A court ruling in Fresno, Calif., today gave a relative of an injured woman the authority to make medical decisions on her behalf, taking that power away from the county coroner.

The case of Janet Rivera has similarities to the case of Terri Schiavo, who also was handicapped. WND covered the story of her battle for life and eventual death after a judge in Florida ruled that doctors could follow her husband’s orders and withhold from her food and water.

Officials with the Life Legal Defense Foundation said a hearing in Fresno County Superior Court today resulted in a family member of Rivera being reinstated as her conservator to manage her health care.

The court ruled Rivera’s cousin, Suzanne Emrich, will replace the county’s public guardian, who made the decision a few weeks ago to deprive Rivera of food and water.

“It was just a week ago when, after having been left without food or water for eight days, attorney Brian Chavez-Ochoa was able to intervene in court and obtain and order that Rivera’s food and fluids be restored,” said officials with Life Legal.

“The county of Fresno and the public guardian are to be applauded for immediately recognizing the rights of the family to care for their loved one and taking the steps to allow that process to be accomplished quickly and without delay,” Chavez-Ochoa said. “The court, from the earliest stages of this proceeding, proffered rulings of wisdom and gave substance and value to Janet Rivera’s life. The sanctity of life was honored and we thank the Lord for the wonderful outcome in this case.”

“When Ms. Emrich contacted us on July 21st Brian was quick to take this on. We are very pleased that the family will be allowed to care for Ms. Rivera and that public officials listened to Ms. Rivera’s family,” said Dana Cody of the Life Legal Defense Foundation.

The group, along with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, were able to assist behind the scenes so that Chavez-Ochoa could get to court before it was too late for Rivera, officials said.

“I’m really relieved for the whole family, even if it’s on a temporary basis,” said Michael Dancoff, Rivera’s brother, after the hearing.

Rivera was reported in stable condition and on life support today.

The 46-year-old has been comatose for about two years following a heart attack.

According to the Fresno Bee, Jesus Rivera, Janet’s husband, had been his wife’s conservator until June 17 when he was replaced by Fresno County coroner David Hadden.

The Bee then said Jesus Rivera wanted his wife to continue to receive food and water and wanted “her body to give out when it gives out between her and Almighty God and no one else.”

However, doctors disagreed, and after consulting, Hadden decided to remove Janet Rivera’s feeding tubes, an order that was reversed after eight days as Rivera’s family sought to protect her.

WND also has been reporting recently on a Delaware woman, Lauren Richardson, caught in a life-or-death struggle.

In her case, a court has heard arguments her food and water should be withheld. Randy Richardson, Lauren’s father and chief defender, has told WND the courts “should not have the right to impose this kind of treatment on a mentally disabled person.

In her case, Richardson has been disabled since an apparent drug overdose several years ago.

At LifeForLauren.org, Lauren’s father said, “We struggle at times as we seek to share with the public the details of what is happening with Lauren because of the disagreement we have with Lauren’s mother. We cannot understand her reasoning in refusing a path of hope, healing and restoration for Lauren and insisting on causing her death by withholding food and water from her. The issue in Lauren’s case is the eternal truth that all people, no matter what their medical condition, bear the image of God and deserve basic care and an opportunity to be restored to health.”

WND has reported exhaustively on the Schiavo case since 2002 – far longer than most other national news organization.

Her battle for life ended in March 2005 when she died despite pleas from her parents to be allowed to provide for her care.

A priest who was with Schiavo during her final hours later told WND society has it all wrong – because it does not understand the difference between a futile treatment and a futile life.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life said even healthy people, if brain-injured, are in danger under the current precedent of cases.

“Terri left no indication that she wanted to be deprived of food and water. Yet the courts insisted that this happen. Nor was Terri lacking a family ready to care for her, without complaint. Yet they were not allowed to,” he said.

“Many people fear that they will be given all kinds of machines and medicines against their will,” Pavone told WND. “What they should fear is exactly the opposite, namely, that even when they indicate that they want appropriate treatments, these will be denied them.”


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