Mary Johnson on the Schiavo Case
"It's one thing to refuse a feeding tube for ourselves, but it's quite another when someone else makes that decision," says Diane Coleman, head of Not Dead Yet, a national disability-rights group. "Disability groups don't think guardians should have carte blanche to starve and dehydrate people with conditions like brain injury, developmental disabilities -- which the public calls "birth defects" -- and Alzheimer's. People have the right not to be deprived of life by guardians who feel that their ward is as good as dead, better off dead or that the guardian should make such judgments in the first place.
More than two dozen national disability-rights groups -- including the American Association for People with Disabilities, the National Coalition on Self-Determination, Self Advocates Becoming Empowered and the World Institute on Disability -- have been worried about the Schiavo case. Many have been following this case for years, feeling that crucial questions remain unanswered. The case echoes other, less public ones: It's a rare week that passes without some report of a spouse killing his or her elderly mate, or parents ending the life of their disabled child. Is it any wonder disability- rights activists are alarmed? Guardians too often value the life of their ward far less than the ward values his or her own life.