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'Don't let me starve'

Law | A recovered stroke victim joins the fight to save Terri Schiavo

Issue: "Francis Schaeffer's legacy," March 26, 2005

On Oct. 27, 2003, Schiavo and his lawyer, George Felos, chatted across the table with Larry King on the talk-show host's famously glossy, back-lit set. Six days earlier, the Florida legislature had passed-and Gov. Jeb Bush had signed-Terri's Law, a measure that enabled the governor to order reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Acting on Mr. Schiavo's court-sanctioned orders, doctors had removed Mrs. Schiavo's lifeline on Oct. 15, launching a slow starvation death.

Had the government not stepped in, Mr. King wanted to know, would Mrs. Schiavo's passing have been "a terrible death"?

"No," Mr. Schiavo said. "It's painless and probably the most natural way to die." He later told a caller, "It is a very easy way to die."

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Kate Adamson begs to differ. "It's anything but that. I lived through it."

A decade ago, Mrs. Adamson, then 33, suffered a double brain stem stroke that left her completely paralyzed, unable even to blink. Inside though, she was fully cognitive, able to understand doctors telling her husband she would either die or wind up "a vegetable." She wanted to, but couldn't, scream out when "people talked about me as if I wasn't a person, as if I didn't exist. . . . It was like being trapped underground and you're praying that somebody is going to be able to find you."

During 70 days of intensive care, doctors fed Mrs. Adamson through a tube. Then her digestive system failed, forcing them to remove the tube until her body could again eliminate waste. For the next eight days, she learned what it feels like to starve.

Unable to communicate, she remembers the terror of being "on the inside screaming out, 'Feed me something! I don't want to die! . . . I'm alive! I'm a person in here! Do not let me starve!' The hunger pains were unbearable," she said. "I thought I was going insane."

On the ninth day, doctors reinserted her tube. Now at age 43, Ms. Adamson has regained most of her physical abilities and become an advocate for the disabled. On March 14, 2005, she testified before the Florida legislature in support of HB701. The bill would prevent doctors from removing a persistently vegetative patient's feeding tube without either a written advance directive or "clear and convincing" evidence that the patient had, while fully conscious, verbally declared that to be his or her wish. The Florida House passed the bill on March 17.

Michael Schiavo claims, and a court agreed, that his wife once told him during casual conversation that she would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially. Mrs. Schiavo, of Pinellas County, Fla., in 1990 suffered a seizure that left her severely brain-damaged. After a medical malpractice jury awarded him nearly $2 million for his wife's care and rehabilitation, Mr. Schiavo began fighting to have her legally starved to death, while her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, battled to save her.

Mrs. Schiavo is alert, laughs, cries, enjoys music, and coos when her mother visits. But court-appointed doctors insist that she is in a "persistent vegetative state." Despite medical testimony to the contrary, Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer ordered that her feeding tube be removed on March 18.

In Washington, D.C., last week, Rep. David Weldon (R-Fla.) and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) hurried a bill that would give people like Mrs. Schiavo new legal rights. Meanwhile, Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley said he hoped HB701 would send "the message out that we don't starve people to death in our culture."

But neither the state nor federal bill would stop Mrs. Schiavo's starvation march on its own. With a new federal law, the Schindlers would have to appeal for relief in federal court. Under HB701, they would have to return to state court to ask Judge Greer to stay his own order.

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