May 28, 2024

Bell rings on umpteenth round in Terri Schiavo case

Terri Schiavo

A Florida law passed to prevent a brain-damaged woman from having her food and water withdrawn to bring about her death has been deemed unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court. The court said on Thursday that “Terri’s Law”, hastily pushed through the legislature by Governor Jeb Bush last year, was “unconstitutional as a violation of separation of powers, as a violation of the right of privacy and as unconstitutional retroactive legislation”.

Terri Schiavo fell unconscious after a heart attack 14 years ago. She can breath on her own, but needs to be tube-fed water and food. In the opinion of the court, “Medicine cannot cure [her] condition. Unless an act of God, a true miracle, were to recreate her brain, Theresa will always remain in an unconscious, reflexive state.”

Terri’s plight has created headlines as the world watches her husband, who wants to her to die, and her parents, who want to keep her alive, slug it out in the courts. For every judge he found who would allow her death, they found one who forbade it. Thursday’s decision is not the end of the drama — the case could be heard again or there could be an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Lawyers for Mrs Schiavo’s parents are also trying to remove her husband as her legal guardian.

Florida’s state constitution protects the right of terminally ill patients to die “with dignity”. What this “dignity” implies is unclear. Mrs Schiavo’s husband contends that she did not want to remain on a feeding tube and that she should be allowed to die slowly through starvation and thirst.