Ohio's deathbed filibuster

The state that was key to Bush's reelection is now leading the charge on post-Schiavo legislation pushing the right-to-life agenda.

Published April 12, 2005 9:41PM (EDT)

Not quite two weeks after Terri Schiavo's death, states including Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan and Ohio have introduced end-of-life legislation to clarify proceedings for cases in which a patient has not left a living will. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the proposals have a pro-life slant; Alabama's bill is called the "Starvation and Dehydration Prevention Act."

The hastily penned bills have already stalled in several states -- but members of the Ohio senate are just getting warmed up, responding to what they call the "tragedy surrounding the death of Theresa Marie Schiavo" by proposing to empower state officials and distant relatives. Blogger Chris Geidner of Law Dork has a copy of a letter from state senators Jeff Jacobson, R-Butler Twp., and Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, inviting other senators to co-sponsor a bill that would allow the state's prosecutors and attorney general to present evidence in family disputes taken to probate court.

In addition to inviting the state to influence judicial proceedings, the bill would reconfigure how a patient's various family members are empowered to make his or her end-of-life decisions. The language seems to set the stage for family feuds, a kind of deathbed filibuster that favors the right-to-life agenda: "An individual's guardian, spouse, child(ren), parents, or a majority of siblings all have a right to intervene when determining whether to withhold or withdraw nutrition and hydration in the absence of a living will, durable power of attorney over healthcare, or express consent Presently, only the highest priority class [of family member] available can decide to withhold or withdraw nutrition and hydration; those individuals in a lower priority class who disagree would not be consulted until the matter is considered in probate court. This proposal would enable any priority-class individual to have a voice in preserving their loved one's life."

Geidner also has a letter pitching similar legislation in Ohio's House, which takes an even more extreme view. The sponsor of that proposal, Rep. Derrick Seaver, R-Minster, would give decision-making power to the first family member on the list who seeks to "sustain the life of the individual," provided that the family member in question is also willing to "incur the cost of [the individual's] medical care."

With Congress considering federal end-of-life legislation, and other states struggling with their own, Ohio has the potential to set a precedent -- one that will keep families fighting, and the government's hand reaching into the heart of their worst struggles.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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