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Will Habeaus Corpus Save Terri's Life? | Valerie Schmalz
Updated March 4, 2005 | 6:45 pm EST
Two weeks before a Florida judges ruling would withdraw food and water
from a severely brain-damaged woman, fifty-two U.S. House members have agreed to
co-sponsor a bill that would invoke the English common law protection of
habeas corpus to save Terri Schindler Schiavo.
The dramatic legal maneuver proposed by Florida
Rep. Dave Weldon would expand
the Habeas Corpus Act to when a state court orders denial of food or fluids to a
legally incapacitated person. Weldons actions energized national pro-life
groups. The National Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council
immediately urged supporters to lobby Congress to pass the bill.
"Actually, I am only trying to get her the same benefits as a death row
inmate," Weldon told IgnatiusInsight. "He has sentenced her to
The Florida Republican said he would introduce the Incapacitated Persons
Legal Protection Act March 8th. Weldon said he believes the
legislation can pass Congress before the March 18th date set by a
state circuit court judge to withdraw food and water from Schiavo. Eight of the
52 House co-sponsors are Democrats, 44 are Republicans, he said. A Senate version
is in the works, he said.
Under Habeas Corpus, a federal court can intervene when a state court appears
to have unjustly constrained a persons liberty, a medical ethicist for the
National Right to Life Committee said.
"Congress can act to ensure a federal court hearing on whether or not Terri
will die of starvation and dehydration," said the NLRCs Lori Kehoe. A writ
of habeas corpus, protected by the U.S. Constitution, dates to pre-Colonial
England and is used to give those a hearing whose liberty has been constrained by
state courts in violation of the Constitution or federal laws.
For seven years, Terris guardian and husband Michael has worked to get
her gastric abdominal tube removed, saying she would not want to be kept alive,
despite strong objections from her parents and siblings. Pinellas Circuit Court
Judge George Greer has handled the case from the beginning and has twice before
authorized removing her feeding tube. On Feb.25, he set a March 18th
date to remove Schiavos feeding tube.
"Ive taken care of a lot of patients like her," said Weldon,
who practiced medicine as an internist for fifteen years. "She is not
vegetative. She is not persistent vegetative. Shes had no physical therapy
and on speech language therapy since 1993. She vocalizes. She smiles. I would
never sign a medical order to withdraw food and water in these circumstances. I
believe it would be medical malpractice."
Meanwhile, in Florida, at the request of local media, the state circuit court
handling the Terri Schiavo case unsealed the complaint from the Florida
Department of Children and Family Services at the request of the Tampa
Tribune and Tampa-St. Petersburg News Channel 8. The state agency said in its
request for a 60-day stay that credible new reports alleging abuse against Terri
Schiavo as a disabled adult make it imperative that her feeding tube not be
removed until an investigation is completed.
Schiavos attorney already plans to take her case to the U.S. Supreme
Court, contending Schiavos religious liberties are being violated by the
state court ruling. A number of other motions have been filed by the
The Vatican and the Florida Catholic Conference pleaded for Terri
Schiavos life. On Feb. 27th, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said, "If Mr. Schiavo succeeds in
legally causing the death of his wife, this not only would be tragic in itself,
but it would be a grave step toward the legal approval of euthanasia in the
On Feb. 28th, the Florida Catholic Conference issued a letter signed by the
eight Florida bishops, saying: "No longer able to speak on her own behalf, Mrs.
Schiavo is a defenseless human being with inherent dignity, deserving of our
respect, care and concern."
They went on, "We reiterate our plea that Mrs. Schiavo continues to receive
all treatments and care that will be of benefit to her."
The attorney for Michael Schiavo told the Tribune Weldons bill is
political haymaking. "We had a [Roman Catholic] cardinal make a statement the
other day, so certainly it's not surprising a congressman wants to get into the
act," George Felos, a well-known right-to-die advocate, said March 3rd. "It's
just amazing how the politicians blow with the wind here."
Terri Schiavo collapsed in 1990 at age 26 and suffered brain damage but her
parents and many medical experts say she continues to interact with them. Pope
John Paul II declared in March 2004 that removing a feeding tube is "euthanasia
by omission" even in the case of patients judged to be in a "persistent
Michael Schiavo lives with another woman, with whom he has two children, and
has blocked attempts to spend a $1 million award on rehabilitation therapy for
his wife, even though the award was based on testimony that the money would be
spent on her therapy. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of the award have gone
toward paying an attorney working to cut off her food and water. She is kept in a
room with the shades down, at his order, and he prohibits her parents from taking
her outside and doesnt allow nursing staff to attempt to spoon-feed her,
according to her family.
Michael Schiavos claims that Terri Schiavo would want to die are based
on a conversation he recalled late in the day, Weldon noted. "Its very
suspicious," the Florida Congressman said, noting that Michael Schiavo
halted all treatment in 1993 after the malpractice award. "Her husband
never made these claims until a very large medical malpractice award was made
which I believe impeaches that claim," Weldon said. "The purpose of the
malpractice award was to provide for her care."
John Paul II on "Life-Sustaining
Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas"
of Terri Schiavo: When Does Dignity End? | By Fr. Michael Black
Over Terri | Valerie Schmalz
DCF's Schiavo Petition Unsealed | The Tampa Tribune (Friday, March 4, 2005)
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight.
She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print
and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University
of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service
at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San
Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.
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