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Reaction to Schiavo case mixed

March 22, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - "I must have missed something," Washington County attorney Joseph Chukla Jr. said about the debate over whether Terri Schiavo's feeding tube should be reinserted.

Under Maryland law, life-sustaining procedures are to be used automatically, unless a patient has indicated otherwise, in writing, Chukla said.

In this case, there is no written statement from Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman. Instead, courts are hearing her husband, Michael, argue that she wouldn't want to live as she is, said Chukla, who works with wills and estates.

Terri Schiavo's parents oppose Michael Schiavo's position and are fighting to keep her fed through a tube.

On Monday, President Bush signed a bill into law that says a federal court will have jurisdiction in the case, trumping a state court's order Friday to remove the feeding tube.

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The case is complicated in many ways, said Denis Woods, chairman of the political science department at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Not only are Schiavo's parents and her husband at odds over how she should be treated, but the action by Congress presents an "unusual situation," Woods said.

Typically, Congress is in the business of passing broad policies rather than passing a law dealing with a single issue, Woods said.

Woods declined to comment on what he thought of the decision by federal lawmakers.

Pastor Dean P. Pryor of Hagerstown Grace Brethren Church said Michael Schiavo gave up his rights as a husband by living with another woman and having children with her despite being married to Terri Schiavo.

Pryor said Terri Schiavo seems to have faint reactions to stimuli, which means she can think and function to some degree.

"If someone is able to breathe on their own and needs help being fed, that is still life," Pryor said.

Dr. Martin Gallagher, who founded the Community Free Clinic in Hagerstown, said it is not an issue for Bush or Congress to decide.

"This was a totally inappropriate intervention of government," Gallagher said.

He said Schiavo appears to be in a state known as coma vigil, in which a person is "in a coma, but appears awake."

But, to Chukla, Schiavo's condition is not clear.

He said she doesn't fit into the categories of terminal, persistent vegetative or end state because all three "usually rely on the idea that a person is getting artificial life support."

Terri Schiavo can breathe on her own and is not on a heart monitor, Chukla said.

It's also not clear if she could get better, Chukla said.

"You can't just rule it out across the board," he said.

Gallagher and Chukla agreed that the debate is a reminder of the importance of a living will, in which a person spells out his or her end-of-life wishes.

Gallagher said it's not a perfect case study, though.

"This is very muddied by politics," he said.

Regardless, Pryor said, Terri Schiavo should be thought of in prayers - which his congregation did Sunday morning and evening.

Louise Martin of Ranson, W.Va., said she believes Schiavo's fate should be left up to her husband. When someone gets married, that should sever any ties with parents regarding end-of-life decisions for that person, said Martin, who was working in downtown Charles Town, W.Va., Monday night.

"Personally, I think they should let the woman die in peace," Martin said.

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