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Soon-to-be-introduced House bill may provide hope for Schiavo

WASHINGTON (BP)–A U.S. congressman is preparing to introduce a bill that would provide incapacitated persons such as Terri Schiavo a complete review of their case in federal court.

The bill provides hope to her parents and other pro-lifers who are fighting to keep her alive, although there is some question as to whether it can pass Congress in time. It is scheduled to be introduced the week of March 6, while her feeding tube is scheduled to be removed March 18. The bill has yet to be introduced in the Senate.

The bill by Rep. Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., would provide Schiavo and other similarly incapacitated persons all the legal protections often associated with death row inmates, such as the right to a “de novo review” — that is, a review by another court of all the evidence.

The bill, dubbed the Incapacitated Persons Legal Protection Act, would apply to disabled persons like Schiavo who are facing a court-ordered death. If her feeding tube is removed, she will die of starvation and dehydration within a matter of days.

“Terri has never been afforded independent counsel in a matter that will result in her life or death,” Weldon said on the House floor March 3. “Terri has had no voice of her own in these legal proceedings…. The case of Terri Schiavo deserves a second look by an objective court.”

Schiavo is the 41-year-old woman 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, although her supporters and parents disagree and say she is in a minimally conscious state. With rehabilitation, her supporters say, she could improve.

In recent years Schiavo’s parents have been in a court battle with her legal husband, Michael Schiavo, over whether she should live. Although Michael Schiavo says his wife would want to die, no written request from Terri Schiavo exists. He lives with his girlfriend, with whom he has fathered two children.

Attorney Ken Connor, who has represented Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in trying to keep Terri Schiavo alive, said the bill is “desperately needed.”

“It’s outrageous that people like Ted Bundy and the BTK killer have more legal protections than someone like Terri Schiavo,” Connor told Baptist Press. “[Serial killers] are entitled to counsel. They are entitled to effective representation. They are entitled to trial by jury.”

Terri Schiavo, though, has not had the legal protections offered to death row inmates, Connor said.

“Her mom and dad have had a lawyer,” he said. “Her husband has had a lawyer. But Terri Schiavo — whose life hangs in the balance in these judicial proceedings — has never had a lawyer to represent her interests.”

Weldon, a medical doctor, discounted assertions that Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state.

“Evidence exists to the contrary,” he said, noting that Schiavo can smile and cry. “Terri is not in a coma as I would define it, and I am a physician. She is not on a respirator or other 24-hour-a-day medical equipment.”

Weldon said it is a “travesty” that Schiavo may be put to death simply “because she is not able to speak.”

“The [bill] simply provides a final avenue for review of the case to ensure that an incapacitated person’s constitutional rights of due process are maintained and that justice is done,” the congressman said.

On Feb. 24, Florida Judge George W. Greer gave Michael Schiavo a victory, scheduling the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube for March 18 at 1 p.m. Eastern time. David Gibbs III, the lawyer for Terri Schiavo’s parents, had asked Greer to allow the feeding tube to remain in as long as other cases and appeals concerning Schiavo were pending. But Greer refused, saying that because of the appeals “there appears to be no finality in sight to this process.”

“The order by Judge Greer really is quite remarkable,” Connor said. “It doesn’t merely authorize her death. It directs the removal of the tube.”

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  • Michael Foust