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Schiavo gets feeding tube; case called ‘Roe v. Wade for disabled’

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–Hospital officials re-inserted a feeding tube into 39-year-old Terri Schiavo Oct. 21, hours after Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed an order prompting the action.

Earlier in the day the Florida House and Senate passed bills giving Bush the authority to perform a one-time stay to prevent the withholding of food and water via the feeding tube. It had been removed Oct. 15 following a court order, and doctors expected her to die of starvation within a week or two.

Schiavo’s parents have been in a legal battle with her husband, Michael Schiavo, for several years. She suffered brain damage in 1990 following a collapse, and in 1998 he petitioned the courts to have her feeding tube removed, saying that it is what she had wanted. However, if Terri Schiavo had expressed such a wish, she did not put it in writing. Her parents have been fighting to keep her alive, arguing that she is not in a persistent vegetative state and is still alert.

Schiavo supporters assert that her husband should not be the guardian because he currently is living with his girlfriend. He and his girlfriend have one child and are expecting another. The bill signed by Bush allows for a court to appoint another guardian.

“Like the tens of thousands of Floridians who have raised their voices in support of Terri Schiavo’s right to live, I have been deeply moved by these tragic circumstances,” Bush said in his order. “… I appreciate the extraordinary action of the Legislature today, and will use the discretion they have granted regarding the restoration of nutrition and water to Terri Schiavo.”

Joni Eareckson Tada, an evangelical who is also a quadriplegic, told James Dobson on his radio program Oct. 22 that she views the case as “Roe v. Wade for people with disabilities.”

“We see people at our Joni and Friends family retreat who are far more disabled than Terri,” Tada said. “They come to these retreats with feeding tubes, with ventilators. They have no cognitive skills. They cannot seem to recognize their loved ones, and yet they have a right to live. They have a right to human treatment. They have a right to be fed. They have a right to rehabilitative therapy. And these are the things that up until this point have been denied Terri.”

Two judges refused an emergency request by Michael Schiavo Oct. 21 to halt the re-insertion of the feeding tube, although his lawyer said the legal battle may continue.

Terri Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 when she collapsed and her heart stopped from what doctors believed was a potassium imbalance. Michael Schiavo cared for her and won a $1 million medical malpractice suit in 1992 when a jury ruled that doctors had failed to diagnose her condition.

During the malpractice case he testified that he believed in the wedding vows he took and that he would take care of her “through sickness, in health, for richer or poorer.”

“I married my wife because I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her,” he said. “I’m going to do that.”

He and his in-laws subsequently had a falling out, according to the Associated Press.

A website set up by Terri Schiavo’s supporters — www.terrisfight.org — has video showing her moving her head from side to side, opening her eyes, smiling and laughing. In 2002 a court appointed five doctors to examine Schiavo — two were her husband’s, two were the parents’ and one was the court’s. By a 3-2 vote the doctors said she was in a persistent vegetative state. Both doctors appointed by the parents said Schiavo could improve.

Her parents have since come forward with other doctors who assert that Schiavo can improve. They note that she has not received rehabilitation treatment in some 10 years.
James Dobson’s conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada is available on the web at: http://www.oneplace.com/Ministries/Focus_on_the_Family/

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  • Michael Foust