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Death of Brain-Damaged Florida Woman Fuels Debate About End-of-Life Issues

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Americans are debating many questions related to the death of Terri Schiavo. Treatment of the severely brain-damaged woman has raised important questions about hopelessly sick and injured patients. Missus Schiavo was the center of a major medical and legal battle that even involved Congress and President Bush.

Missus Schiavo died Thursday in the state of Florida. She was forty-one years old. Her death came thirteen days after her feeding tube was disconnected. The tube was keeping her alive.

Terri Schiavo was among at least ten thousand Americans with conditions their doctors say are beyond hope. Examinations showed that important parts of Missus Schiavo’s brain had been destroyed.

Fifteen years ago, Terri Schiavo suffered a heart attack at age twenty-six. Lack of oxygen damaged her brain. She was kept alive by a feeding tube. Since nineteen ninety, some doctors described Missus Schiavo as being in a persistent vegetative state. Patients in this condition cannot communicate, react, think or control their bodies. Some doctors said she had no chance of recovering.

Terri Schiavo’s husband took legal control of her care. In nineteen ninety-eight, Michael Schiavo took legal action to have her feeding tube removed. Mister Schiavo said his wife would not want to be kept alive in her condition.

Missus Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, disagreed. They believed she wanted to live. Other doctors told them their daughter could be helped. For the past seven years, Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents have argued in courts about whether to remove her feeding tube and permit her to die.

State and federal courts repeatedly agreed with Michael Schiavo. Florida lawmakers agreed with the parents. On March twenty-first, the United States Congress passed a measure to permit a federal court to re-consider the issue. President Bush cut short his vacation to return to Washington to sign the measure. But finally, a judge ordered the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

Terri Schiavo’s case has produced a huge amount of coverage in the media. It raises questions about the role of government in private family decisions. Many people opposed the involvement of Congress and the president in the case.

Americans are deeply divided about such intense personal issues as when to end medical care. The case has caused Americans to consider questions about their own care at the end of life. Many people supported efforts to keep Terri Schiavo alive. However, other Americans feel strongly that they do not want to be kept alive if there is no chance for them to recover. Reports say many Americans are taking steps to let their families and doctors know what treatments they would or would not want at the end of life.

IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English, was written by Jerilyn Watson. I’m Steve Ember.