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News of the Day ... in Perspective


Heated battle in progress for life of Terri Schindler Schiavo, other disabled persons

With Judge Greer’s “date certain” looming—the process of dehydrating Terri Schindler Schiavo to death is to begin on March 18 —bills to protect the lives of neurologically disabled patients are being introduced in Florida and the U.S. Congress.

HB 701, introduced in Florida by Rep. Blaxley, would declare that an incompetent person is presumed to have directed medical personnel to provide necessary food and hydration and would prohibit the withdrawal of same except under narrowly defined circumstances. These include express, informed consent given while competent, or circumstances such that food and hydration would not prolong life or provide comfort.

Rep. Dave Weldon, M.D., (R-FL) is introducing national legislation that would allow persons such as Terri Schindler Schiavo to have their own counsel to argue their case in the courts.

Mrs. Schiavo’s family has filed a number of emergency expedited court motions, pleading for the Court to compel the deposition of her husband Michael Schiavo; to permit Mrs. Schiavo to receive Extreme Unction in compliance with her Catholic faith; to permit attempts to provide food and water by natural means (spoon feeding); to permit burial without cremation; to allow family access to Mrs. Schiavo while she is dying; and to request appointment of a medical witness, among other matters.

Dr. Lawrence Huntoon, a board-certified neurologist and editor of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, filed a Declaration with the Court stating that behavior such as that shown in a videotape of Mrs. Schiavo “generally supports a diagnosis of minimally conscious state,” rather than persistent vegetative state.

According to an article on MCS in Neurology, February 2002, a single behavior of “appropriate smiling or crying in response to the linguistic or visual content of emotional but not to neutral topics or stimuli” would be sufficient to qualify a patient as having a diagnosis of MCS made by an examining neurologist.

Additional information:

Read Florida HB 701: www.myfloridahouse.gov.

AAPS News of the Day Archive: Feb 11, 2005; Jan 25, 2005; July 18 and 25, 2004; May 12, 2004; Feb 15, 2004.

Terri’s website: www.terrisfight.org.

The permanent vegetative state: practical guidance on diagnosis and management. BMJ 2005;319:841-844, see www.bmj.com.

Notes by Dr. Huntoon regarding BMJ article (words in quotation marks are from the article): The “applicant” to stop hydration and feeding is usually the entity paying for care (the NHS). The “defendant” (the patient) is represented by the “official solicitor.” The result: “In all the cases that have gone to a final hearing, permission has been given to stop feeding. It is not clear how the court would decide applications where there was some evidence of awareness (however minimal).”

News of the Day Archive