In 2001, the Schindler family the parents, brother and sister of Terri Schiavo formed the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation to try to save the life of their loved one who, as her brother, Bobby Schindler, said to me recently, "was deemed unworthy of life because she was cognitively disabled." The judiciary and the press did not agree with that justified accusation that Terri was cruelly starved and dehydrated to death.
The foundation continues. "We fight daily," Bobby Schindler emphasizes, "to shed light on the fact that having a disability of any kind does nothing to diminish a person's inherent value and worth." A considerable number of calls come into the Schindlers from members of families faced with the desperate need to save the lives of their disabled loved ones from those who would end them.
"When the foundation gets a call," says Terri's brother, "we first ask if they need legal representation or also help from a neurologist or other medical expert." Referrals are then made to lawyers and doctors who agree with the foundation's vital educational, lifesaving work.
This is just the start, however, of the Schindler family's mission to counter the growing pressures for euthanasia; physician-assisted suicide; and the "futility doctrine" at hospitals that judge certain lives not worth living. The Foundation is now seeking support as it establishes such programs as:
"Terri's Alert an emergency notification system to notify our network and supporters when a person like Terri is threatened with the loss of care or treatment. Also, creating a Terri Schindler Schiavo Medical Center as a safe haven for those like Terri who need life-sustaining medical treatment denied to them elsewhere." (Terri was fatally deprived of water and food, though she was not terminal, and was responsive.)
Also in the works is a Terri Schindler Schiavo Legal Defense team in-house attorneys prepared to provide immediate legal assistance to families; a network of medical professionals around the country willing to provide lifesaving care as well as sustaining treatment for brain-injury victims.
Already, the foundation is involved in educating the public on guardianship laws in the states; health care surrogates; and advance directives; and warnings of the continuing introduction of what are actually pro-euthanasia bills in state legislatures, from so-called "right to die" organizations.
Bobby Schindler as funds are raised to implement these programs in a society also facing increased rationing of health care, with more lives that will be considered too "costly" to continue is an energetic presence on college campuses around this nation, while lecturing abroad to expose the practitioners of "the culture of death."
On one of his journeys, he spoke at Castle Hartheim, a center of killing unworthy lives in Linz, Austria during the Nazis T4 euthanasia program. It is now a memorial site to remind visitors of such ongoing crimes against humanity.
Currently, most of the financial support for the current work of the Foundation is mostly from small amounts sent by those concerned with cases of removal of feeding tubes, and other forms of abandonment of patients by judicial decree or decisions of hospital bioethicists.
"We only hear," says Bobby Schindler, "of the cases in which there is family disagreement. But thousands of conscious and unconscious patients will continue to die deliberate dehydration, and other often disguised or euphemized forms of euthanasia.
I am surprised that so far there have been no major donors. It's an indication that disability rights, including denial of life itself, are still of minor interest to much of the public and the far-flung media including the struggles of those families. The struggles of those families whose loved ones are far from dead, but, like Terri, are in imminent danger of being disappeared.
As Terri's father, Bob, has said: "We pay great lip service in this country to disability rights, but as the degree of a person's disability increases, the level of legal protection that person receives decreases." This can be changed only by action from those Americans who realize that we are all only temporarily able.
Those who do not want others to decide when they should die should consider helping sustain the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation.
To learn more about the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, its Web site is terrisfight.org. Located at 5562 Central Ave., Suite 2, St. Petersburgh, FL 33707, the phone number is (727) 490-7603. All donations to this nonprofit foundation are tax deductible.