Speaking Up for Terri: The 2004 LLDF Annual Attorney Banquet

Historic Jack London Square in Oakland was recently the site of the LLDF Annual Attorney Banquet. On Saturday, November 6, 2004, approximately 130 guests gathered at the Waterfront Plaza Hotel for an evening of camaraderie, good food, and moving speakers.

The evening began with a live auction conducted by The Survivors founder Jeff White. Jeff performed like a pro, getting top dollar from generous bidders for each of the donated items. Following the auction, the formal program began with Lt. Col. Ron Maxson, Army (Ret.) giving the invocation and leading the guests in a pledge of allegiance to the flag. Then, in addition to her annual “Year in Review” report, LLDF Executive Director Dana Cody gave a brief history of LLDF, recognizing that 2004 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the organization. LLDF President John Streett kept a full program moving along with his characteristic wit and spontaneity.

In her remarks, Dana observed that the LLDF office has been receiving an increasing number of telephone calls from people seeking advice relative to Terri Schiavo-type forced death cases. Dana pointed out that these calls give LLDF an opportunity to save lives without setting foot in a courtroom. As an example, she introduced Marilyn King who had come from Arizona to tell her story and to express her appreciation to LLDF.

Marilyn began by relating some of her experiences in caring for her mother, particularly as they relate to the attitudes of modern hospital management toward critically ill patients. Her mother, herself a role model of care giving, suffered from Parkinson’s disease. As the disease advanced, Marilyn sought treatment for her mother but received little assistance from the hospitals.

In three hospitals in succession, Marilyn received no help, but advice bordering on compulsion to let her mother die. She was intimidated and threatened (with calls to the police and to Adult Protective Services) because she asked for treatment for her mother, and refused to allow her to die.

Knowledge is power. After receiving coaching and advice from Dana, Marilyn returned to the hospital. “I adopted a whole new mindset. I was calling the shots,” she said. With courage born of confidence, she fired her mother’s doctors and obtained new ones who were willing to work with her to see that her mother received the treatment she needed.

Well-known author and pro-life and antieuthanasia advocate Wesley J. Smith introduced the evening’s featured speaker, Patricia Fields Anderson. Pat has been the attorney for Terri Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, for three and a half years. Mr. Smith also announced that Pat had been named LLDF Attorney of the Year. Pat’s modest response: “It’s not very often that you get an award for being stubborn.” Pat described the case of Terri Schiavo as one of “manifest injustice” in which “a death sentence [has been] imposed on an innocent person who did not have a lawyer.” Pat, with LLDF’s assistance, has been able to block all attempts by Terri’s husband to end her life. Michael Schiavo has been successful, however, in denying Terri not only rehabilitation, but also any stimulation whatsoever which might improve her condition. Pat’s husband Tom was removed from the approved list of Terri’s visitors after Michael learned that, over the course of several weeks, Tom had been playing music for her and had taught her how to say “yeah” and “no”. “Terri is,” said Pat, “on a no-stimulation program.” Nevertheless, nearly fifteen years after her collapse, Terri is still alive. Pat credits LLDF with keeping Terri alive by making it possible for Pat to speak on Terri’s behalf.

The keynote speaker of the evening is also able to speak for Terri—in a way that few others can. Kate Adamson was thirty-three years old when she suddenly suffered a severe stroke. She was paralyzed immediately and completely. Rushed to a hospital and lying in a bed, she could hear and understand what people around her were saying. She could not respond or communicate in any way. At first, she could not even blink her eyes. Her recollection sounds like many people’s worst nightmare: “I was totally trapped in my body. It was as if I were a ghost at my own funeral.” Kate listened to her doctors carry on detailed conversations about her condition, including their suggestions that she simply be allowed to die. And she would have died, had not heaven and earth been moved to keep her alive. As Kate tells it, “God moved Heaven, and Steven moved earth,” referring to her husband, Steven Klugman. On the earthly side, Kate gives full credit to Steven: “I could not have had a better advocate.” Kate also acknowledges the importance of one result of Steven’s determined and tireless advocacy: the opportunity to receive rehabilitation. With that rehabilitation, Kate was able to recover from a condition much like the condition in which Terri Schiavo has been for almost fifteen years. Has Terri heard and understood the debate which has raged around her over whether she should be “allowed to die”, as Kate did? If she were ever given the opportunity to receive rehabilitation, perhaps she could tell us.