A judge has ordered a court-appointed guardian for an incapacitated woman to ask health care providers to “reinstate nutrition and hydration and continue such care unless and until there is a further order from this court.”
The ruling today from Judge Nolan Dawkins in Alexandria, Va., came in the little-reported dispute over the care and treatment of Rachel Nyirahabiyambere, 58, a refugee from the violence of Rwanda, who suffered a stroke last year and has been incapacitated since.
The guardian, Andrea Sloan, had been appointed by the court at the request of the hospital, where officials had told family members they needed to take her from the facility and put her in a nursing home or return her to Rwanda, according to reports.
The woman’s feeding tube had been removed in favor of palliative care, but her family members objected, and with the help of attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, challenged the action.
The result was today’s ruling from the judge, who said, “This court enjoins the current guardian Andrea Slogan from: (1) withholding nutrition and/or hydration, and (2) making decisions regarding the disposition of the incapacitated Rachel Nyirahabiyambere’s remains in the event of her passing.”
The order continued with instructions to “immediately” request a restoration of the life-sustaining food and water.
Family members declined to comment immediately, but Casey Mattox, legal counsel for the ADF, said, “Innocent life deserves to be protected. ADF is pleased that the court agreed to put the brakes on this rush to intentionally starve a defenseless woman to death. It’s a simple decision to respect the family’s wishes and protect the life of this Rwandan genocide survivor.”
Earlier, her son, Jerome Ndayishimiye told WND that the family members wanted their mother protected from an active decision to deprive her of life’s necessities.
According to information provided by Ndayishimiye, his mother suffered a stroke in April 2010. She is a legal immigrant from Rwanda and had been undergoing hospital care when Georgetown University Hospital sought the court-appointed guardian and obtained an order on Feb. 19 to remove her feeding tube.
The action came over the objections of her six children – including two U.S. citizens, who were left out of the decision-making process by the original court decision.
Ndayishimiye, 33, who teaches at the State University of New York in Utica, told reporters at the time, “In our culture, we would never sentence a person to die from hunger.”
The family linked the hospital’s actions to the fact that their mother was not eligible for Medicaid coverage, since she had been in the United States less than five years.
But Sloan told the New York Times earlier the essence of the decision had everything to do with treating “someone profoundly vegetative” and nothing to do with money.
It had been President Obama himself who, during arguments over his largely unpopular Obamacare law of 2010, told the nation his program would not “pull the plug on grandma.”
His comments came in response to questions about health care decisions being made based on financial incentives, and provoked critics said his plan included “death panels.”
She had come to the U.S. in 2008 from Africa after the death of her husband, a Baptist minister. The family had fled Rwanda to Congo during the genocidal civil war in 1994.
It was Feb. 25, 1990, that the healthy 26-year-old was found unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing in the Florida apartment she shared with her husband.
Schiavo’s mysterious collapse and associated brain injury set into motion an unprecedented 11-year court battle that pitted Michael Schiavo, who sought to end the life of his incapacitated wife, against her parents and siblings who fought to preserve it. The familial tug of war ultimately reached the level of the U.S. Supreme Court and galvanized the life debate worldwide.
Contrary to media reports, Schiavo was neither brain dead, dying, in a coma nor kept alive artificially by machines. The brain-injured woman breathed on her own and appeared cognitively responsive to her mother in photographs and video released by her family.
But she did rely on a feeding tube for nourishment.
Doctors who treated the resuscitated Schiavo at Humana Hospital in St. Petersburg could not come up with any cause for her cardiopulmonary arrest. A trial lawyer hired by Michael Schiavo to win a medical malpractice suit in 1992 floated the theory her sudden collapse was due to a potassium imbalance triggered by bulimia. Jurors bought the medically unfounded theory, awarding Michael Schiavo $1.5 million, and the theory became widely adopted as fact.
Schiavo’s family and others suspect domestic violence was the more likely cause. Michael Schiavo’s consistently shifting details given in interviews and court testimony about what time he discovered his wife lying on the hallway floor and in what manner she appeared does nothing to allay suspicions.
Following the medical examiner’s release of Schiavo’s autopsy report in June 2005, then-Gov. Jeb Bush called for an investigation by a state attorney into the matter, on the basis of the gap between the time when Michael Schiavo told the medical examiner he found her unconscious, or 4:30 a.m., and the time he placed a 911 call, which was 5:40 a.m.
En route to the hospital paramedics got Schiavo’s heart beating by 6:32 a.m., but a measurable systolic blood pressure wasn’t achieved until 6:46 a.m. Debate continues over the extent of brain damage Schiavo had suffered by then, whether she was in a persistent vegetative state, or PVS, and the prognosis for treatment.
Upon surfacing from a weeks-long coma, Terri Schiavo progressed in rehabilitative therapy to the point of speaking, according to her caregivers who recorded her uttering the words, “Mommy,” “Stop that,” “Pain,” and “Help me.” Shortly thereafter Michael Schiavo halted the rehabilitation and transferred her to a nursing home.
In 1995 Michael Schiavo hired a prominent right-to-die attorney and filed a motion to remove the feeding tube to precipitate Terri Schiavo’s death, based on newly recollected conversations in which she allegedly expressed the wish to die if ever dependent on life support. She had no written advance directive.
It would not be until Nov. 13, 2002, that the plight of Terri Schiavo first came to the attention of the nation and the world in a story by WND news editor Diana Lynne. It would be the first of nearly 500 stories published by WND, ultimately elevating to the No. 1 story in the nation and the world, as millions followed the conclusion
to her court-ordered dehydration death on March 31, 2005.
It was also on Feb. 25, this time in 2005, that a Florida circuit court judge ordered the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube and additionally barred her receiving oral nutrition and hydration. Several appeals and federal government intervention followed, which included President George W. Bush returning to Washington, D.C., to sign
legislation designed to keep her alive.
After all attempts at appeals through the federal court system proved unsuccessful, Schiavo’s feeding tube was disconnected on March 18, 2005. She died 13 days later.
Lynne later authored “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an
American Woman” for WND Books.
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