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March 22, 2006

Schiavo family adviser brings right-to-life message to UMD

Topics: News

Duluth News Tribune - Nearly a year ago, Brother Paul O'Donnell of St. Paul stood before a phalanx of microphones in Florida and said: "It is with great sadness that -- it has been reported to us that Terri Schiavo has passed away."

The man who told the world that Schiavo had died brought his right-to-life message and "the truth about Terri Schiavo" to the University of Minnesota Duluth on Monday.

O'Donnell, a Franciscan monk, was spokesman for Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. On Monday, he addressed an audience of 40 -- mostly students -- at UMD. He said he has made about 50 such engagements across the country in the past year.

"Society has chosen to kill our most vulnerable," O'Donnell said during his hourlong presentation that included rare footage of Schiavo in her hospice room. "I ask you to choose life and defend life."

The Schiavo case dominated headlines for weeks as her husband, Michael Schiavo, and her parents waged legal battles over whether she should be kept alive with a feeding tube. The public debate drew in the White House, U.S. Supreme Court and Congress.

The case also has renewed interest in Minnesota. House Republicans recently took up the issue of how to deal with people who don't spell out their dying wishes.

A bill by Rep. Tim Wilkin, R-Eagan, before state lawmakers would require medical providers to provide artificial food and water to patients unless they have a living will or leave "clear and convincing" evidence indicating they don't want such measures.

However, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said he's not sure the bill will get a hearing this year in the Senate.

O'Donnell, who called Schiavo's case the Roe v. Wade for euthanasia, asked audience members Monday to contact their state lawmakers.

Schiavo died at age 41, but had been in what doctors called a persistent vegetative state since suffering permanent brain damage after having a heart attack in 1990.

The monk took umbrage with the term "vegetative," saying it demeans the disabled. He said society is dominated by people with a pro-death agenda, such as the media, health-care industry and insurance companies.

He said contrary to what many have been led to believe, Schiavo was not hooked up to a respirator.

Her heart and lungs functioned well, and she could eat, just not enough to survive without a feeding tube, O'Donnell said. He said she also could respond to her mother's voice, which he illustrated with the video.

Some medical experts have discounted the video, saying her responses were involuntary.

"This is a disabled woman who was murdered. She was court-ordered to death," he said, adding that people with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome could be next.

The evening's first speaker, Joleigh Little of National Right to Life, compared the United States' trajectory with euthanasia to that of Nazi Germany and Hitler's concentration camps for Jews.

Although he wasn't allowed in the room at the time of her death, O'Donnell assured the audience that Schiavo suffered from dehydration and starvation, calling it barbaric.

O'Donnell's order serves the homeless and provides shelter to international torture victims. He also spent more than 12 years caring for his best friend, Brother Michael Gaworski, who suffered severe brain damage after being stricken with pneumonia.

Gaworski was kept alive with a feeding tube until his death three years ago at the friary, O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell met Terri Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, at a national Right to Life event where both were scheduled to speak. O'Donnell was invited to the university by the two-year-old, anti-abortion student group, Survivors UMD. It has about 50 active members, said adviser Kris Miller.

Miller said O'Donnell doesn't charge for speaking engagements and didn't want to be reimbursed for travel expenses.

BY CHRIS HAMILTON
Duluth News Tribune Staff Writer

Related: TerrisFight.org

Posted by tim at March 22, 2006 8:59 AM


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