Remembering Terri’s Fight 10 Years Later, Urgent Lessons for New Yorkers Today

Editor’s note. This comes from New York State Right to Life, NRLC’s state affiliate. Some of it applies specified to New York but most is a reminder of that dreadful day ten years ago today and the lessons we must never forget.

Terri Schindler Schiavo, shown here as she responds to the tender touch of her mother, Mary Schindler.

Terri Schindler Schiavo, shown here as she responds to the tender touch of her mother, Mary Schindler.

So many of us vividly recall the Schindler family’s public fight to save Terri Schiavo from her inhumane death by dehydration and starvation in 2005. Today, March 31, marks exactly ten years since her passing, and the fight to protect others like Terri is more urgent than ever.

Terri’s brother, Bobby Schindler, an advisory board member of NYS Right to Life, is executive director of Terri’s Life and Hope Network, an organization that works with patients and families facing denial of treatment. The sheer number of families seeking their aid highlights the prevalence of medical discrimination against those to whom providers refuse care based on quality of life judgments.

In a recent interview on The Glenn Beck Program, Schindler highlighted the erosion of medical rights and patient autonomy, particularly noting the classification of food and fluids as medical treatment, rather than basic care.

“That makes these people’s lives vulnerable, these people who are receiving only food and water like Terri…. People don’t realize how much… our medical rights have eroded and been put in the hands of complete strangers.”

His comments are particularly relevant for New Yorkers who currently face legislation that would weaken patient protections against denial of treatment.

Currently, New York State law has safeguards that require patients to explicitly instruct surrogates to refuse artificially administered food and fluids, rather than having a surrogate or provider assume that is what the patient would have wanted should they become incapacitated. This important requirement helps ensure informed consent and encourage careful consideration of the distinction between significant medical interventions and the provision of basic nutrition and hydration.

In the same interview, Schindler was asked what we can do about the increasing threats to patients. He said

“… Obviously it takes changing public policy. We have to find the laws to better protect these people.”

Making sure those laws are in place is a top legislative priority for NYS Right to Life. Concerned New Yorkers must get involved to stop the current attempt to weaken patient rights. Attending our Lobby for Life Day is one important way to stand up for the medically vulnerable and learn more.

Other current legislative proposals would take decisions regarding desired care out of the hands of patients:

Authorizing physicians to impose Do Not Resuscitate orders without patient or surrogate input

Empowering physicians to override family direction for treatment by claiming they know what the patient would have wanted

Weakening the requirement of parental notice before an emancipated minor child is denied care

Another issue raised by the important work of Terri’s Life and Hope Network is the lack of resources readily available to families who are suddenly faced with providers refusing care to their loved ones. Should current legal protections be weakened by any of the above proposals, NYS Right to Life proposes that such changes include the provision of information to families facing the involuntary denial of treatment to a loved one regarding resources to assist them in challenging it.

Bobby Schindler shared on The Glenn Beck Program that his father was never able to forgive himself for not being able to protect his daughter Terri from the horrific death she suffered, despite doing everything he could to try to save her. Ultimately, families are powerless to protect their loved ones from involuntary euthanasia unless the law is on their side.

Let Terri’s story serve as an urgent call to stand up for vulnerable patients and their families by securing the legal protection they need and deserve.