• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

Editor’s note: The following commentary is by Diana Lynne, author of a powerful, comprehensive book on Terri Schiavo’s life and death, titled “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.”

“For the religious Right, Terri Schiavo was a tool to be used,” California civil appellate attorney Jon Eisenberg concludes in his book titled “Using Terri: The Religious Right’s Conspiracy to Take Away Our Rights.”

In my column yesterday, I explained how the simple chronology of the Schiavo case proved the exact opposite – Terri Schiavo was a tool used by the liberal Left. Specifically, the case was a right-to-die case five years before it even crossed the radar screens of the right-to-life forces.

In the column, I employed the methodology Eisenberg used to draw the conclusion the Schiavo case was part of a multi-million-dollar conspiracy by pro-life foundations and organizations to usurp Americans’ right to personal autonomy, to demonstrate his reasoning could equally validate a conspiracy to kill Terri Schiavo by billionaire Left Wing political activist George Soros.

In his Oct. 17, 2005, review of Eisenberg’s book published in The Recorder, Lawrence Siskind predicted there would be a “published account of the case attributing the death of Terri Schiavo to the machinations of a Left Wing network of interconnected foundations and activists.”

This column fulfills Siskind’s prediction as, indeed, a Left Wing network played a significant role in Terri’s death.

“The culture warriors will keep on fighting to destroy the constitutional right of personal autonomy. They are now using their millions … to change the right-to-die laws from state to state,” Eisenberg warns his readers toward the end of the book. Eisenberg is referring to the advance-directive legislation passed or amended in dozens of states across the nation in the 1990s.

Just where did these laws come from? A decade-long campaign by bioethicists, right-to-die proponents, and leaders in the hospice industry seeking to “corner the market” on death, in the words of one prominent hospice administrator. Primarily funded by $148 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health care in the United States, and $48 million from Soros’ Project on Death in America, the campaign also had the backing of a consortium of a dozen other large, private foundations.

The mission was simple: “Transform the culture of dying” in America. The “foot soldiers” – to borrow Eisenberg’s name for those individuals taking their marching orders from the conspiring foundations and think tanks – achieved their mission by rewriting textbooks, curricula, certification, and accreditation criteria at medical and nursing schools; institutionalizing end-of-life care at hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices and shifting public perception about death through a massive multimedia blitz, which recruited the talents of PBS’ Bill Moyers and others.

Most significantly, they changed state laws and policies to pave the way for widespread use of what’s known as the “third path to death,” or death caused by the refusal or removal of life-sustaining medical treatment or care, including food and water. The “third path” is promoted by both pro-euthanasia and anti-euthanasia right-to-die advocates as the legal alternative to physician-assisted suicide.

Three months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on twin assisted-dying cases that left it up to the states to decide whether to legalize physician-assisted suicide, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recruited the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, D.C., to draft guidelines for state legislators to follow in crafting new end-of-life legislation. At the same time, RWJF, with its financial support of the consortium of other foundations, doled out half-million-dollar grants to 23 states to set up community-state partnerships, which would work with legislators to rewrite state laws. Sometime in late 1996 or early 1997 a RWJF grant of $449,960 was awarded to Florida Hospices and Palliative Care, a network of hospices in the state, which established the Florida Partnership for End-of-Life Care. It is unclear how this money was distributed, and to whom, in Florida.

Pursuant to the plan, the Florida Legislature authorized an End-of-Life Panel to rewrite the advance-directive statute on the books, F.S. 765. This 22-member panel consisted of one representative of the clergy, and was disproportionately comprised of bioethicists and hospice workers and advocates. Included in the roster was the administrator of the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, where Schiavo attorney George Felos served as chairman of the board, and where Terri Schiavo was transferred five years prior to her death.

Curiously, the amendments to F.S. 765 attributed to this panel and made law on Oct. 1, 1999, specifically addressed, as never before, the removal of feeding tubes from people diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state – Terri Schiavo. While Michael Schiavo’s original petition asking the court to order the removal of his wife’s feeding tube was filed in May 1998, the trial didn’t take place until four months after Florida got its new “right-to-die” law, as Eisenberg calls it, courtesy of the End-of-Life Panel.

