“Ms. Schiavo, like all people, incapacitated or not, has a federal constitutional right not to be deprived of her life without due process of law.
In addition to the rights all people enjoy, Ms. Schiavo has a statutory right under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) not to be treated differently because of her disability. Obviously, Florida law would not allow a husband to kill a nondisabled wife by starvation and dehydration; killing is not ordinarily considered a private family concern or a matter of choice. It is Ms. Schiavo’s disability that makes her killing different in the eyes of the Florida courts…
While we should not assume that disability prejudice tainted the Florida courts, we cannot reasonably assume that it did not.
…The legislation enabling Ms. Schiavo’s parents to sue did not take sides in the so-called culture wars. It did not dictate that Ms. Schiavo be fed. It simply created a procedure whereby the federal courts could decide whether Ms. Schiavo’s federally protected rights have been violated.
In the Senate, a key supporter of a federal remedy was Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a progressive Democrat and longtime friend of labor and civil rights, including disability rights. Harkin told reporters, ‘There are a lot of people in the shadows, all over this country, who are incapacitated because of a disability’…
I hope against hope that I will never be one of those people in the shadows, that I will always, one way or another, be able to make my wishes known… But if it happens otherwise, I hope whoever is appointed to speak for me will be subject to legal constraints. Even if my guardian thinks I’d be better off dead–even if I think so myself–I hope to live and die in a world that recognizes that killing, even of people with the most severe disabilities, is a matter of more than private concern.”Mar. 23, 2005