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After Unprecedented Action by Congress & President, Terri Schiavo's Fate In The Hands Of Federal Court
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 21, 2005

TAMPA, FLORIDA--After unprecedented action by the U.S. Congress over the weekend, the fate of Terri Schiavo was back in Florida late Monday, this time in the hands of a federal judge.

Congressional lawmakers in both major parties worked through the weekend to debate and pass emergency legislation designed, in essence, to spare Terri's life. Their efforts included bringing members of the House of Representatives from Easter break to the nation's capital to discuss and vote to approve the bill late Sunday night.

The highly publicized and hotly contested measure was signed into law early Monday morning by President George W. Bush, who had flown back to the White House from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

The law, specifically written to apply to Terri's situation, gave her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, the right to go to federal court to argue that Terri's constitutional rights to due process and religion have been violated.

Passage of the law brought new hope to Terri's parents and their supporters that her feeding tube, which was removed last Friday, would be reinstalled soon. Congressional leaders pushing for the law's passage said they saw no reason why any federal judge reviewing the case under the new law would not have the feeding tube immediately reinserted while deliberations take place.

On Monday afternoon, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore heard arguments from attorneys representing both Terri's parents and her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, in a Tampa federal court. During the hearing, Whittemore told Schindler attorney David Gibbs II that he would "be hard-pressed" to convince the judge that their suit would "have a substantial likelihood" of succeeding.

Whittemore said he would not rule immediately on the case, but gave no indication when he would do so.

Doctors estimate that Terri, 41, could live from between seven to 14 days without food or water. As of Monday afternoon, she had been without either for three days.

The case is arguably the most publicized -- and one of the most politicized -- disability rights case to come under the national spotlight since the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately for disability rights advocates, however, most of the mainstream media and politicians' focus has been on the "right-to-life" versus "right-to-die" debate.

More than two dozen disability groups have shown support for Terri's parents in their efforts to keep their daughter alive in recent years. They have also been trying to draw attention for the need of people with certain disabilities to be better protected in the courts from guardians who may not have their best interests in mind.

"It's time for the press to talk to the real experts on the Schiavo case, the disability rights movement," the disability rights group Not Dead Yet said in a statement released Sunday.

"The 'right to life' movement has embraced Terri Schindler-Schiavo as a cause to prove 'sanctity of life.' The 'right to die' movement argues that people in guardianship should have no protection against private family decisions to kill them. Yet the life-and-death issues surrounding Terri Schindler-Schiavo are first and foremost disability rights issues -- issues which affect tens of thousands of people with disabilities who, like Ms. Schindler-Schiavo, cannot currently articulate their views and so must rely on others as substitute decision-makers."

Part of what ties disability rights advocates so dramatically to this case is the suspicion that Michael Schiavo has his own interests at heart -- not his wife's. Supporters of her parents' efforts to keep her alive point to, among other things, reports that he has abused his wife; that he tried to keep her from receiving life-saving medications; that he kept her from receiving important rehabilitation; that he is engaged to another woman with whom he has fathered two children; and speculation that he may have somehow brought about the heart attack that left Terri's brain without oxygen for several minutes in February 1990.

Several medical experts who examined Terri many years ago testified that she is in a "persistent vegetative state", that she has no feeling and cannot think because the thinking part of her brain has dissolved. Terri's parents, however, claim that she responds to them, and that she could improve through rehabilitative therapies. They have testimony from other experts who suggest that her brain functioning should be reevaluated using new technologies.

Bringing further suspicion to Mr. Schiavo is the fact that he did not insist that Terri told him she would not want to die by artificial means until years after he received over $1 million in lawsuit awards and settlements and after he testified he would take care of her for the rest of her life -- at that time estimated to be another 25 years or more.

Sunday night's Congressional debate was highly emotional. Many members of both parties talked of situations they have experienced with loved ones over deciding when to end life support. Supporters, mostly Republicans, said Congress should act to keep an innocent woman from dehydrating and starving to death. Many Democrats argued that Congress should not get involved in a decision made between a husband and wife, and should not intervene in an individual case such as this, especially when state courts have already ruled on the case.

The final vote was not entirely on party lines, with several Republicans voting against the measure and several Democrats voting for it.

Disability groups are applauding efforts by Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, of Iowa, who has championed disability rights causes for years. Sen. Harkin tried to use the opportunity to pass much broader legislation which would have given federal protection to others in Terri's situation. In order to get a fast compromise between the House and Senate at the end of the week, however, important elements of Harkin's proposal were scrapped.

In a related stunning account, Schindler attorney Barbara Weller wrote that Terri tried to tell her Friday -- right before the feeding tube was removed -- that she wants to live.

Links to more coverage on today's "Below The Fold" page:
"Disability groups seek legal protection for 'incapacitated' people" (Ragged Edge Magazine)
"Attorney's last visit with Terri Schiavo" (Empire Journal)
"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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