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The Courts Are Right in Schiavo Case

Tuesday, 29 March 2005 12:00 AM

The legal decision was solely that of his wife, Gail. But we – my sister Pat, Gail and I – are a close-knit family and so the decision was a joint one. We decided to carry out the wish which he had expressed to us not to be kept alive under such circumstances. Dialysis was discontinued.

We love Harold and have no regrets in carrying out what we believe to have been his wish, to die with dignity if he could not lead an independent meaningful life, making daily decisions for himself.

Many families face similar decisions today or will tomorrow, so the Terri Schiavo situation resonates with most Americans. The latest poll in The New York Times reports, "When asked in polls about Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman, 60 percent to 70 percent of respondents said they would remove Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube and, in similar circumstances, would choose not to keep themselves or a spouse alive."

In the case of Terri Schiavo, the family is deeply divided. Her spouse, Michael, wants to remove Terri's feeding tube, which would cause her to starve to death. Her parents and siblings believe she should be kept alive. The enmity and estrangement are so strong that when they visit her bedside, they make every effort to avoid being there at the same time.

The rival family members have been before the courts, state and federal, at least 20 times in the last eight years, including at least five applications to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the court applications and original trial, Michael, the husband, has prevailed. He established before the Florida state trial court that he is entitled to make medical decisions for his wife, and that her wishes expressed to him were that she be permitted to die with dignity and the various appellate courts have endorsed allowing the plug to be pulled. All legal efforts to disqualify Michael as his wife's guardian have failed.

The court has found that Terri is in a permanent vegetative state from which she will not recover and Michael's decision to pull the plug is simply carrying out her wishes. The parents point out that seven years went by before Michael told the court of Terri's verbal wishes not be kept alive in such circumstances, and they never heard her express any such wish.

Efforts to remove Michael as guardian for those reasons and because of his relationship with another woman with whom he has two children, along with his having received the proceeds of a malpractice action brought on Terri's behalf, have also been examined by the trial court and rejected.

Every appellate court has upheld the decision of the trial court, and those issues can no longer be contested.

This case normally would be solely in the jurisdiction of the Florida state courts, which have examined it on appeal several times, including reviews by the Florida Supreme Court, with all of the court decisions upholding the trial court's decision in favor of the spouse, Michael, and his decision to end the delivery of food and water through tubes inserted into Terri's body.

Efforts by the state Legislature, Governor Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush to override the Florida state courts and the federal courts have failed. At this time Terri Schiavo has been without food and water for more than ten days and is expected to die at any time.

Those who object to the withdrawal of food and water, believing that to be different than withdrawing a respirator and other artificial means used to sustain life are unaware of the U.S. Supreme Court decision of a number of years ago expressly permitting water and food to be withdrawn under similar circumstances, or they simply disagree with that decision.

Terri's father recently reported that his daughter had mouthed the words, "I want to live." He undoubtedly saw that occur because he wanted to see it happen. He and his wife deserve the greatest sympathy and compassion from everyone. Most people understand their pain and their seeking any and all assistance in their legal endeavors, just as they understand that Terri is not listening to a radio or watching television or reading newspapers and is absolutely unaware of what is taking place around her.

There are true heroes in this matter. Michael's life has been threatened and he has been reviled, but he continues nevertheless to carry out the wishes of his wife. His attorney George Felos has professionally and successfully presented Michael and Terri's case in a myriad of courts and eloquently denounced the Congress, Florida Legislature, Governor Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush for their efforts to interfere with what should be a private decision, heretofore upheld in the courts. His life, too, has been threatened and he has been reviled.

Florida State Court Judge George W. Greer has never wavered in his duty to try the case without fear and on its merits, albeit he has also been threatened and reviled. Similarly, Federal District Judge James Whittemore has carried out his obligations, rejecting efforts to overturn the Florida court decision, albeit his life has been threatened and he has been reviled. Undoubtedly his rejection of congressional demands on the outcome of this case have jeopardized his chances of promotion to the Circuit Court of Appeals.

No one in the U.S. Senate has displayed a hint of courage, particularly on the Democratic side. No senator demanded, as was their right, a quorum or a recorded vote. In the House, a handful, 58, stood up to the Republican steamroller. Nevertheless, because of the courts, democracy and justice have prevailed.

The House is led by Congressman Tom DeLay, who, it has just been revealed, wisely allowed his own father to die under comparable circumstances. Some members of Congress threaten to find future ways to prohibit individuals or their families from carrying out their wishes to die with dignity rather than to live in a vegetative state or in a terminal condition suffering extreme pain. Congress must be prevented from riding roughshod over the lives and deaths of people.


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The legal decision was solely that of his wife, Gail.But we - my sister Pat, Gail and I - are a close-knit family and so the decision was a joint one.We decided to carry out the wish which he had expressed to us not to be kept alive under such circumstances.Dialysis was...
Tuesday, 29 March 2005 12:00 AM
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