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"The 'Right' To Be Killed"
by Rus Cooper-Dowda
In 1990, a young woman named Terri Shiavo had a heart attack which caused her to go without oxygen for approximately five minutes. She has been considered by many to be in a chronic "vegetative state" for eleven years now.
Her eyes open during the day and she sleeps at night. Her parents, and the nurses who take care of her, say she laughs at jokes, turns her head, smiles, cries, moans and drinks water. Her original doctors and her husband maintain all of those are only involuntary reflexes.
Eight years ago, she received $700,000 in malpractice judgement money. Those funds were meant to care for her for the rest of her life. Her husband is also using those funds to pay the legal costs in his fight to withdraw her feeding tube so she can die within 1-2 weeks of dehydration. If Terri's husband is successful, the unused $350,000 will revert to him.
Terri's parents have fought him every inch of the way, but have just about run out of options to keep her alive.
Others involved are:
A medical school physician-teacher who has never personally examined Terri
3 Judges, the last of whom is named Greer
A mother who has a child like Terri
Nurses who work with Terri every day
Speech Therapists, and
Terri's husband's ex-mistress.
Here is how the fight to save her life has gone since April of 2001.
April 24, 2001, Tuesday
The husband got a two sentence judgement to withdraw her feeding tube the next day.
April 25, 2001, Wednesday
Terri got her last meal of vitamin enriched beverage at breakfast. Her twice a day meals stopped. Terri's parents appealed to a local religious Bishop who would not intervene because that was "...the safer path." In horror, they began to watch her die of dehydration.
The local medical school instructor told the press, "As a person, Terri is dead."
The mom with a child like Terri, told reporters, "It's scary. Who's to say what quality of life is?"
April 27, 2001, Friday
A Circuit Court Judge ordered doctors to resume feeding Terri. She had gone without food at water for more 50 hours by that time. He said, "I don't think there is anything that's more final or irreparable than death."
Terri's parents said, with relief, "We really thought this was the end of the road."
The husband's ex-mistress also came forward at this time to say he lied about his wife's wishes on life-support. He had told the mistress, "How the hell do I know what to do with her? We never talked about this when we were married. We were young and this was never talked about."
The husband had testified that Terri had previously said she did not want to be kept on life-support.
The parents filed suit against him for perjury.
The husband's attorney called it just a case of " a disgruntled ex-girlfriend."
April 28, 2001, Saturday
The media began debating whether this was a "Right to Live" or a "Right to Die" case. Local radio talk shows began discussing why Terri couldn't be euthanized if we were already euthanizing infants with disabilities.
May 1, 2001, Tuesday
The husband asked for an emergency injunction to force the removal of Terri's feeding tube. He said that by keeping Terri alive the parents were involved in "...a horrible and grevious act."
May 11, 2001, Friday
The ex-mistress revealed that the husband threatened to stalk her if she ever told anyone what he had said about the lack of earlier discussion with Terri concerning life support wishes. It would not have been the first time he would have done that. He had already repeatedly visited her at work and ran her off the road once.
She said she thought the husband was unstable, but not crazy.
June 16, 2001, Saturday
Probate Judge Greer was given the authority to decide whether Terri was in a vegetative state or should have new medical evaluation and treatment.
He had previously ruled that Terri had no hope of regaining any mental ability.
June 26, 2001, Tuesday
The husband's attorney accused Terri's parents of being "malicious" for not wanting her to die.
The husband said he had "nothing to EVER say to his in-laws."
The parents tried to present new medical evidence of Terri's current and potential improvement, but Judge Greer said it was introduced too late.
July 12, 2001, Thursday
Judge Greer said Terri can continue to live, but only up to July 23, 2001.
The parents had six doctors who could give new testimony that Terri could be rehabilitated. They had two of the husband's former firends who could attest that he did not know whether Terri would have wanted to be kept alive on life support. They had Terri's daily nurses who could affirm that Terri responded to them as they worked with her. They had other neurologists and therapists willing to do new evaluations.
The parents and other witnesses were available to tell how Terri was reacting to new sights and sounds. They had a new videotape of Terri responding to her mother. The family attorney said, "...There is a chance to turn around an injustice here."
The husband killed the renewed momentum with, "It would be an invasion of Terri's privacy to subject her to additional examinations."
August 8, 2001, Wednesday
Judge Greer ruled that Terri's life support will be discontinued August 28, 2001 at 3:00 pm. He declined to hold further hearings or allow additional doctors to evaluate Terri, as her parents had requested.
Another judge also ruled that the parents trying to remove Terri's
husband as her guardian was only a "frivolous attempt" to postpone their
On Sunday, July 22, 2001, Terri's father told her that there was a possibility that doctors could prescribe therapy that would permit her to speak again. She immediately responded.
She began to weep.
Having been in such a coma, not once but twice, I can understand that response.
On August 28, 2001 at 3:00 pm I will shed tears, too. They will not be
Terri's tears of hope. They will not be tears of joy.
The parents appealed the August 28th deadline on the basis of the ADA. They argued that killing Terri for being disabled violated that law. Judge Greer backed off and gave them an indefinite amount of time to pursue that angle. However, as of August 19th, that "indefinite date" has been changed to October 8th.
In the meantime, the husband has not allowed Terri's siblings to visit her since April. He also will not allow her parents to videotape or take pictures of her as part of their regular family history keeping.
There has been some local protest by Not Dead Yet, Florida Right To Life
and other folks in the community.
Rev. Rus Cooper-Dowda
St. Petersburg, Florida
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