January 26-27, the weekend of the Texas Rally for Life, Texas Right to Life, an organization dedicated to defending the rights of the unborn, the sick and the elderly, welcomed around 200 people to their Boots on the Ground two-day conference in Austin, Texas. This year, the theme of the conference was “Do No Harm” which centered around pro-life issues such as medical ethics, patients’ rights, assisted suicide, brain death and organ donation. A large number of college students attended this conference, from as diverse of schools as Lamar University, Our Lady of the Lake University, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Trinity University, and UT Austin.
A number of prominent pro-life speakers presented, including speaker Stephanie Gray, co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, who started off the conference on Saturday morning at the Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ with a presentation on assisted suicide and euthanasia, and the pro-life response to these issues. Since she was 18, Gray has already given over 800 presentations all over the world, even at prestigious universities such as Berkeley, George Washington University and Yale.
In her presentation, Gray spoke about better alternatives to assisted suicide, and how her audience could apply this to the outside world. “Suffering is present in order to unleash love,” she quoted from Pope St. John Paul II. “If you think about it, when do we step outside ourselves and help someone in need?… When someone feels like a burden… we ought to unleash that love, not our assistance with their death. Another reason people give for assisted suicide is that they feel that they’re useless. Again we acknowledge it’s a problem if someone feels their life is not worth living because they can’t do anything or much. The solution rather than assisted suicide ought to be helping them see their self-worth. At the end of the day, our value actually isn’t in our usefulness. It’s in who we are. First and foremost we are human beings and we’re human beings that can do, but even when we can’t do, if we are, we ought to be celebrated.”
Following Gray’s presentation, the attendees ate lunch provided by the conference, then proceeded to join the rest of the thousands marching for life to the capitol.
Bobby Schindler spoke after the rally. In 1990 his sister Terri Schiavo collapsed and was left with serious cognitive disabilities. Later on, her husband sought court permission to remove her food and hydration, which then led Schindler into a legal battle to defend his sister’s life. After Terri’s death, Schindler gave up teaching to become a full-time pro-life and disabilities rights advocate and is now President of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, which works to protect the lives of those in danger of being euthanized and to provide support to families whose loved ones are medically vulnerable.
Schindler spoke on how the media constantly distorted his sister’s case, with the media falsely claiming that Terri was “in an irreversible persistent vegetative state.” Schindler said that “she was getting aggressive therapy… and actually said words and was responsive,” and that she was getting better before her feeding tube was removed and started starving to death.
“What happened to Terri is happening every single day in our nation and even locally,” Schindler said. He went on to explain how the feeding tube was reclassified as no longer basic care in the medical field but as a medical treatment. “It’s because of this reclassification that permitted this to happen… If they need a feeding tube and they’re not dying, then we’re morally obligated to care for them. Terri was never dying.”
“There’s a deep-rooted prejudice against people with disabilities. The perfect example of this is what is happening to down syndrome babies [in Iceland] when mothers find out their babies have down syndrome and abort. But what does that say? If we’re okay with killing a child on the basis of a disability before they’re even born, how do we feel about people with disabilities in our world?… A fundamental concept about human dignity is that we possess it regardless of our physical or mental condition… That’s why we need people like you in this fight willing to educate the public on what is happening in our culture today.”
The following morning, speakers presented on the dangers of the Texas Advance Directives Act (TADA), which includes a provision that allows hospitals to remove life-sustaining care from patients against their will after a ten days notice if the patient isn’t moved to a different facility.
“They don’t have to discuss their reasons for you– their prognosis for you,” Attorney Kassi Marks described the TADA process. “This is the worst law like this and it’s right in our backyard… Assuming for the sake of argument [regarding doctors’ conscience protection], why is the only way to assuage the doctor’s conscience to with care? Why not just transfer care to someone else? Why do we have to protect the doctor’s conscience by killing them [the patients]? Euthanasia– it doesn’t get enough attention it deserves. 100 percent of us are going to be presented with a loved one in the hospital.”
Lastly, that Sunday afternoon, Jan. 27, Chet McDoniel was the last to speak, seemingly ending the conference on a positive note despite being born with no arms and shortened legs. He spoke about his secret to enjoying life.
McDoniel now has a wife and three daughters, aged ten, six and three. “I believe each and every other person has the God-given right to be happy,” he said. “When we look at life [regarding the unborn], what do we see? Do we see what should be? Do we see what’s perfect? Or do we see potential?
“Stop playing the blame game. While we’re doing that, we’re not focusing on what to make better. No one is to blame for the way I look… It’s completely and truly an accident. I believe God is not responsible for that either. I’d miss out on life if I’d focus so much on [the] why… I can change the situation even if I was not the cause.
Next year’s conference theme is “UNITE PRO-LIFE,” and will focus on the diversity of the pro-life movement.