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Right-to-die groups co-opt Terri Schiavo case

Posted By Diana Lynne On 12/10/2003 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

In the wake of proposed legislation inspired by the plight of Terri Schiavo and

days ahead of a pivotal court ruling in her case, national right-to-die groups

have launched a campaign to promote their cause in the name of Terri and

rally public sentiment against further life-saving intervention on the part of

Florida lawmakers.

A federal judge is scheduled to consider a motion next Friday filed by Terri

Schiavo’s husband, Michael Schiavo, seeking a ruling that “Terri’s Law” – the law

quickly passed by the Florida Legislature Oct. 21 to allow Gov. Jeb Bush to

override a court-ordered removal of the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube

– is unconstitutional.


Michael Schiavo on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Oct. 28,
2003. (Photo: St. Petersburg Times)

End-of-Life

Choices – formerly known as the Hemlock Society, the oldest right-to-die

organization in the country – launched a national campaign Monday in

Tallahassee, Fla., in part to raise awareness for the need for living wills or

other advance directives from people who become incapacitated.

WorldNetDaily has reported Terri Schiavo mysteriously collapsed in

February 1990 at the age of 26. Oxygen was cut off to her brain for several

minutes, leaving the woman severely brain damaged and reliant on a feeding

tube for nourishment.


Bob and Mary Schindler (courtesy Bay News

9)

Terri’s family, the Schindlers, have been locked in a 10-year battle with

Michael Schiavo over Terri’s life. Schiavo insists Terri does not want to be kept

alive “through artificial means.” Circuit Court Judge George Greer ruled in 2000

that testimony by Schiavo, his brother and sister-in-law that she had casually

told each of them this a year before her injury was “clear and convincing

evidence” of her wishes.

Terri has no written mandate on the matter.

Greer also ruled Terri is in a persistent vegetative state, or PVS, based on

the testimony of three neurologists – one appointed by Greer and two solicited

by Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos – who testified in an evidentiary

hearing in November 2002. A PVS determination is necessary, according to

Florida law, to pave the way for the removal of a feeding tube, which amounts

to death by starvation and dehydration. According to legislation passed in

1999, a feeding tube is considered artificial life support in Florida.

Per Greer’s order, Terri’s feeding tube was removed Oct. 15. She endured

six days before state lawmakers and Bush intervened.


Terri responding to her mother in video clip available
on terrisfight.org.

The Schindlers maintain Terri is responsive, not PVS and has a strong will

to live. They reject the claims that Terri said she would want to die. More than

a dozen doctors have signed affidavits that Terri is not PVS and could benefit

from rehabilitative therapy denied her over the past decade, according to medical records provided to the Schindlers, but Greer refused

to admit their testimony in the case.

“Historically, death and dying have been taboo topics of discussion with

the American culture,” David Brand, Choices chief executive officer, said in a

release announcing the group’s public-relations campaign. “It is our hope that

tragic situations such as the Terri Schiavo case can be avoided in the future

by encouraging people to speak out about end-of-life choices.”

In addition to representatives giving speeches around the state to

community groups this week, the right-to-die organization has purchased

newspaper advertising in the major markets of Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa

and Miami. The Associated Press reports the cost of the campaign is $60,000.

“Today’s headlines are full of the pain of unspoken wishes,” one

newspaper ad reads. “Save your loved ones the anguish of making a difficult

decision when you are unable to speak for yourself.”

Choices intends for its campaign to go “beyond simply calling for advance

directives” but “will encourage people to examine the current laws that govern

end-of-life care.”

Brand said his group is concerned that “Florida citizens will now be

reluctant to make their end-of-life choices known through living wills and other

means knowing their advance directives can be overturned at the whim of the

state legislature.”

WorldNetDaily

reported a Florida lawmaker inspired by the tug of war over Terri

proposes to rewrite the state’s right-to-die statutes to err on the side of life in

the absence of written mandates. State Sen. Stephen Wise

of Jacksonville introduced the “Starvation and Dehydration of Persons with

Disabilities Prevention Act,” or Senate Bill 692, which requires a living will or

other advance directive from patients before courts order their feeding tubes

removed.

“The Schiavo case is a he-said, she-said, who-said and she’s not able to
talk,” Wise told the Tampa Tribune. “I don’t know who said what. And that’s the
issue we wanted to get to … have something in writing.”

Wise’s proposed legislation faces an uphill battle and may not even reach
the Senate floor.

Senate President Jim
King,
who controls which bills reach the chamber floor, was involved in

crafting the state’s current right-to-die statutes and vows the bill won’t be

heard in the upcoming 2004 legislative session.

