Communications Department

Spurred by Schindler-Schiavo Case, Model Law to Prevent Starvation and Dehydration Proposed

Oct 22, 2003 | 2003 Press Releases

In response to the six-day denial of food and fluids to Terri Schindler-Schiavo, the National Right to Life Committee is calling on state legislatures throughout the nation to move to protect people with disabilities from being denied food and fluids.  The organization is issuing a “Model Starvation and Dehydration of Persons with Disabilities Prevention Act.”

“Far from being an isolated instance, the attempted starvation and dehydration of Terri Schindler-Schiavo is typical of the denial of food and fluids in less publicized cases taking place daily in nursing homes and hospitals across America,” said Burke J. Balch, J.D., director of the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, affiliated with the National Right to Life Committee.

“For years, people who never asked to die have been quietly starved without much public attention, based on state laws and court opinions that permit third parties to make deadly decisions with little or no scrutiny or accountability,” Balch said.  “The outcry over the Schindler-Schiavo case has awakened millions of Americans to the inhumanity of this practice.  Now we must act to reverse this trend, and restore a presumption against starvation and dehydration.”

The proposed model law, drafted to be easily adaptable for each state, is written to be constitutional under the governing precedents of the United States Supreme Court.  It would create a presumption that those incapable of making health care decisions would wish to get food and fluids so long as their provision is medically possible, would not itself hasten death, and can be digested or absorbed so as to sustain life.

The presumption would not apply if the person has specifically authorized withholding or withdrawal in an applicable legal document (advance directive).  To comply with governing court precedent, the presumption would also not apply if there is clear and convincing evidence the person gave express and informed consent to rejection of food and fluids.  The bill carefully defines “express and informed consent” to ensure that casual or uninformed statements cannot be used to meet the “clear and convincing” evidence test.

“We must not let the horror and outrage over the attempted starvation and dehydration of Terri Schindler-Schiavo dwindle and die away before we have acted to secure protection for the thousands facing similar fate,” said NRLC Executive Director David N. O’Steen, Ph.D.