In "The Legal Death of Terri Schiavo" (May) Robert T. Miller may be technically correct that the courts did not violate any of Terri Schiavo's constitutional rights, but I take exception to his defense of their findings. According to Miller, the judges involved followed current law in refusing to defend Schiavo. Apparently none of them found it unconscionable that Schiavo should be put to death in this manner. Could they not have followed the voice of conscience that so many other judges claim to hear when they override laws passed by the representatives of the people, as activist judges have been doing for the past thirty years ? Why would anyone want to defend a lapse of moral conviction, as Miller does, choosing instead to put the blame on the culture of death? I am disappointed that someone who finds this judgment abhorrent would justify it in any way.
Marianne Linane, RN
National Association of
I read with interest "The Legal Death of Terri Schiavo." Unfortunately, Miller's article only skims the surface of what is really a much more complex case than it seems. While I agree that Florida law permitted the result, the untimely termination of Terri Schiavo's life was not a foregone conclusion, and any judge along the way could easily have reversed course to save Schiavo's life if he or she had been so inclined.
Under the U.S. Constitution, persons are not to be deprived of life without due process of law. In the context of death-row inmates, due process has been interpreted to include representation by independent and competent counsel. Ms. Schiavo was never appointed independent counsel. Her family was of limited financial means and did not have full and timely access to her medical records, including a bone scan done in 1991 showing major trauma and broken bones. They were unable to protect their daughter's interests fully during the 2000 trial.
At the time of Schiavo's collapse in 1991, which resulted in her debilitating condition, the law in Florida permitted the removal of extraordinary means of medical care in the absence of a written directive upon a showing of evidence that this is what the person would have wanted. It wasn't until 1999 that the law was changed to include artificial means of nutrition and hydration as a form of extraordinary medical care. Thus, even if Schiavo stated to her husband prior to her collapse that she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means, in 1991 such means did not include artificial hydration and nutrition. Ms. Schiavo had a fight to life at the time of her collapse, which meant not being deprived of food and water. Applying an ex post facto law to cause someone's death is certainly problematic under the Constitution.
Furthermore, while Mr. Schiavo was the preferred guardian under Florida law, nowhere was it mandated that he continue to serve as guardian if he developed a conflict of interest or if he failed to satisfy his duties as a guardian. Mr. Schiavo was living with his "fiancee" and fathered two children with her while seeking to remove his wife's feeding tube. The court could have granted a divorce and allowed her parents to take care of her. Moreover, Mr. Schiavo failed to file guardian reports as required under Florida law. The judge had the ability to remove Mr. Schiavo as guardian on that basis alone.
Another problem is that at least one of the so-called independent...