Florida Lawmakers Introduce 'Terri's Law' in Congress

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:05pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Two Florida lawmakers Tuesday introduced legislation that could save the life of Terri Schindler Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman in Florida, whose husband is fighting to remove her feeding tube despite her family's pleas.

The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act (HR 1151 and S 539) would give Terri Schindler Schiavo and people in similar situations the same constitutional protection of due process as death-row inmates.

"This bill is not assuming a specific outcome for Terri Schiavo. It is not a right-to-life or a right-to-die issue," said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

"It is a very narrowly written piece of legislation to ensure that in very select cases - where there is a judicial dispute about the perceived wishes of the incapacitated individual and a court ordered cessation of nutrition, hydration and medical treatment - that proper legal representation is provided for individuals who have no voice for themselves and whose lives hang in the balance," added Martinez.

Martinez said the measure "ensures Terri has the same federal legal protections as convicted murderers. A federal habeas corpus proceeding will ensure her right to another hearing is followed before the court-ordered decision to end her life is followed through."

The Family Research Council applauded Martinez's measure as well as a bill sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) in the House.

"Dr. Weldon's legislation would allow Terri to have her own counsel that can argue her case, a right given to any criminal in the United States," said FRC President Tony Perkins in a statement. He pointed out that Terri's not a criminal "but a woman truly fighting for her life."

"The disabled deserve due process," said Perkins. "In the United States we don't execute people without due process and we shouldn't execute the incapacitated by starvation. Beyond being cruel and unusual punishment, this is an opportunity for Congress to finally check the power of runaway courts."

The National Right to Life Committee said the measure, also known as the federal "Terri's Law," is based on the "writ of habeas corpus" and would allow a federal hearing on certain state court orders that deny food, fluid or medical treatment deemed necessary to sustain life.

"Congress can act to ensure a federal court hearing on whether or not Terri will be forced to die of starvation and dehydration," said Lori Kehoe, congressional liaison for NRLC's Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics.

"A proceeding known as the 'writ of habeas corpus,' which is protected by the U.S. Constitution, has been used for centuries to give a hearing to those whose liberty has been constrained by state courts in violation of the Constitution or federal laws," said Kehoe.

She called on Americans to contact their senators and congressmen and urge them to support the measure.

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