Two Republican lawmakers from Florida introduced legislation in Congress today they hope will save the life of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose parents are battling a court order to remove her life-sustaining feeding tube.
Sen. Mel Martinez and Rep. David Weldon say the Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act will give Schiavo, and others in similar situations, the same constitutional protection of due process as death-row inmates.
Current law leaves the rights of disabled persons at the mercy of courts instead of the Constitution, the lawmakers argue.
The new measure would not apply to cases in which an advance medical directive is in effect.
Terri Schiavo faces forced starvation because Florida law allows for testimony of oral expressions of end-of-life wishes.
Estranged husband Michael Schiavo won a court order in 2000 to have her feeding tube removed, claiming she had said she wouldn’t want to live in such a condition. Parents Robert and Mary Schindler, however, insist she has demonstrated a strong will to live, and they have filed a flurry of motions to prevent the tube’s removal, scheduled sometime after March 18 at 1 p.m.
“Dr. Weldon’s legislation would allow Terri to have her own counsel that can argue her case, a right given to any criminal in the United States, and Terri not a criminal but a woman truly fighting for her life,” says Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council.
Perkins said in the U.S. “we don’t execute people without due process and we shouldn’t execute the incapacitated by starvation. Beyond being cruel and unusual punishment, this is an opportunity for Congress to finally check the power of runaway courts.”
Terri Schiavo is not hooked up to any machines, but she requires a small feeding tube for nourishment and hydration. She collapsed under disputed circumstances Feb. 25, 1990, suffering severe brain damage when her heart stopped momentarily. Michael Schiavo attributes the collapse to an eating disorder, but the Schindlers suspect he tried to strangle their daughter and contend that while mentally handicapped, she recognizes people and responds to stimuli.
Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer will hear arguments this week on whether the state’s social services agency will be allowed to intervene in the case with an investigation of alleged abuse by Michael Schiavo.
The Department of Children and Families has filed a petition containing 30 new allegations of “abuse, neglect or exploitation” it received through its anonymous abuse hot line.
If neglect or abuse can be proved, the state can take over guardianship from Michael Schiavo. The Schindlers have filed motions to remove him as Terri’s guardian, arguing he is her husband in name only and consistently has sought to withhold care and therapy. Michael Schiavo has been living for 10 years with fiance Jodi Centonze, with whom he has two children, and plans to marry her upon Terri’s death.
Jeb Bush still involved
Meanwhile, a rally is planned in Tallahassee where state lawmakers are preparing a revised version of “Terri’s Law,” the bill that enabled Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene in 2003, the second time Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed. The law later was ruled unconstitutional, however, by the Florida Supreme Court.
Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition is helping stage a rally at the state Capitol building March 13 at 3 p.m. that will include prayer vigils, lobbying and public events.
“It is our hope and prayer that the Florida legislature will show the same courage and compassion they exhibited in 2003 when they acted to save Terri’s life,” Mahoney said. “It is important that elected officials work to protect the most needy and defenseless of our society.”
Mahoney said if Schiavo is denied food and water, “she will suffer a horrible and painful death that would be considered unlawful and immoral for a convicted serial killer or an animal.”
“We are also thankful for the leadership of Governor Bush and are praying that God would grant him strength and wisdom as we all work together for justice and mercy regarding Terri and all those who are facing similar situations.”
Last week, Nobel prize nominee Dr. William Hammesfahr issued a statement saying he had examined Terri Schiavo and believes her injury, hypoxic encephalopathy, is a type of stroke that he treats every day with success.
“There are many approaches that would help Terri Schiavo,” he said. “I know, because I had the opportunity to personally examine her, her medical records, and her X-rays. It is time to help Terri, instead of just warehousing her. She would have benefited from treatment years ago, but it is not to late to start now.”
Hammesfahr believes Terri Schiavo eventually could, with proper rehabilitative treatment, eat and drink on her own and have good use of one arm and one hand.
He believes she also eventually could learn to transfer herself from a wheelchair to a bed.
“The patient is not in a coma,” he said. “She responds to specific people best. She tries to please others by doing activities for which she gets verbal praise.”
The Schindlers also filed a motion claiming Greer made a reversible error in the 2000 trial that affected his determination of whether their daughter would want to be keep alive in her present condition. The motion says Greer made a “clear mistake” when he discounted the testimony of Diane Meyer, who said that in 1982 Terri Schiavo told her she did not agree with the well-known decision by Karen Ann Quinlan’s parents to take their daughter off life support.
Court documents and other information are posted on the Schindler family website.
Links to all “Terri briefs” regarding the governor’s defense of Terri’s Law are on the Florida Supreme Court website, public information.