Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

The Terri Schiavo Case: Warning of the Next Holocaust

Audrey Ignatoff, M.S. and Vickie Travis

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The sky is blue, and palm trees sway in the lovely Florida sunshine. It is a typical Florida day that draws so many vacationers year round, as well as encourages many to relocate and/or retire there. However, there is a darker side that the contented swimmers and boaters do not see: the real danger to the disabled and elderly.

Florida's most famous case has been that of Terri Schiavo, a disabled woman in the middle of a "right to die" legal dispute. Although most of what we have read about her in the mainstream media is untrue, she is in danger of losing her life. The Florida Supreme Court will decide if Terri's Law passed by the Florida legislature on October 21, 2003 is unconstitutional on August 31, 2004. This law allowed her life to be spared at the last minute by ordering the reinstating of her feeding tube after she was starved for more than six days when it was removed at the wishes of her husband, Michael Schiavo and Judge Greer. Governor Jeb Bush introduced Terri's Law after a worldwide grass roots movement contacted him by e-mail, fax, letters, and phone calls begging him to spare her life and stop her cruel and painful death by starvation and dehydration. George Felos, a known "right to die" attorney assisted Michael in obtaining the ruling that would have allowed Terri to die.

Michael Schiavo wants his wife to die because he claims that is her wish. However, she has not been able to express this since her collapse in 1990 under mysterious circumstances. She has never written a living will or any type of advanced directive stating her wishes for life or death.

Michael, through his role as guardian, has prevented her from receiving rehabilitation and treatment even when she suffered from life threatening infections. He was heard on many occasions asking, "When is the bitch going to die already?" Further, he kept her isolated from her family and friends on many occasions and kept her locked in a room for the last four years with no treatment, rehabilitation, or stimulation. This includes physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and recreational therapy of any kind. When people came with animals for pet therapy, Terri was not included. When an organization came with exotic birds, Terri was forbidden to see them. She has not received the privileges of going to visit with her family, on going on an outing of any kind. In short, she has not felt the beautiful Florida sun on her face for many years now. Even prisoners are allowed out of their cell every day! All of this neglect and abuse has led to her having to remain dependent upon a feeding tube to stay alive, which according to many physicians and speech therapists, may have been long gone by now if she had received therapy. Also, she has suffered a great deal of muscle atrophy from the lack of moving around and physical therapy, as well as severe deterioration and loss of teeth resulting from the lack of dental care.

Her classification to "hospice status" has allowed her husband as guardian to evade the law even though a terminal patient is only expected to survive for six months under Medicare provisions. After fourteen years as a disabled patient, and four years as a hospice patient, Terri remains alive with no signs of terminal illness.

Schiavo, as legal guardian, has been allowed to call all the shots in this case. However the role of guardian is to insure the best interests of the patient, not to become a jailer. The law states that a guardian's judgment must meet the ethical standards of care and the best interests of the patient, and the courts must review his or her actions periodically. In this case, Judge Greer, had repeatedly sided with the husband in an attempt to end the quality and quantity of Terri's life. The judge refused to visit with Terri to see her condition for himself; to determine whether she was really in a comatose state and a "vegetable." When Terri's family, out of frustration, brought videotapes of Terri to him, Michael became more furious and his orders and demands became more rigid in refusing his wife any freedom. However, whether the judge had come out to visit Terri or if he viewed the videotaped evidence, it probably would not have done any good because Judge Greer is legally blind.

Terri's parents have pursued a suit in court to take Michael's guardianship away on the grounds of gross abuse and neglect, but he did not show up in court on three consecutive occasions. Judge Greer provided no sanctions or disciplinary action for him.

Michael Schiavo was known to give orders to the staff, and even yell at them often. His orders were followed, although they were illegal. This series of events leading up to the attempt to kill her by starvation and dehydration, led to passionate debate from both sides of the "right to die" vs. "right to live" movements. It brought out the devout and religious factions, the disabled, and advocates of all kind. Some view Michael as being cruel, while others view him as being kind. It does not matter how we see him or what our particular belief system is because he encouraged people to break the laws of the federal government and the state of Florida, and they did!

The law was broken in many of the nursing homes, hospices, and assisted living facilities that Terri resided in. Michael demanded breaking these laws just like a spoiled child demands his way, but the sad truth is that he was allowed to have his way. The breaking of these laws, specifically OBRA or The Nursing Home Reform Law of 1987, The Adult Protection Law, and The Americans with Disabilities Act, signal a great danger for many elderly and disabled people. Can you guess how many of Florida's own Nursing Home Bill of Rights, which is based on the federal OBRA regulations, have been violated? When you read them and examine the case of Terri Schiavo, you will understand the flagrant disregard for the law in Florida. This law is designed to protect residents in long term care facilities that receive federal funds such as Medicare and Medicaid. Where were the inspectors that were supposed to protect her and the other patients, and where were those in charge of the Florida agency responsible for resident's care? Under federal and state law, all staff is liable for breaking these laws as well as any staff who may observe the breaking of these laws and not reporting it. Licenses are at risk, including a license to operate a home, not to mention fines and jail terms.

Here are the laws that the government of Florida has enacted to protect residents of nursing homes (and long term care) based on federal law. She has not been provided a care plan in order to receive "adequate and appropriate health care," has been forbidden from practicing her religion and seeing her priest, the right to participate in social and recreational programs, the right to be treated fairly, courteously, and with dignity, and "The right to be free from mental and physical abuse, corporal punishment, extended involuntary seclusion; and, to be free from physical and chemical restraints, except those authorized by a physician for a specified and limited period of time, or as are necessitated by an emergency." Despite the fact that Terri was locked in a room for four years now, the inspection report apparently found nothing wrong.

Florida's Nursing Home Bill of Rights

  • The right to receive adequate and appropriate health care, and, protective and support services, including social, mental, recreational, therapeutic and rehabilitative services consistent with the resident's care plan, and, with established and recognized practice standards.
  • The right to civil and religious freedom.
  • The right to private and uncensored communication.
  • The right to have reasonable access to the resident by an entity or individual that provides health, social, legal or other services to residents of nursing homes.
  • The right of a resident to present grievances, i.e., providing a forum where grievances can be presented.
  • The right to organize and participate in resident groups.
  • The right to participate in social, religious and community activities.
  • The right to examine the results of the most recent federal or state inspection of the facility. This is usually complied by posting such results in a public location within the facility.
  • The right to manage his or her own financial affairs, including the right to adequate information concerning all charges for services that are made by the nursing home.
  • The right to be fully informed at the time of admission, and throughout, of services available in the facility; and, the related charges for such services.
  • The right to be adequately informed of his or her medical condition and proposed treatment (or family where appropriate), including the right to refuse medication and treatment.
  • The right to refuse medication or treatment. The right to be informed of the consequences of such decisions; and, where the resident does refuse medication or treatment, the right to have such refusal documented in the resident's medical record.
  • The right to privacy in treatment and in caring for the resident's personal needs, including the right to confidentiality of their medical records.
  • The right to be treated courteously, fairly, and, with the fullest measure of dignity.
  • The right to be free from mental and physical abuse, corporal punishment, extended involuntary seclusion; and, to be free from physical and chemical restraints, except those authorized by a physician for a specified and limited period of time, or as are necessitated by an emergency.
  • With proper notice, the right to be transferred or discharged only for medical reasons, or, for the welfare of other residents.
  • The right to freedom of choice in selecting a personal physician.
  • The right to retain and use personal clothing and possessions.
  • The right to have copies of the facility's rules and regulations.
  • The right to receive notice before a resident's room is changed.
  • The right to be informed of the bed reservation policy for hospitalization.
  • For residents with Medicaid or Medicare, the right to challenge a decision by the facility to discharge or transfer.

Since everyone will get old, may become disabled, or currently has family or friends in these categories, it is everybody's problem now. Terri's case is so critical because if she is allowed to die after so many years of neglect, abuse, and torture, this will signal the official beginning of a new holocaust that will affect us all. It will open the floodgates to legally kill the elderly and disabled more openly and brazenly than it is already being done. It is well documented by Wesley Smith and many advocacy groups such as The Terri Schindler Sciavo Foundation, Not Dead Yet, The Patients Hospice Alliance and The Managed Care Reform Council and The Health Care Warriors that these killings have been going on for many years.

Many may see this as a solution to the health care crises and in the United States. Secular bioethicists and medical economists may encourage this line of thinking, but the real supporters are those that stand to gain most financially. The costs to health care insurance companies and government has gone out of control, threatening many to lose their health insurance and even threaten the foundation of the Medicare and Medicaid systems. However, in a democracy, the letter and spirit of hard-won laws must be obeyed or else a sense of anarchy and "anomie" will prevail, leaving a dangerous vacuum for another kind of society: A Nazi or terrorism regime. Let's not forget that Hitler started his assault on the disabled and the elderly in order to save money in drastic economic times. He labeled them "worthless eaters," and defined them as having a "social disease." Later, he also labeled Jews, Gypsies, Catholics, etc. as also being "diseased." This led to the Holocaust that killed 12 million innocent people throughout Europe. America stood by and let it happen then before they finally got involved in the war effort. Now, the question is, will we allow it to happen again right here and right now in our own country?

So, let's not look at Michael Sciavo as a horrible and grotesque monster, but as a symbol for the evil force that has allowed and encouraged him to have his way. It is not relevant that he is immoral because he has illegitimate children with another woman; is religious or is not; is evil or compassionate; or is an advocate of a particular kink of philosophy about life or death. It is relevant that he has asked many people to break the law and they did. As such, they should be punished by the full extent of the law, no matter how high up we have to go because no one in America is above the law. We should now ask ourselves, "Are these laws being broken in other cases in Florida or elsewhere, and why?"

Laws to protect people, especially the vulnerable, give our society the face of humanity and keep us apart from cruel dictatorships that we deplore and fight when necessary. If Terri Schiavo is allowed to die, this will be nothing more than the culmination of a "witch hunt" which will feed on the blood of many. Can we as American citizens allow such things to go on? Think about it when it is your turn to be tied to the stake! Think about why we are fighting terrorist that are far away when we have terrorists on our own land that want to kill people.

Submitted by authors.

Posted 9/2/04

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Copyright 2001-2018 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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