Judge Baird Rules "Terri's Law" Unconstitutional
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 6, 2004
TAMPA, FLORIDA--A local judge ruled Thursday that the law passed last October to keep Terri Schiavo alive, violates her right to privacy along with the state Constitution.
In his decision, Pinellas Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird wrote that "Terri's Law" improperly gave Governor Jeb Bush authority to have Terri's feeding tube reinserted after it had been removed under a separate court order. Baird added that the measure "unjustifiably authorizes the governor to summarily deprive Florida citizens of their constitutional right to privacy."
"By substituting the personal judgment of the governor for that of the patient, the act deprives every individual who is subject to its terms of his or her constitutionally guaranteed right to the privacy of his or her own medical decisions," Baird concluded.
The governor's office immediately filed an appeal. It is likely the case will eventually work its way to the Florida Supreme Court.
Disability rights advocates have been watching the legal battle over Terri's life for several years. Terri, 40, breathes on her own, but is given food and water through a tube installed through the wall of her stomach.
Michael Schiavo, who is her husband and guardian, and several doctors claim that she has been in a "persistent vegetative state" since she collapsed and her brain was without oxygen for several minutes in February 1990. The courts have consistently supported Mr. Schiavo's claims that Terri cannot recover from her brain injury, that she does not feel pain, and that she would not have wanted to live "by artificial means".
Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, believe that she is alert and responsive and that she could improve through therapies which Mr. Schiavo has denied her for at least the past 10 years. They have claimed that Terri's husband wants her to die so that he can marry a woman with whom he has fathered two children. The Schindlers want him removed as Terri's guardian and have pushed for an investigation into their allegations that he has abused, neglected and financially exploited her. They also suspect that Michael may have caused Terri's initial collapse.
The Schindlers and advocates have defended Terri's right to live, noting that allowing her to die by starvation would reinforce the message that the lives of people with certain disabilities are not worth living. Under pressure from disability rights and right-to-life advocates, Governor Bush championed the measure rapidly through the Legislature, giving him permission to order Terri's feeding tube reinserted six days after it had been removed.
Mr. Schiavo, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately filed the suit which Judge Baird ruled on Thursday.
Pat Anderson, who represents the Schindlers, said Thursday, "It is not surprising, but it is saddening, especially since Terri's parents have not been allowed to see her since March 29. This puts a particularly tragic aspect to all of this."
"The show is not over yet."
"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)
The Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation