Mother of Severely Disabled Child
Speaks Out on Terri Schiavo
By Linda Evans Shepherd
Today we mourn the passing of an innocent soul, Terri Schiavo,
sentenced to die by the Florida courts for the crime of PVS (persistent
vegetative state), which may have been a false diagnosis.
Sixteen years ago, my then 18-month-old daughter Laura was also
given a false diagnosis of PVS as well.
“Scientifically speaking, you can’t tell pvs from
coma,” I challenged the medical community at the time.
Nevertheless, their recommendation was to pull the plug on Laura
and to diagnose me as being in a state of denial. I stood firm
and kept Laura ‘plugged in.’ “God can take Laura
if He wants her, He doesn’t need me to pull her plug,”
Happily, time proved the doctors to be in the wrong about my
mental state as well as my daughter’s state of PVS when
she finally awoke from her coma, happy to be alive but severely
brain damaged, like Terri.
Hard to believe, but a false diagnosis of PVS happens up to 43
percent of the time. This is a frightening discovery as pvs appears
to be the newest capital crime.
Terri Schiavo was issued an “Order of Execution”
from Florida Judge George Greer even though she had not been re-evaluated
for pvs in more than five years. That original evaluation consisted
of a bedside observation and did not take place in a clinical
setting. My question is, was Terri even awake during her exam?
Did she dislike the doctor and therefore decided to give him the
cold shoulder? My daughter has often done that very thing to members
of the medical community in Denver.
Still we have to ask, why didn’t the courts allow a reevaluation?
This is especially puzzling as doctors and scientists are learning
the brain can regenerate itself. At least, that’s what one
neurosurgeon told me after viewing an MRI of my daughter’s
brain that showed remarkably less damage than the MRI taken 14
I for one believe Terri was not PVS, but alert enough to respond
and communicate to her friends and family.
Pam Hyink, a certified speech and language pathologist in private
practice in Boulder, Colorado, who had sent Judge Greer a signed
affidavit on Terri’s behalf, had seen the videos of Terri
and agreed that her PVS diagnosis was false.
Said Hyink, “In my 34 years of practice in working with
the disabled, there is no question in my mind that Terri Schiavo
communicated. I feel Terri could have been taught to use body
language such as eye gaze, tongue signals, head turning or eye
blinks in order to communicate in consistent ways.”
Terri’s husband has argued that Terri would not have wanted
to live her life ‘incapacitated.’ Did Terri share
that same opinion? Why didn’t anyone ask her? According
to her family, Terri was never given any speech or language communication
therapy. Why not? Why was half a million dollars, earmarked for
improving the quality of her life, spent in court to end her life?
“Terri needed a fair chance, a fair and appropriate evaluation
by a communications specialist,” Hyink said.
I agree. Pam Hyink helped my own brain-damaged daughter utilize
her tongue signals and taught her how to communicate effectively.
Today, 18-year-old Laura has about the same level of alertness
as Terri had and communicates very well with her signals. I am
absolutely convinced that Terri, if she’d been given a chance,
could have communicated effectively as well. Once she learned
to communicate, she could have answered questions like, “Do
I want to live?” Instead, the court and her husband kept
My daughter has taught me that the profoundly disabled have a
purpose, even if only to love and to be loved. Terri had that
as her “quality of life.”
As a citizen, I believe the order of execution — to be
starved to death — was inhumane and unconstitutional in
a land whose citizens are created equal.
Judge Greer stopped the feeding of Terri by spoon, even disallowing
‘swallowing,’ which is a voluntary action. Does this
mean all disabled people who need a spoon feeding can be executed
if society decides the quality of their lives is not to its liking?
I shudder to think that even the elderly population of nursing
homes could be extinguished on these grounds, unless we change
As the mother of a similarly challenged person, I realize that
Terri’s crime of being disabled is one that has been committed
by millions of Americans. If we don’t stand up to protect
these precious persons, who will? And who will draw the line at
who is too disabled to live? Considering that the elderly and
disabled population was the first group targeting by death during
the Nazi holocaust, we have to ask, where does this stop? If we
as a society are unable to protect the innocent, we will lose
our very soul.
Linda Evans Shepherd
is a Christian author and speaker and the president of
Right to the Heart Ministries,
and publisher of the ezine Right
to the Heart of Women that goes to over 6,000 women leaders
of the church. Linda is also the host of the nationally syndicated
radio feature, Right to the Heart, heard on over 150 outlets a
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