Terri Schiavo was my sister, but she also came to be a symbol of both the right to life movement and right to die movement. Terri was a disabled American who required love, care, and food and water by a feeding tube, since she had difficulty swallowing as a result of her brain injury. She did not require artificial life support, and she was not dying of any disease or condition. Nonetheless, Terri’s life was intentionally ended in 2005 by her husband and an antagonistic court system that deprived her of food and water, causing her to die from extreme dehydration and starvation.
I have been advocating in my sister’s name ever since, through the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, where our mission is to uphold human dignity through service to the medically vulnerable. Our National Crisis Lifeline exists to serve patients and families vulnerable to America’s increasingly indifferent, and even hostile, cultural attitudes toward persons who require treatment and care but are too often marginalized in fatal ways.
We advocate for essential principles in law and medicine, including the right to food and water, the presumption of the will to live, due process against denial of care, protection from euthanasia as a form of medicine, and access to rehabilitative care.
We frequently hear from patients and families in crisis, where individuals are seeking any means possible to save their life or the life of a loved one at-risk of denial or withdraw of basic care like food and water.
In most cases, those reaching out are not aware that American law presently permits fatal withdraw of food and water from individuals who would not otherwise be facing any end-of-life issues. The U.S. Supreme Court and American judges have long failed to distinguish between the legitimate practice of discontinuing treatment at the true end of life from the intentional practice of discontinuing basic and ordinary care for the purpose of causing death even when end of life issues are not present.
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Because the barbaric practice of denying food and water to persons who are not dying has been commonplace for many years, there are no hard numbers available to underscore just how many patients are deliberately starved and dehydrated to death each year. Consequently, every day has become a battle to protect those individuals who are, in essence, being targeted for elimination based on subjective and bigoted judgments about the value of the life of a disabled American.
It is not happenstance that many of the appeals that the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network receives originate in Texas. Unfortunately, Texas hospitals routinely deny life-sustaining treatment to individuals who are disabled but not necessarily at the end of their lives. Texas’s Health and Safety Code permits hospitals to discontinue life-sustaining treatment based on subjective determinations about the value of the lives of disabled or disadvantaged Texans. When this occurs, those individuals or their families are provided only ten days to find an alternate facility for care. Although Texas awards some protections on food and water, Texas still defines food and water to be “medical treatment.” It’s often impossible to find any alternate means of care, and those individuals face a state-imposed death.
Consequently, I was recently invited to testify before the Texas Senate Committee on Health & Human Services. I spoke on Senate Bill 2089, which would repeal the Ten-Day Rule, so patients and families have a better opportunity to locate another facility willing to provide appropriate care, likely outside of Texas. Prior to my testimony, I witnessed more than a dozen testimonies from patients and families who were impacted by the Ten-Day Rule. Those present heard story after heart-wrenching story of hospitals using the Ten-Day Rule to seek to intentionally cause death and end lives.
Texas must do better. In practice, the Ten-Day Rule infringes on the due process rights of Texans, and it ignores common sense in permitting hospitals to cause death even over the objections of patients and families.
We should be working to establish every possible protection for patients and families. I urge Texas to reform its law as an important step to restore basic confidence in the rights of Texans facing already-difficult healthcare situations.
LifeNews Note: Bobby Schindler is President of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network and Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.