “someone else pays for it” – i.e., you and I and everyone else foot the bills through health insurance premiums, doctor malpractice premiums and high taxes.” He then continued: “Does the Fifth Commandment under pain of mortal sin always require s sick person who is unable to eat or drink by ordinary means to have a doctor shove a tube into his nose or poke a hole in his stomach in order to provide food and water? …Having a hole poked in you, a tube shoved in and then having to eat and drink that way would be burdensome for any man.”
Oh yes, having to “poke a hole in his stomach” was very “extraordinary” for Peter, but not in the sense implied. It was not “physically painful, invasive, repulsive, emotionally disturbing, dangerous, rarely successful, expensive, etc.”; it was extraordinary in that this painless means of nourishment conveniently and inexpensively kept Peter very adequately nourished for all of his nine years – as it also does for the daughter of people who too were (but, happily, no longer are) parishioners of this same priest. Ironic, isn’t it? In the case of the daughter, who is now a teenager, she has been getting her nourishment this way for her entire life (and counting). Let it also be noted that Terri Schiavo actually was able to swallow (she received the Sacred Species in communion that way); but tube-feeding was more convenient for her.
What kind of an IDIOT -- in our present time, when tube-feeding through the stomach has for decades been commonly accepted as a very ordinary means of nourishment (and which is, in fact, cheaper and easier to do than conventional feeding) – would contend that this comprised “extraordinary means”?! And, what kind of an idiot – or heartless monster – would try to disallow keeping someone alive on the grounds of it being too much of a “burden on society”? Perhaps a “Medicare” bureaucrat might want to put a price on life – but a traditional Catholic priest?? Luckily again for Peter, his parents didn’t share this priest’s views on the “economics” of sustaining life – or of ending it. And as for it being a “burden on society,” much of the cost of Peter’s care was borne by his family -- who were more than happy to do it (as were Terri Schiavo’s family, but who were legally barred from doing so). In both cases, the “burden to society” was (or would have been) negligible.
For both the Schappachers (Peter’s family) and the Schindlers (Terri’s family), life is not a matter of dollars and cents. They do not put a price on life, nor do they measure human beings either by their “worth” or “cost” to society. They had the Faith to realize that human beings have a body and a soul and that it is the soul that counts -- that it is that which sets us apart as humans and makes us “temples of the Holy Ghost.” They also realize that our ultimate kingdom, as Our Lord said, is not of this world, but the next.
And if humans are not to be measured in “dollars and cents” terms, neither are they to be measured or valued based on their “intellectual capacity.” Little Peter suffered severe brain trauma at birth. But, as his family noted, he could “talk” with his eyes; and he could express joy, pain, and other emotions and feelings. In Terri Schiavo’s case, she had, as another article pointed out, even more intellectual capacity – not that this “entitled” her to being considered any more “human” than Peter. They were BOTH as “human” as you or I; they, just as we, have mortal bodies but immortal souls. Who are we to say that “intellectual capacity” determines “humanity” (or to know what one’s capacity really is) or that one is “too brain-damaged” to live? Or too insane? Or too “handicapped”? Where do we draw that line?
The fact is, we don’t really know how much Peter understood or absorbed. Since he couldn’t speak, we have no way of knowing. Only God knows, and we are not God – nor can we “play” God. One thing we do know is that when we die, we will all have the intellectual capacity to know God in His fullness – and this includes Peter and Terri. That is what’s hard for some people to realize: that the things that limited Peter’s and Terri’s “mental capacity” are bodily, “flesh and blood” limitations; they no longer apply after death. Yes, they will be just as “capable” as the rest of us – perhaps even more so; they, just as we, will enjoy the Beatific Vision in all its Fullness and Beauty – and they’ll probably be seeing it much sooner than most of us!
This priest, who had the ignorance, the audacity, and the arrogance to try to justify THE MURDER OF TERRI SCHIAVO, should be ASHAMED of himself -- as should be the people who support him, either openly or by their cowardly acquiescence. The Schappachers and the Schindlers, on the other hand, are our shining beacons of what real Catholic morality is all about. “What’s that?” you say. The Schindlers are “novus ordo” and, ergo, “not Catholic”? Well, I’ll take their Catholic principles over those of the letter-of-the-law hypocrites who still defend and support this wretched priest. I’ll also take it over those cowardly priests who have kept silent to this day on Schiavo because they did not want to “offend” this priest – because he was a political bedfellow of theirs. Only Fr. William Jenkins and a handful more had the courage to speak up and say the right thing. Why has it taken a layman to point out what they should have recognized -- and done something about -- at first sight?
Why? Well, besides the “political bedfellow” part, the answer is complacency – especially for the laity, and especially for those who still support this priest. As long as they’re “getting their sacraments,” they really don’t care about much else: “So what if he was wrong about Schiavo; he’s ‘valid’ – that’s all that counts! And why are you still ‘harping’ on this? We’ve heard this all before!” Well then, hear it again. Perhaps it will “sink in” this time! We as a nation have been “dumbed down” (even the use of the word “dumb” for stupid is prima facie evidence of it): if people keep ignoring the message over and over again, it must be repeated until they get it. Repetition is not only the mother of memory; it is the mother of persuasion and belief.
Actually, the phrase “dumbed down” doesn’t quite hit the mark. To be more precise, we have been numbed down. We as a nation have had our brains anesthetized to accept whatever comes along. Nothing shocks us any more, no matter how horrendous the news, or how blatantly wrong the deed. As long as it is not personally happening to us, we take it in stride. As long as we are getting our daily ration of “food and football,” the world can be falling down around us – and we won’t care. We are calloused to it. This same mentality has crept into the “spiritual” sphere as well: “No matter that he was totally wrong on Schiavo, or that he blatantly slandered a deceased Abbot Giardina who could not talk back; no matter that he’s wrong just about every time he opens his mouth; no matter that he and his colleagues have victimized so many folks at SGG -- it hasn’t happened to me, and I’m still getting my sacraments -- that’s all that counts.”
Sorry, folks – it doesn’t work that way. A priest who takes that kind of position on the sanctity of human life – who says what he did about Schiavo -- is really not Catholic. Nor are they who support such a position, ignore it, or pretend that it didn’t happen. Ignoring such evil just so one can “have his sacraments” is evil in itself. “All the sacraments in the world” and “saying all the right prayers” will not get one to heaven, without the right attitude -- like the Pharisee in Our Lord’s parable, where it was the publican -- and not he – who went away “justified.” Being a Catholic is more than showing up at church often and “saying the right stuff.” Being a Catholic means living a Catholic life, defending right against wrong, and taking the Catholic position on things – especially on things like the sanctity of life.
Terri Schiavo and Peter Schappacher died in totally different ways: Peter’s death was peaceful and pleasant, whereas Terri’s was horrible: skin cracked open from dehydration, bleeding from dehydrated, sunken eye sockets, and with a look of frightened disbelief on her face -- Terri and Peter, so different – yet so similar in that each, in their own way, taught us the meaning of the sanctity of life. When they are in heaven (and I’ll lay money that they are), I hope that they are praying for us. We will certainly need those prayers. Every nation that has not upheld the sanctity of life has paid a terrible price – and we as a nation have not upheld it. Let us hope that the example of Terri and Peter gets our country back on the right track. At the very least, we as individuals must do our part by emulating the Schappachers’ and the Schindlers’ shining example. Those who have conveniently “justified” not doing so will be terribly “inconvenienced” when they meet their Maker. And they’ll have more than a look of “frightened disbelief” to contend with -- they’ll have God’s wrath.