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Disability Rights Advocates Resolve To Keep Others From Terri's Fate
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 1, 2005

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS--Disability rights groups and individuals responded to news of the death of Terri Schiavo with anger, sadness and determination to keep up the fight for people with severe disabilities.

"For many of us in the disability community this event underscores the devaluing of the lives of people with disabilities, especially people with significant disabilities," read a statement from ADAPT.

"With radical reforms in store for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security we cannot help but remember that the cheapest way to serve people with disabilities is to kill us . . . Terri's death will hopefully bring to light the discrimination all people with disabilities experience and the need for society to address solutions so this never happens again."

Not Dead Yet, the grassroots advocacy group that most vigorously championed the disability perspective of the fight over Terri's rights, tried to put her death in a larger context in a statement published on their website.

"Even as we mourn, we renew our resolve to continue the battle to promote meaningful safeguards for the thousands of disabled Americans who, like Terri Schiavo, have guardians making life-and-death decisions on their behalf. The dangers to people with disabilities did not begin with the publicized tragedy of Terri Schiavo and they do not end with her death."

Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, told the Baptist Press: "The social presumption that [Terri Schiavo] would be better off dead appears to have influenced the decisions in the case. We feel threatened by this, almost as if there is a cognitive test for personhood under the law."

Disability advocate and Christian ministry leader Joni Eareckson Tada, who has used a wheelchair since her spinal cord was injured in 1967, joined ADAPT, Not Dead Yet and other groups in calling for a national moratorium to stop feeding tubes from being pulled from people with certain disabilities, a federal review of cases where decisions to withdraw feeding tubes are contested, and "a state-by-state reform of guardianship and health-care decision laws to safeguard the involuntary euthanasia of disabled people."

In a statement issued Thursday, Tada added: "Too many people with severe disabilities have been called 'vegetables' -- this is not only demeaning, but dehumanizing. When severely disabled people are stripped of life-dignity, the discussion too easily turns to death or the warehousing of that individual in a hospice."

Jerry Wolffe, "Voices of Disability" columnist for the Oakland Press, noted that cases like Terri's are likely going to increase as baby boomers age, and the costs of health care continue to climb.

"I also don't think the government or politicians have any business deciding who should live or die based on any perceived lack of quality in one's life," he wrote. "Who is to judge what the minimum 'quality' is to live?"

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