Schiavo parents claim daughter has tried to tell of desire to live

With Terri Schiavo hours from death, debate rages over whether courts should have the power to end a life
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The Independent US

Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who has gone eight full days without food or water, has communicated and made clear her desire to live, her family claimed yesterday.

Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who has gone eight full days without food or water, has communicated and made clear her desire to live, her family claimed yesterday.

In an extraordinary last-stop legal measure, her family's lawyer told a state judge that Mrs Schiavo had tried to vocalise the sentence "I want to live". She was only able to complete the first two words but her intention was clear, the lawyer said.

The most recent motion is the latest in a long and increasingly desperate series of attempts by Mrs Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to have their daughter's feeding tube reinserted. It was removed nine days ago at the request of her husband, and her parents say she has only hours to live.

"I told her that we're still fighting for her and she shouldn't give up because we're not," her father told reporters outside the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, near Tampa, after he emerged from visiting his daughter late on Friday night. "But I think people who were anxious to see her die are getting their wish."

The claim that Mrs Schiavo has articulated a desire to live surrounds noises the 41-year-old apparently made when her feeding tube was removed a week ago on Friday. In their motion before the court, the parents claim that one of the lawyers had said to Mrs Schiavo that all the problems could be avoided if only she could articulate the words "I want to live".

At that point Mrs Schiavo made the first two vowel sounds of the sentence "Ahh Wuhh", said the motion, adding that Mrs Schiavo was unable to finish the sentence and then became very anxious.

Mrs Schiavo has been in what experts term a persistent vegetative state for the past 15 years after suffering a massive and unexplained heart attack that prevented oxygen from getting to her brain. Her husband, Michael, claims his wife once said she would never want to be kept alive by a life-support machine - something the courts have accepted even though the claim is disputed and Mrs Schiavo had left no written instructions.

Most medical experts say that the noises Mrs Schiavo occasionally makes are nothing more than unconscious groans and that she is not aware of her surroundings. Others have said that if Mrs Schiavo did indeed say the words "I want", she could just as easily have been trying to say, "I want to die".

As Mrs Schiavo has slipped closer to death, so the numbers of demonstrators outside the Florida hospice has swelled. The vast majority are conservative Christians, members of a loosely organised network, who have spent the past week holding banners, singing hymns and demonising Mr Schiavo and the "liberal courts" at every opportunity.

They have been led by figures such as Randall Terry, an evangelical protestant who leads the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and who looks every bit like a younger Barry Manilow. They have been joined by a number of other religious activists such as Frank Pavone, who runs a group called Catholics for Life.

A few of the demonstrators are motivated by other factors. Becky Dula, 34, a corporate chef from Chicago, flew to Florida last Tuesday to protest that Mrs Schiavo's constitutional rights were being abused. "I think this is a civil rights case," she said. "I think that Terri's Schiavo's constitutional right to life and liberty have been denied. As [a member of] a civil society, I don't stand for that." She added: "Some people here are angry. We should all be angry at the injustice of this."

But a lawyer for Mr Schiavo, George Felos, said the Schindlers' latest motion was "simply an outrageous abuse of the legal system". He said that such claims had been previously made.

As expected, the judge, George Greer, yesterday ruled against the family's emergency motion. They had previously planned to ask the appeals court to review the decision if that were the case, but before his ruling was made public had already decided against doing so, said Barbara Weller, one of their attorneys.

'This is the back door to euthanasia'

The issues raised by the Schiavo case force Yvonne Newbold to ask if her son, too, could be denied survival by a court

Just like Terri Schiavo, my 10-year-old son Toby is severely disabled, and will never be able to live independently or earn his own living. Just like Terri Schiavo, Toby relies on tube-feeding to sustain his life.

Toby cannot swallow properly, so he had a plastic gastrostomy "button" fitted, hidden under his T-shirt, which takes food straight into his stomach. At meal-times, we attach a tube, and a pump pushes a specially formulated milk into his stomach at which point his digestive system works in the same way as everyone else's. Tube-feeding has become a very common medical procedure for stroke victims, people with throat cancers, and kids like Toby.

Would a court ever order someone's inevitable death by the removal of a colostomy bag, or withholding insulin from a diabetic? Of course not. Society has not sanctioned legal euthanasia, yet allows vulnerable individuals to starve and dehydrate - an intolerably distressing, cruel and painful way to die. It is illegal to hasten someone's death by an overdose of morphine, which brings peace and pain relief, but somehow OK to revert to medieval barbarity.

This sounds like a back door to euthanasia to me. Casting aside the rights and wrongs for a moment, if it is decided that the life of a person in such a condition should not be prolonged, surely we can find a less cowardly way of doing it. Tube-feeding is not life-support in the same way a ventilator is, which can keep a brain-dead patient breathing indefinitely. Tube-feeding is just another way of delivering nutrition. It is life-support to Toby and Terri in exactly the same way your breakfast and cup of tea is life support to you.

The issues surrounding the Schiavo case are unsettling to parents of children like mine, not just in the knowledge that, theoretically, Toby could be denied feeding by a judicial decision, but also in the "quality of life" debate.

On the one side, her husband wants to move on with his life, and believes she is unresponsive with a very poor quality of life, while her parents, with the unconditional love bestowed only by parenthood, believe she has a good, if compromised, life, and can respond to basic emotions.

For Terri it will be too late, but next time, if it must be done at all, let's at least try to maintain dignity and humanity.