By Daniel J. Vance


  By the time you read this, Terri Schiavo could be dead. On October 15, Judge Greer of the 6th Judicial Circuit in Clearwater, Florida, ordered Terri's feeding tube disconnected to fulfill her estranged husband's wishes. Then again, by the time you read this the Florida legislature or Gov. Bush may have saved her.

  Either way, a group of Florida judges have created a seminal event in the history of disability, and America.

  In August I interviewed Terri's father Bob Schindler, who was trying to save his daughter. He confirmed that Terri could see, hear, swallow, make noise, move her limbs, and maintain her own breathing and heartbeat. She was alert. She was not on life support. She had only a feeding tube. An accident in February 1990 caused severe brain damage.

  "Terri can track objects by moving her head and eyes," Bob said. "Her husband stopped therapy ten years ago. If she had physical therapy [her condition] would [improve]. She tries to communicate, but we can't distinguish her words. Though I have no training, I worked with her nearly a month. It would get to the point that when I said something she'd respond."

  Yet these judges have ruled that Terri is in a "persistent vegetative state." Husband Michael Schiavo says that Terri once told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her father says such a statement would have been out of character. Since 1998 Florida judges have sided with Michael.

  But all they had to do was watch video at www.terrisfight.org to see Terri wasn't a "vegetable."

  At least eight disability rights groups supporting Terri filed "friend of the court" briefs. Schindler said, "They view this [ruling] as a threat to disabled people." Recently, disability advocate and quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada joined a vigil for Terri. She posted on her website: "Terri's fundamental right to life has been denied, all because she is severely disabled…I cannot begin to describe the outrage, actually the righteous indignation I feel, to think that the Florida State Supreme Court as well as the U.S. Federal Court have turned their backs on this young woman."

  Terri's only crime was her disability, and for it she received the "death penalty." What most disturbs this columnist is the precedent set. These Florida judges have greased a slippery slope by creating a cultural test case for human "viability." For more see www.danieljvance.com