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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Terri Schiavo: Politics, Medicine and Morality

October 25, 2003

Re "Florida Gov. Orders Feeding Tube," Oct. 22: I am outraged that the Florida Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush have been able to exploit a married couple's personal tragedy for political purposes. Terri Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state for 13 years; for five years her husband fought to have a feeding tube withdrawn, claiming that she would not have wanted to be kept alive in that condition.

A woman's right to self-determination has been violated; her husband's right to protect her interests has been trampled on; and an appeals court decision has been set aside by legislative fiat. I doubt whether any of Florida's legislators would want their own dying process prolonged indefinitely, yet they have the audacity to sentence Schiavo to a continued undignified, inhumane existence. Florida Senate President James E. King had the honesty to express his doubts, wondering "what if Terri really didn't want this done at all."

Nancy Sandweiss

Bonita, Calif.

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Schiavo's tragic lack of an advance directive has placed her loved ones in an untenable situation. It has also served as a wake-up call to the countless thousands of us out there who also have no advance directive.

I would like to think that the decision to discontinue my feeding tube and/or respirator would be made by the person nearest and dearest to my heart, my husband. Jeb Bush and the other "right to life" zealots should keep their noses out of it! Schiavo told her husband years ago that she wouldn't want to be kept alive this way, and that statement should be honored.

Janis Hansen Klinger

Sherman Oaks

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The subtext in this "right to die" case is society's view on disability. Is a life with significant disabilities worth living? There are thousands of people with disabilities who say yes. Her husband says Terri Schiavo's wish was to not have life support. However, did those wishes distinguish between a comatose state, complete with machines to help her breathe and her heart to beat, and a vegetative state, where she reacts to people in the room and the only "life support" is a feeding tube?

Schiavo is significantly disabled. She will never have the life she once enjoyed, but she can still enjoy life and can improve with the right supports. Living with a disability isn't reason to give up on life. Video of her shows that she is cognitive of her surroundings and the people around her. Removing her feeding tube is an execution that would be deemed "cruel and unusual punishment" for even our most vicious criminals. Having a disability is not a crime and does not carry a penalty of death by starvation.

Vince Wetzel

Director, External Communications, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, Sacramento

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The wish by relatives to think of the patient as alive is certainly understandable. The costs, almost invariably, are carried by private insurance or federal assistance such as Medicare and Medicaid. It would seem reasonable to me that when the time comes for physicians to declare the patient to have no chance of returning to a state of reasonable function and having to be maintained by artificial support (which nature would consider as dying), that a share of the cost would no longer be a financial burden on the public alone, but should be shared, depending on financial ability, by those who dream of the patient as still alive. Laws passed to support such action might well produce a huge change in costs.

Hans G. Engel MD

Mission Hills

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