Eisenberg dates his involvement with the right-to-die movement back to 1988, when he was a staff attorney for a California appellate court judge. In 1999, he joined the legal team seeking the removal of the feeding tube sustaining then-48-year-old Robert Wendlend on a pro bono basis. Eisenberg assembled a group of 43 renowned bioethicists and filed an amicus curiae brief on their behalf.

He filed a similar brief in 2004 on behalf of Michael Schiavo, upping the list of bioethicists to 55. Among those endorsing Eisenberg’s brief was Dr. Timothy Quill, a Rochester, NY, physician who confessed in 1991 in the New England Journal of Medicine to prescribing a lethal dose of sleeping pills to a woman suffering from acute leukemia. Quill then mounted a challenge to his state’s ban on assisted suicide, in Vacco v. Quill, one of the cases ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1997.

Another named bioethicist in Eisenberg’s brief is Dr. Stephen Miles, a grantee of a Soros medical faculty scholarship seeking to change the “culture of dying” from the inside out. Miles gained notoriety in the right-to-die circles when he and his colleagues at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minn., went to court to unplug an 87-year-old woman’s respirator over the objections of her husband of 54 years. Helga Wanglie had neither an advance directive nor relatives requesting the removal of the life-sustaining device – just a husband arguing vociferously against it.

In both the 2004 brief and his book Eisenberg outlines the four central values of bioethics, which he defines as “the discipline developed by doctors, nurses, philosophers and theologians to resolve ethical problems that arise in the practice of medicine.” These core tenets are beneficence, professional integrity, justice, and personal autonomy.

According to Eisenberg, Justice “demands that individuals have an opportunity to obtain the health care they need on an equitable basis yet places ethical limits on the patient’s liberty to demand, rather than forgo, scarce medical resources.” This is a fancy way of describing care rationing and subjective determinations by doctors to withhold treatment deemed “futile.” For example, right-to-die activist-neurologist Ronald Cranford, whose testimony that Terri Schiavo was in PVS largely persuaded Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer, is on record as stating no PVS patient should be allowed to stay on a feeding tube.

Cranford headed the neurological intensive care unit at Hennepin County Medical Center where Miles and others wanted to pull the plug on Mrs. Wanglie. Cranford boasted at the time that his medical center was “the first hospital to have the guts to go to court and say doctors should not be forced to give futile medical treatment.”

While bioethicists and right-to-die advocates trumpet personal autonomy the loudest to the public, Eisenberg himself states all four core bioethical tenets are of equal value. In other words, the right to die, for bioethicists is equally about the right for others they think should die, to die.

Bioethicist Bill Allen with the University of Florida College of Medicine told MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough during an interview on March 29, 2005, he believed Terri Schiavo – and PVS patients in general – was no longer a person.

The worldview of these bioethicists has been codified in law in all 50 states, through the advance-directive legislation, which incorporates the bioethicists’ models of surrogate exercise of an incapacitated patient’s personal autonomy. In particular, advance-directive laws empower people – designated by the patient or not – to pull feeding tubes and respirators if it’s deemed “in the patient’s best interests.”

It is this model that opens the door to care rationing and medical-futility determinations and sends America sliding down the proverbial “slippery slope” toward euthanasia.

As Diane Coleman, president of the disability-rights organization Not Dead Yet, which takes pains to distinguish itself from pro-life organizations, states: “The bioethicists in particular have warped the end-of-life care movement into a life-ending movement. They want to be able to kill behind the closed doors of a room in a hospital or nursing home.”

They can, and do, this legally through the use of existing advance-directive law.

This is the Left Wing “conspiracy” the religious Right and disability-rights groups saw happening behind the scenes of the Schiavo case. Should we be surprised they responded with an equal and opposite reaction? Don’t forget about Newton’s third law of motion.


Be sure to get your copy of “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.”


Related columns:

Religious Right ‘Using Terri’? – Part I

The Silence over Terri

Nov. 10, 1984, set stage for Terri’s death


Related articles:

Will you be the next Terri?

Part II: Will you be the
next Terri?

Media ‘malpractice’ exposed in Schiavo coverage

Was autopsy the final word?

Michael Schiavo’s political foray panned

Michael Schiavo wades into political arena

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.