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Terri Schiavo birthday party underscores her need for care as controversial case continues

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (BP)–Family and friends of a 41-year-old disabled woman at the center of a “right-to-die” dispute met at a park pavilion in mid-December to celebrate her Dec. 2 birthday.

Locked away in a nursing home about 10 blocks away, Terri Schiavo is not allowed to leave her room. She’s been ordered to be starved to death twice. Her visits with her family are limited and she is not allowed to be involved in any kind of rehabilitation.

In a case pro-life advocates say may decide the future of euthanasia in the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court may have the final say as to whether Terri Schiavo, a disabled woman in Pinellas Park, Fla., lives or dies.

Lawyers for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush filed an appeal with the high court Dec. 1, asking the justices to take the case and overturn a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that could lead to her death.

The woman at the center of the legal debate, Schiavo has been in what some doctors consider a persistent vegetative state since 1990, when she collapsed in her home. Her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo –- who has fathered two children with his live-in girlfriend -– has sought the removal of his wife’s feeding tube for nearly a decade, saying it is what she would have wanted. However, no written request from Terri Schiavo exists.

Terri Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have long maintained that their daughter has not received the rehabilitation and care she needs.

Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed in October 2003, but the Florida legislature passed a law giving Bush the authority to order the re-insertion of the tube. He did so, and Michael Schiavo challenged the constitutionality of the law.

In addition to her parents, Terri’s siblings, Robert (Bobby) Schindler Jr. and Suzanne Vitadamo, and Suzanne’s daughter, Alex Carr, 11, joined attorneys, healthcare workers, ministers and others in the park to sing “Happy Birthday,” listen to special music and hear an update from a Schindler attorney on strategy related to guardianship matters before the state’s appellate court. The gathering was hosted by an advocacy group formed for Schiavo, www.Terrisfight.org.

Angel Watson, who works with the Caring & Sharing Center for Independent Living in Tampa, shared her story about being disabled after a skiing accident which resulted in her being considered in a “persistent vegetative state.”

Terri Schiavo needs therapy, Watson said.

“We need to get Terri out of the one little room that she’s stuck in,” Watson said. “Each and every one of you are her voice. Use it!”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan