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Breaking News Ticker  |  Yahoo Full Coverage on disabilities

National Disability Groups say Terri Shindler Schiavo being denied protection of laws
OCT 27, 2003 --If Terri Schindler-Schiavo's feeding tube is again removed, and she dies, she will have been killed because she is not being given the Constitutional protections the rest of us enjoy, say national disability groups in a statement released today.

"Treating people differently based on health or disability status violates the rights of people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. With no clear and convincing proof that it is truly the person's decision, withholding care based on the belief that he or she would rationally want to die because of a disability is discriminatory, and violates Constitutional protections as well," they say. Read statement.

"Big Guns" fight over "Terri's Law"
Information for this story was also provided by Dave Reynolds, under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.
TAMPA, FL, OCT 31, 2003 -- The parents of Terri Schindler Schiavo asked a judge Thursday to let them intervene in a lawsuit Michaal Schiavo, Terri's husband, filed against the state Wednesday seeking to overturn "Terri's Law." Attorneys for Michael Schiavo and the American Civil Liberties Union asked Pinellas County Circuit Court Wednesday to declare that law unconstitutional, and The American Center for Law and Justice, founded in 1990 by Christian Coalition Pat Robertson have joined Bob and Mary Schindler's attorney, Pat Anders. The "big guns" have moved in, and Terri Shindler Schiavo seems increasingly to be a pawn.

The ACLU's 52-page brief claimed that the Legislature improperly gave Governor Jeb Bush the authority to override court decisions on October 21 when it passed HB 35-E, known as "Terri's Law". Bush signed the measure into law the same day and ordered a feeding tube to be reinstalled into Terri's stomach six days after it had been removed by court order.

Attorneys George Felos and Randall C. Marshall wrote that the law violated Florida's constitutional right to privacy and illegally intruded on the courts' authority. They said the law set a precedent allowing politicians to override the courts any time they made an unpopular decision.

Governor Bush's lawyers are expected to file their response in court on November 5. His brother, President George W. Bush, said on Tuesday, "I believe my brother made the right decision."

Terri collapsed in February 1990 and her brain was without oxygen for several minutes. The courts have accepted doctors' testimony that Terri has since been in a "persistent vegetative state", where she cannot feel anything and from which she cannot recover. They have also accepted Mr. Schiavo's claims that his wife had told him she would not want to be kept alive "by artificial means". Her gastronomy tube was removed on October 15 by order of Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer.

Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, claim that Terri is responsive and alert, and that she would improve if Mr. Schiavo would allow her to undergo rehabilitative therapies. Some experts have said that Terri could learn to swallow, thereby making the feeding tube unnecessary.

The governor pushed the Legislature to pass the bill during a special session. His office had received tens of thousands of messages from disability rights groups and right-to-life advocates.

Many disability rights leaders are frustrated that -- with the exception of a few opinion pieces -- the media has focused on Terri's case as a "right to die" issue.

"Thousands of people with disabilities across the United States are watching the case anxiously," wrote Not Dead Yet's Stephen Drake in the Los Angeles Times.

"Obviously, we want to know how all those commenting in this case feel about the lives of people with Down's syndrome, autism, Alzheimer's and other disabilities."

"Are they next for death through starvation? It's not so farfetched."

In an interview with National Public Radio, Rus Cooper-Dowda explained that she once was declared to be in a "persistent vegetative state". During that time she was able to hear and understand what was being said around her. Her attempts to communicate were ignored or misunderstood.

Related: "Disabled Are Fearful: Who Will Be Next?" by Stephen Drake (Los Angeles Times -- free registration required)

"Recovering from a 'Persistent Vegetative State'" Interview with Russ Cooper-Dowda (National Public Radio)

Terri Schiavo's Condition Improving; Long-time Doctor Resigns
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TAMPA, FL, OCT 27, 2003 -- Parents of Terri Schiavo, 39, said their daughter appeared to be recovering two days after her feeding tube was reinserted under orders of Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature.

"She's tired, but she just looks wonderful," said her father, Robert Schindler, after visiting Terri for more than an hour Thursday. "I think she's out of harm's way."

Family members were relieved that Terri's internal organs apparently were not significantly damaged during the six days she was without food or water.

New sources also reported on Thursday that Dr. Victor Gambone, the physician in charge of Terri's medical care for the past five years, has resigned.

Gambone, a specialist in geriatric and internal medicine, was one of a number of doctors who testified that Terri was in a "persistent vegetative state" from which she could not recover. Gambone also testified that disconnecting her feeding tube would allow Terri to die peacefully and without pain.

Terri's gastronomy tube was removed on Wednesday, October 15, under the orders of Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer. The judge had repeatedly sided with Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband and guardian, since he filed a petition to have the feeding tube removed so his wife would die of starvation and dehydration. Schiavo claimed that his wife told him she would not want to live "by artificial means", some time before she collapsed in February 1990 and was without oxygen for several minutes.

After protests from tens of thousands of disability rights advocates and right-to-life supporters, Governor Bush pushed a law through the state legislature earlier this week allowing him to go against the courts and order Terri's feeding tube reinstalled. The law also called for an independent guardian to be appointed for Terri.

Mr. Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, said Thursday that he would continue the legal fight to have Terri's feeding tube removed again. Felos plans to argue that the new law violates Terri's right to refuse medical care. Some legal scholars have said the law is unconstitutional because the legislature and the governor cannot pass laws that would overturn court rulings, nor can they write laws that apply to specific individuals.

Felos also said that the trust fund set up to provide for Terri's care has been depleted to the point where Medicaid money is needed to cover the day-to-day costs in the hospice. Schiavo received the $1 million from a malpractice insurance settlement in 1992. After $300,000 in legal fees, the remaining $700,000 was set up in the trust fund. Felos says just $55,000-$65,000 remains in the trust.

Terri's parents, along with a number of doctors, believe that she is alert and responsive and might benefit from therapies, including speech and feeding therapies. They also believe that Mr. Schiavo has abused Terri, that he may have contributed to her initial collapse, and that he wants her to die so he can marry another woman with whom he has lived for several years. Her parents had claimed that their son-in-law wanted what's left of the insurance settlement, which he would inherit if Terri dies.

Disability rights advocates have been watching Terri's situation closely for several years. Many note that people with certain disabilities are condemned to die because others believe they are "better off dead".

"It is very wrong to assume that there is only religious motivation in saving Terri," activist Rus Cooper-Dowda wrote in an open letter to journalists who have missed the disability message in telling Terri's story.

"There are more disabled people in the United States than there are people in Canada," Cooper-Dowda wrote. "As goes Terri, so goes us. The odds are very good so goes you."

Related: "Schiavo's doctor of five years quits case" (Palm Beach Post)
"A Disabled Journalist Talks To Journalists About Terri Schiavo" by Rus Cooper-Dowda (Inclusion Daily Express)

Legislaure acts; Terri Schiavo crisis averted -- for now
TALLAHASSEE, FL, OCT 21, 2003 --News reports say FL Gov. Jeb Bush will sign "Terri's Bill," passed by the FL Senate today. Reports say Terri Schiavo is already receiving liquid as a result of the bill's passage. Read story from the Florida Sun Sentinel.

Florida House Gives Gov. Bush Power To Intervene In Schiavo Case; Advocates Rally At White House, Hospice
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TAMPA, FL, OCT 21, 2003 -- Late Monday night, the Florida House passed a bill giving Governor Jeb Bush the power to order Terri Schiavo's feeding tube reinstalled so she will not starve to death.

The bill, which was approved by a 63-23 vote, is expected to be passed by the state Senate on Tuesday.

The measure would give the governor 15 days to order a feeding tube reinserted in cases where a person has left no living will, is in a "persistent vegetative state", has had nutrition and hydration tubes removed, and where at least one family member has challenged that removal. It also specifies that the feeding tube must have been removed as of October 15 -- the day Terri's tube was pulled by court order.

Doctors say Terri will likely survive 7 to 14 days from when the feeding tube was taken out.

Earlier Monday, Florida's Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities asked U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in Tampa to keep Terri alive long enough to investigate a claim that her husband has been abusing her.

Attorney Gordon Scott asked the federal judge to issue a 10-day injunction to give the advocacy agency time to investigate whether removing Terri's feeding tube was an act of abuse, and whether Terri can feel pain from her starvation and dehydration.

Terri, 39, collapsed in February 1990 from a chemical imbalance and was without oxygen for several minutes. Some doctors have said she is in a "persistent vegetative state", that she does not feel pain, and that she cannot recover. Terri does breathe on her own, and regulates her own blood pressure. Up until last Wednesday, she was being given food and water through a tube installed in her stomach.

Terri's husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, claims his wife told him she would not have wanted to live "by artificial means", and in 1998 petitioned the court for permission to have the feeding tube removed. The courts have consistently sided with Mr. Schiavo.

Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have fought since that time to keep their daughter alive. They have affidavits from several medical professionals who claim that Terri could benefit from therapies -- including speech and swallowing therapies -- which her husband has repeatedly refused. Video tapes also show Terri apparently interacting with family members, laughing and following basic directions less than two years ago.

The Schindlers accuse their son-in-law of abusing and neglecting Terri, and suspect him in bringing about her initial collapse.

Disability rights advocates from around the country have been closely watching Terri's case, and have been acting to let their concerns be known. Emails have flooded into the governor's office. A vigil, including many right-to-life advocates, has been going on non-stop since last Monday in front of the hospice that has been Terri's home for the past several years.

A group of about 30 activists rallied in front of the White House Sunday afternoon, demanding President George Bush call on his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, to intervene to keep Terri alive. Demonstrators, who were organized with less than 24-hour notice, marched with signs reading "Disability is not a capital crime" and "Gov. Bush -- Stay Terri's Execution".

"Terri Schiavo's death sentence should alarm all people with disabilities and our allies," wrote disability rights activist Laura Hershey in a plea for the disability community to contact Gov. Bush. "The implication is that people whose brain function and communication abilities are impaired do not deserve the same legal protection as other people."

"This is not a right to die case or a right to live case, it's a forced to die case," said Diane Coleman founder of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet. "Many have been shocked that legal protections for older and disabled people in guardianship have been so weakened that a 39 year-old woman, who is neither unconscious nor terminally ill, can be starved to death."

"If this case goes forward as it has been, [guardians] will be given carte blanche to kill people with disabilities that they would rather be without," said Coleman. "We must have checks and balances on the powers of guardians, and those have been eroded here in Florida."

The Schindlers visited Terri on Saturday with their priest.

"She's got an incredible will to live,'' said her brother, Robert Schindler Jr.

The family priest, Monsignor Thaddeus Malinowski, was not allowed to administer the rite of Viaticum, the last communion for a Catholic before death, because it involved placing a small wafer into Terri's mouth -- an act that would have violated a doctor's order that nothing be placed in her mouth to prevent choking and aspiration.


"State House gives Bush power to intervene in Schiavo coma case" (Associated Press via Sun Sentinel)

What if Terri Schiavo were a dog? (World Net Daily)

"FIRST-PERSON: The Terri Schiavo case: Death stalks the innocent" (SBC Baptist Press)

"Brain-Damaged Fla. Woman Denied Communion" (Associated Press via Lakeland Ledger)

Emergency court hearing arranged; FL Legis to consider "Terri's Bill"
TALLAHASSEE, FL, OCT 20, 2003 --Sources close to the Terri Schiavo case say that Florida's Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities, the state Protection and Advocacy program, managed to convince a U.S. District Judge to hold an emergency hearing today at noon. The group asked for a temporary restraining order, for Terri to be fed immediately, and for an investigation. U. S. District Judge Steve Merryday will issue a decision soon. Read story from Associated Press. And activists are also trying to get the FL legislature to pass a bill to keep Terri from starving. Story on legislative effort from WorldNet Daily.

Lawyers Say Governor Bush Can And Should Intervene On Terri Schiavo's Behalf
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TAMPA, FL, OCT 16, 2003 -- Four attorneys have written Florida Governor Jeb Bush to inform him that he not only has the power -- he has the duty -- to stop the starvation death of Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube was removed Wednesday.

The attorneys pointed out that court orders allowing Terri, 39, to starve are violating her constitutionally-guaranteed "inalienable right to enjoy and defend life" regardless of her "physical disability."

Richard Thompson, chief counsel at the Thomas More Law Center, said the governor also has "sufficient evidence" to "conduct a formal criminal investigation" into claims that Michael Schiavo abused his wife.

Read rest of story and follow updates on the unfolding Terri Schiavo story at "Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express)

Vigil Continues for Terri Schiavo
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TAMPA, FL, OCT 13, 2003 -- Supporters of Terri Schiavo's right to continue living began an around-the clock vigil Monday in front of the hospice where she has lived for the last several years. According to media reports, the vigil has been organized primarily by the right-to-life group Operation Rescue.

Unless there is a last-minute intervention by the 2nd District Court of Appeal or Governor Jeb Bush, the feeding tube that provides Terri with food and water will be removed Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. She is expected to die within 10 to 14 days after that.

An attorney for Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, filed an emergency motion Monday with the appeals court, arguing that Terri deserves therapy to help her to swallow once the feeding tube is removed. The court has refused to overturn past rulings by Circuit Judge George Greer, who originally approved the removal of Terri's feeding tube according to the wishes of her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo.

Also on Monday, Bob Schindler called on the governor to intervene again on Terri's behalf by ordering the Florida Department of Children and Families to investigate claims that Mr. Schiavo mistreated Terri and has withheld rehabilitative therapies from her, in violation of her rights to treatment.

Follow updates on the unfolding Terri Schiavo story at "Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express)

High Court To Decide Whether Recovering Addicts Must Be Rehired Under ADA
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, OCT 8 2003 -- The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a case that could determine whether employers can be sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act for refusing to rehire employees who claim to have overcome their drug or alcohol addictions.

The case involves Joel Hernandez who worked for Hughes Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona for 25 years. One day in 1991 Hernandez showed up for work under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. He quit his job that day to avoid being fired.

Two years later, after having gone through a drug and alcohol treatment program, Hernandez applied for a different job at the plant.

"I was trying to re-establish myself," Hernandez said.

The plant refused to consider his application, citing an unwritten blanket policy of refusing to rehire employees fired for breaking company rules.

Hernandez filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against the company, which is now owned by Raytheon Co., claiming the company's policy violates the ADA.

The federal anti-discrimination law protects former alcohol and drug abusers who no longer abuse drugs, often indicated by their successful completion or participation in a recognized treatment program.

Raytheon argues that its policy does not discriminate against recovering or recovered alcohol or drug abusers because it bans all workers fired for breaking company rules.

The Bush administration weighed in on the case, arguing that companies should be allowed to permanently ban workers for misconduct, including showing up on the job under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The case is Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, 02-749.

Related articles:

"Court Weighs Rights of Recovering Addicts" (Associated Press via Findlaw Legal News)

"Limits of disability act tested" (Christian Science Monitor)

Link to Supreme Court of the United States

FL Accessible Voting Case Goes To Trial
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

JACKSONVILLE, FL, OCT 3 2003 -- Last week, the first case of its kind in the United States went to trial in Jacksonville.

Three voters with disabilities, backed by the American Association of People with Disabilities, are suing Duval County and its Supervisor of Elections, John Stafford, for not making it possible for them to vote independently and privately -- as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs claim that Stafford's office violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it purchased optical scanning voting equipment in 2001, rather than touch-screen machines. Touch screens have audible features for voters who are blind or do not read, and allow voters with limited mobility to use a touch stick or other device to touch the screen to cast a ballot.

During their testimony, the plaintiffs told Senior U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley that voting has been a degrading experience for them.

"Each time I went to vote, I was treated differently than other people. It was humiliating and embarrassing," said Pam Hodge, 42, who is blind.

Stafford took the stand Friday, testifying that the plaintiffs may have a legitimate complaint. He told the court that he has several accessible voting systems ready, but that they are waiting for certification by the state.

Federal law requires accessible voting systems in all election precincts by 2006. The plaintiffs in this case want voters with disabilities to be able to cast a private ballot in all 268 Duval County precincts by the March 9 presidential primary.

Alley, a visiting judge from Oklahoma, said Tuesday that he is considering retaining jurisdiction after he rules on the case so he can monitor the progress of the county and state in providing accessible balloting equipment.

Related articles:
"Disabled voters say they're humiliated" (Florida Times-Union)
"Voting woes vex Stafford" (Florida Times-Union)
"Judge considers keeping special watch on disabled voters case" (Florida Times-Union)

"Wrongful Life" Case Overturned By TX Supreme Court
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

AUSTIN, TX, OCT 1 2003 -- In a case closely watched by disability rights advocates, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that doctors do not need to have parental permission before taking emergency measures to save the life of infants with disabilities.

In a 7-0 ruling, the high court threw out the $60 million award given to Mark and Karla Miller. The couple had sued HCA Inc., the company that owns Women's Hospital in Houston after their daughter, Sidney Ainsley Miller was born four months premature in 1990.

The Millers claimed that doctors informed them before Sidney was born that she would likely have severe disabilities. But after she was born, doctors ignored their requests that "no heroic measures" be taken to keep Sidney alive. Doctors gave oxygen to the newborn through a throat tube because her underdeveloped lungs would not breath on their own.

Attorneys for the hospital argued that once Sidney was born, doctors were obligated to do whatever it took to keep her alive.

The state Supreme Court agreed with the hospital, noting that the courts and state law recognize parents rights, but that there are limits when it comes to withholding treatment.

A Harris County jury in 1998 awarded the $60 million to the Millers, but that award was thrown out on appeal. The Supreme Court ruling validates the appellate court decision.

"It was not a case of choice. She was born," said Bob Kafka, organizer of the disability rights group ADAPT. "Do disabled children have a right to live? To us, it's about how disabled people's lives are valued. Even people with significant disabilities should not be terminated just because of those disabilities."

Related article: "Court rejects $60 million judgment for family that sued hospital" (Associated Press via Dallas Morning News)

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