Life or Death in Florida

You may remember a commentary I delivered in 2003 about Terri Schiavo, who is in a nursing home with extensive brain damage. Terri's husband, Michael, had gone to court to remove her feeding tube, and her parents were fighting to keep Terri alive. Terri's life was spared after Governor Jeb Bush and the legislature of Florida took quick action. But just a year and a half later, Terri Schiavo's family is once again fighting for her life. "Terri's Law," the law that Governor Jeb Bush pushed through the legislature, was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Governor Bush's appeal. Now, Judge George Greer has ruled that Terri's feeding tube must be removed on Friday, March 18. Terri will be legally starved to death unless her family and supporters can stop it. Fortunately, Terri's congressman and one of her senators may have found a way to do it. Florida Senator Mel Martinez (R) and Representative Dave Weldon (R) have just introduced the "Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act" in the U.S. Congress. The act is based on the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, "No State . . . shall deprive any person of life . . . without due process of law . . . nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." This act is designed to guarantee the constitutional right to life of Terri and others in her position. It would establish Terri's right to her own legal counsel and call for a review of her case in federal court. Such a review would have to take into account all the facts about Terri's case. For instance, the fact that her husband is engaged to another woman, with whom he has two children. And the fact that Terri left no clear record of her wishes. (Her husband claims she told him she wouldn't want to live in such a condition. However, he only made that claim after he'd sued Terri's doctors for malpractice and won over a million dollars, which he'd originally promised to use to care for Terri.) And then there's the fact that Terri shows awareness of family members. Plus the fact that Terri is not actually on life support -- she simply needs to be fed and hydrated through a tube. As columnist John Grogan observes, "If Schiavo merely required spoon feeding instead of tube feeding, would anyone seriously be arguing to withhold food and water? Does not every human, no matter how incapacitated, deserve sustenance?" As Grogan writes, these "uncomfortable details . . . raise sticky moral dilemmas." I believe that an objective review of the case would force anyone to the same conclusion. And Terri Schiavo, as a U.S. citizen, is fully entitled to that review. As things stand, any convicted felon on death row would now be granted more rights than Terri. At least the felon would be allowed legal representation. I talked with a doctor the other day, who told me that he has talked with many people who have come out of comas, and they knew exactly what was going on while they were in it. And Terri isn't even in a coma. It is urgent that you contact your senators and representative, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Let them hear from you to fast-track this legislation and pass it before March 18. As Terri's fellow citizens -- and her fellow human beings -- we cannot allow her to be deprived of her God-given right to life.


Chuck Colson


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