New Terri’s Law Heads to Full Florida Congress

With the countdown to the highly contested court-ordered removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube underway, pro-life lawmakers in both chambers of the Florida Congress are working to pass a bill that may keep her alive.

On Tuesday the proposed bill, which requires doctors to provide hydration and nutrition to incapacitated persons – such as Terri – was approved by a House panel and was sent on its way to the full chamber.

Under the House bill, severely disabled persons will receive nutrition except in cases where they left a living will or specific oral instructions refusing the measures.

The bill is expected to go to the full chambers when the body meets again on Thursday.

Meanwhile, at the Senate, a panel on Tuesday narrowed the proposal to include an additional clause specifying when feeding tubes can be removed.

Under the new Senate proposal, which some lawmakers have characterized as “unconstitutional”, the denial of food and water will be blocked if the patient left a written or oral will and family members disagree on whether to keep the feeding tube in place.

The Senate bill is also expected to go to the full chamber when the body meets on Thursday.

Should the bills pass, they may save the life of Terri Schiavo – the 41 year-old highly disabled woman at the center of one of the nation’s longest-running right-to-life case in history.

Under a court order issued last month, Terri’s feeding tube is scheduled to be removed this Friday, March 18th.

Efforts by Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to save their daughter’s life have been stunted by the courts time and time again. In the latest court ruling, the Schindlers were denied their request to take guardianship over their daughter, who is currently under the legal guardianship of her husband Michael.

Michael, who is now living with his girlfriend with whom he has fathered two children, has battled against the Schindlers in court for nearly 7 years regarding the Terri's fate.

Michael contends his wife did not want to be kept alive “artificially” while the Schindlers believe otherwise. There are no written records of Terri’s wishes.

To date, Michael succeeded in legally removing Terri’s tube twice. At the last such instance, Terri starved with no food and water for six days until Florida Governor Jeb Bush stepped in with a law to reconnect the tube.

However, Bush’s “Terri’s Law” was deemed unconstitutional by the high court, and the lower court decision to remove Terri’s tube was left to stand.

On Tuesday, Gov. Bush said he hoped the lower court and its infamous judge George Greer – who set the March 18th death sentence on Terri’s life – would give legislatures more time to pass the pending bills.

"I would hope the judge would show some deference to the Legislature as well," said Bush.

According to the Associated Press, Bush hasn't commented on whether he would sign either bill, but supported the efforts of lawmakers.

"As a society, we need to protect innocent life and we should err on the side of caution," Bush said.

Michael’s attorney George Felos meanwhile criticized the proposed bills, calling the legislation “an attempt by opponents…of choice to prevent Floridians from declining or ending artificial feeding.”

Felos contends that Terri expressed her end-of-life wishes the way most do – verbally without leaving written instructions - and that she cleary wished to be unplugged.

However, pro-family and Christian leaders disagreed, pointing out that starvation is an undesirable and inhumane way to die.

"I am pleased that the Florida legislature is acting with deliberate speed,” said Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel. “Terry Schiavo is only a few days away from being starved and dehydrated. Death by dehydration and starvation is slow, painful, and inhumane. No parent should be forced to stand by helplessly and watch their child die of starvation"

Currently, faith organizations and leaders are rallying support for Terri outside of her hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida. Should the removal of Terri’s tube not be halted, the faith groups plan to hold vigils and demonstrations across the nation; some groups have even threatened to go on a hunger strike should Terri be starved.

"If the feeding tube is removed, we are asking people of good will to come from all across the nation to stand in solidarity with our sister Terri and the Schindler family. It is essential that we send a loud and clear message that in America we do not starve people facing physical and mental challenges. We love and care for them,” said Rev. Rob Schenck, President of the National Clergy Council.

"If Terri's feeding tube is removed, it is critical that that the faith community and people of good will publicly stand against this horrible injustice and evil,” said Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition. “Our prayer is that thousands will come to Pinellas Park and send a clear and powerful message to our courts and political leaders that all life is sacred and has dignity.

“Not only are working to save the life of Terri Schiavo, and the many others in her condition, we are working to save the future soul of our nation."