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Unlikely Alliances And Foes In The Schiavo Debate
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 22, 2004

A year ago this week, disability rights advocates were celebrating what seemed our most public victory since, perhaps, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

A Florida governor, and brother to the President of the United States, had -- in near record time -- passed a law ordering a feeding tube reinserted into a woman who had been starving without one for six days.

Grassroots advocacy had worked!

Amidst all of the celebrating, however, I sensed a quiet bewilderment. Some said they felt the movement had been hi-jacked by other, larger, perhaps better-organized groups.

More than a dozen national disability groups publicly supported Terri's parents in their efforts to keep her alive. There can be little doubt, however, that much of the flood of messages to Governor Bush and Florida lawmakers came not from disability advocates but from advocates with a "right to life" agenda, primarily from religious groups.

Disability advocates held candlelight vigils during the time Terri was without her feeding tube, to draw attention to what we consider her human rights struggle.

But almost immediately after her feeding tube was reinserted, Terri's situation became reduced in the press to "right to die" versus "pro-life" sound-bites.

Those of us who support Terri's struggle to stay alive, though grateful for the help, found ourselves - like it or not -- allied with "anti-abortionists" on one side and the targets of scorn from "pro-choice" groups from the other.

Much of that has been a reaction to the fact that Michael Schiavo, his attorney, George Felos, and the American Civil Liberties Union have framed Terri's situation as a "right to die" case. In the view of their supporters, those who do not agree with what courts deem her "right to die" must be "pro-lifers" and, therefore, anti-abortionists.

Certainly, some of us are, and some of us are not.

In the meantime, the roar of the "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice" debate may have drowned out the message we felt was important regarding the tens of thousands of people with disabilities similar to Terri's.

At the same time, allegations that Michael abused and exploited his wife have ironically been ignored by women's groups that have a pro-choice agenda.

We have no way of knowing the effect the public debate surrounding Terri's situation has had, and will have, on health care policy and funding, along with countless family discussions and decisions.

It is clear that our voices in this debate would not have been heard at all if Terri had not been alive during the past year.

It's also clear that Terri would not be alive today if it weren't for the efforts of disability groups and "right to life" groups working together to influence that public policy debate.

For that reason, I am personally grateful to all of those who acted, in large ways and small, to make their voices heard - even those who have borrowed the megaphone and stolen the spotlight from us to do so.

Perhaps during the next year, we can focus on moving the public debate from "pro-this" and "anti-that", and pumping up the volume on issues that are important to the twenty percent of our population that have disabilities.

"Who 'owns' Terri Schiavo?" by Mary Johnson (Ragged Edge Magazine -- October 23, 2003)

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