Hoping the public will bring pressure to bear on King to step
out of the way of the measure, the Schindlers have been urging visitors to their

website to contact
the Senate leader.

Another right-to-die group, the Death with Dignity National Center, DDNC,

is using its website to drum up

public support against legislative intervention.

While cautioning visitors against using Terri Schiavo’s situation “for

political gain,” DDNC launched an initiative yesterday to use her case to

advocate its cause. An action alert titled “Send a letter on behalf of Terri

Schiavo!” urges visitors to send a pre-formulated e-mail to Bush voicing opposition to his perceived power grab and

violation of patient privacy.

The letter accuses the governor of having:

“Trampled self-determination – erasing a long-held legal individual

right to refuse extraordinary medical measures, even if it hastens death;

Sidestepped the entire legal/judicial process;

Established a dangerous legal precedent, one that may result in doctors

ignoring the wishes of their patients

“If any good can come from Terri’s situation, it will be that policymakers

such as yourself will come to understand that in a pluralistic democratic

society, we must create neutral space in the law for people of differing beliefs

to pursue their own life’s journey,” concludes the letter.

“I’m outraged they’d promote their despicable [pro-euthanasia] agenda by

using Terri’s name. Terri is a victim and they are victimizing her a second

time,” Pat Anderson, the attorney representing the Schindlers, told

WorldNetDaily. “Terri should not have to pass a test to be able to live. Even if

Terri never gets one bit better than she is today, her parents love her and want

to care for her. The fact is they’re capable of loving their disabled daughter

and, perhaps to these ghouls, that’s an incomprehensible concept.”

Anderson also notes that despite DDNC’s assertion it has not taken a side

in the dispute, the organization distorts the facts in the case in favor of Michael

Schiavo.

“There is no living will in this case – that’s the tragedy – nobody knows

what Terri really wants,” reads the DDNC website. “The courts have been

consistent in siding with her husband that she would not want this. Her family

maintains otherwise, but says even if she didn’t want this, they believe in

preserving life at all costs. Who are any of us to deny Terri, her husband or her

family their individual beliefs?”

“That’s a lie,” Anderson told WorldNetDaily in reference to the allegation

the family would overrule Terri’s wishes to advance a pro-life agenda. “They’re

playing on the fears of Florida’s elderly population.”

Anderson says Terri’s case illustrates right-to-die advocates already have

the law on their side.

“The battle isn’t fending off unwanted medical care, the battle is getting a

doctor to treat you,” she told WorldNetDaily.

Instead of a living will, Anderson advocates documents attesting to

citizens’ “will to live,” in which a health-care surrogate is appointed to make

decisions as to the level of care and aggressiveness of treatment the

incapacitated person would want. She pointed out that modern medicine

advances so rapidly that there are too many scenarios and variables to plan

for in a living will to make them impervious to misinterpretation.

“‘Nothing artificial’ is so vague. What does that mean? No antibiotics? No

IV?” she queried.

Meanwhile, a poll out this week suggests right-to-die advocates enjoy wide

public support in Florida.

Conducted by the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times newspapers,

the survey found 65 percent of Floridians opposed Terri’s Law, while 23

percent favored it.

Respondents were asked: “As you may be aware, Gov. Jeb Bush and the

Florida legislature recently passed a law enabling the governor to order that

Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube be reinserted, after a judge concluded she was in

a persistent vegetative state and ordered the feeding tube to be removed. Do

you agree or disagree with this decision by the governor and the legislature?”

Anderson believes the poll was specifically designed to influence next

week’s court ruling and in a letter to the editor sent to the papers complained

the poll question failed to mention the conclusion that Terri is PVS has been

widely disputed.

“The fact is that unless Florida law is changed to honor only written

advance directives, we will all see other cases like Terri Schiavo, in which a

spouse, now living with another woman with whom he has had two children,

suddenly and conveniently remembers years after the fact the disabled

spouse’s ‘wishes’ in the matter,” Anderson wrote in the letter in a reference to

Michael Schiavo.

“If we, as a society, are prepared to accept these remembered ‘wishes’ as

a cover for getting rid of seriously disabled persons, where is that line going to

be drawn,” Anderson adds. “Who’s next? Children with cerebral palsy?

Alzheimer’s patients? People who wear contact lenses? Are the lives of the

disabled less valuable?”

For his part, Gov. Bush insists he acted appropriately because doubt

exists over Terri’s true wishes and medical condition.

“We should err on the side of life, and that’s what the governor is doing,”

Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre told the Associated Press.

Read WorldNetDaily’s
unparalleled, in-depth coverage of the tug of war over Terri Schiavo.


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