State Legislatures Haven’t Protected Patients Since Terri Schiavo Died

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 28, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

State Legislatures Haven’t Protected Patients Since Terri Schiavo Died Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 28, 2006

Washington, DC ( — After Terri Schiavo’s former husband subjected her to a painful 13-day starvation and dehydration euthanasia death, pro-life state lawmakers across the country talked about passing laws to protect other disabled patients like her. Yet, little progress has been made in preventing others like Terri from being killed.

Laws reshaping end-of-life policy were floated in two dozen states but only Louisiana passed any kind of law — and the final result was severely watered down compared to the initial proposal.

Minnesota is the second state to seriously consider a law to help protect disabled patients.

Last week a legislative panel approved a bill that would instruct doctors to presume that patients like Terri who can’t make their own medical decisions would not want to be deprived of food and water.

Still, while the state House is expected to sign off on the proposal, its prospects in the Senate are less certain.

Bills similar to Minnesota’s have failed to advance in Mississippi and Georgia and other states have passed measures but they’re not like legislation that would protect disabled patients.

Delaware and Montana approved making space on the driver’s license for mentioning a living will and Connecticut, Washington, and other states are approving Internet directories for people to post their living will online.

Pro-life groups say the legislative efforts are only in their initial stages and that lawmakers will continue to look at pro-life bills as the issue gains more attention.

"I think this is just the beginning," Denise Burke, vice president and legal director of Americans United for Life, told the St. Petersburg Times newspaper. "This can be [Terri’s] legacy, that these issues will be debated."

Supporters of euthanasia are encouraged that the pro-life bills have made little progress. They’re putting together legislation of their own to advance assisted suicide in more states than just Oregon.

"I don’t think any of them are likely to pass, but I think there’s been a real push by the right-to-life interest groups to roll back the clock," Kathryn Tucker, director of legal affairs for the pro-euthanasia group Compassion and Choices, told the Times.

Ultimately, changes need to be made.

The National Right to Life Committee says all but ten states may allow doctors and hospitals to disregard advance directives when the directives call for treatment, food, or fluids. That means more deaths like Terri Schaivo’s down the road.

Related web sites:
Americans United for Life –
National Right to Life –