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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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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.
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