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Bill would provide federal review for Terri Schiavo, others

WASHINGTON (BP)–Members of Florida’s congressional delegation have introduced legislation to enable the severely disabled, such as Terri Schiavo, to have their cases heard in federal court.

The bills provide some hope for Schiavo’s defenders as they near a court-ordered date for the removal of the Florida’s woman’s feeding tube, but it is uncertain if Congress would act in time to beat the March 18 deadline. If her feeding tube is removed, Schiavo will die of starvation and dehydration within days.

Sen. Mel Martinez, R.-Fla., introduced the Incapacitated Persons Legal Protection Act March 7, while Rep. Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., offered the House of Representatives version March 8. The bill numbers are S. 539 in the Senate and H.R. 1151 in the House.

The legislation would give Schiavo and other incapacitated people the legal protections often associated with death row inmates. Those protections would include the right to a “de novo review,” which is a review of the evidence by a different court. The measure is based on the constitutionally protected “writ of habeas corpus,” which enables a federal court to determine if a state court is restricting a person’s liberty.

“The disabled deserve due process,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a written statement upon introduction of the bills. “In the United States, 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.”

The Florida legislature also may consider an effort to prevent Schiavo’s starvation and dehydration, the Associated Press reported. The legislators began their session March 8.

In 2003, Florida legislators pushed through a measure at the prodding of Gov. Jeb Bush that required Schiavo’s feeding tube to be reinserted six days after it was pulled, according to the AP. The Florida Supreme Court, however, struck down that law.

Schiavo, 41, is at the center of a “right-to-die” case that has captured national interest. In 1990, she suffered brain damage after her heart stopped. Since then, some doctors have said she is in a persistent vegetative state, but her parents and supporters contend she is in a minimally conscious state. She could improve were she provided rehabilitation services, her supporters say, but her husband, Michael, has refused to do so in recent years.

Bob and Mary Schindler, Schiavo’s parents, have been in a court battle with Michael Schiavo over whether she should live. Although Michael Schiavo says his wife would want to die, no written request from Terri exists. Meanwhile, he has lived in recent years with his girlfriend, with whom he has fathered two children.

Judge George W. Greer issued an order Feb. 25 setting the date for removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. Greer is scheduled to hold a series of hearings through March 11 regarding his order. He also was to hear a request March 8 that he vacate his 2000 order allowing Schiavo’s feeding tube to be removed.

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