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Florida Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Schiavo Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 31, 2004

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA--Much of the world focused on a Tallahassee courtroom Tuesday morning, while attorneys for Terri Schiavo's husband and Governor Jeb Bush argued over the constitutionality of the law that has kept the 40-year-old woman alive since October 21, 2003.

"Terri's Law" was passed just six days after Terri's feeding tube had been removed under a court order. It gave the governor specific authority to order the feeding tube replaced so she would live.

Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, sued the governor, claiming Bush and the Legislature made a mistake by passing the law, because it violates her right to privacy, and the Florida Constitution's separation of powers.

Attorneys on both sides argued their cases before the Florida Supreme Court, Tuesday. The 45-minute hearing was televised on C-Span2. [A link to the transcript from the hearing's live closed-captioning is included below.]

"The courts do not possess exclusive domain to protect the rights of disabled people and make sure their healthcare choices are respected," said Ken Connor, an attorney who represented Bush in the case.

Mr. Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, argued, "The violation here is taking from the patient and giving to the state the power to make medical treatment decisions."

At the center of the arguments is Terri, who is now in a Tampa area nursing home. Some medical experts claim that she has been in a "persistent vegetative state" -- that she is not awake or aware, cannot feel pain, and will not recover -- since she collapsed and her brain was without oxygen for several minutes in February 1990. While she does not need a ventilator or other artificial means to stay alive, she does receive food and water through a gastronomy tube installed through the wall of her stomach.

Mr. Schiavo first petitioned a local court in 1998 to have Terri's feeding tube removed so she would die. He claimed that his wife told him before her collapse that she would not have wanted to live by artificial means.

Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have fought Mr. Schiavo in the courts to keep their daughter alive. They believe Terri is responsive and interacts with her surroundings and would benefit from therapies that her husband has refused to allow. The Schindlers do not accept Mr. Schiavo's claims that Terri would have wanted to die in her situation, partly because that would have meant that she would have gone against her Catholic faith which teaches that removing her feeding tube would be wrong.

Mr. Schiavo did not mention what he now claims were Terri's wishes during a 1992 malpractice suit, at the same time that he presented evidence regarding the cost of a life-long care plan. That malpractice trial brought more than $700,000 for Terri's care during her natural life, which medical experts agreed could last several decades.

The Schindlers and others suggest that Mr. Schiavo has abused and exploited his wife -- before and after her collapse.

Disability rights groups have been following Terri's situation for years, arguing that allowing her to die by starvation would reinforce the message that the lives of people with certain disabilities are not worth living. With their urging, and that of right-to-life advocates, Governor Bush championed the measure which allowed the Legislature to give him permission to order Terri's feeding tube reinserted.

A coalition of 18 disability groups filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief Monday supporting Bush in the Supreme Court case.

"What we're worried about is that medical professionals and families will get the idea that it's OK to starve to death and dehydrate people with severe cognitive disabilities," Diane Coleman, president of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday.

"Florida Justices Start Review of Right-to-Die Case" (Los Angeles Times)
"Jeb Bush v. Michael Schiavo" (Florida Supreme Court - real-time transcript)
"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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