- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

RICHMOND — Some lawmakers say the General Assembly next year will have to deal with legislation to address the type of end-of-life struggles that surrounded Terri Schiavo’s death in Florida.

“At a minimum, we need to say that you cannot just starve someone to death if there is no written declaration by the person in question,” said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican.

Mrs. Schiavo’s death Thursday, 13 days after the severely brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube was removed, angered religious conservatives and many disabled-rights activists and prompted demands for action by the states and possibly Congress.

“What we just went through was one of the most ghastly events in American history,” said Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun Republican.

Mr. Marshall said he is working on legislation similar to that which he introduced in 1999, the year after protests in Virginia in a case like Mrs. Schiavo’s. The legislation would preclude withholding water and nourishment to severely brain-damaged patients without clear, written directives left by the patient.

On Oct. 9, 1998, former Louisville, Ky., television anchor Hugh Finn died in a Manassas nursing home, eight days after the feeding tube that had sustained him for 3 years was removed on orders of his wife, Michele.

Mr. Finn had been unable to eat or care for himself since a March 1995 car crash in Kentucky ruptured his aorta, depriving his brain of oxygen.

A few months later, Mr. Marshall introduced legislation, which failed, to make it almost impossible to withdraw nutrition from people in a vegetative condition unless it’s authorized in writing by the patient. Where there is no explicit, written directive, other relatives could veto a next-of-kin decision to remove a feeding tube under Mr. Marshall’s legislation.

Delegate John A. Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican, said nutrition and water put into the stomach of an incapacitated patient through a surgically implanted tube is different from more drastic means of life support.

“Most people think of life support as a way to keep someone breathing or a heart beating,” he said. “Providing nutrition is not an artificial means of keeping someone alive.”

Virginia cannot address the issue until next year without a special session. The 2005 General Assembly adjourned in February and can address only bills the governor has amended or vetoed when it returns to the Capitol for a one-day session Wednesday.

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