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Terri Schiavo and the Disability Rights Community

25 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2006  

Lois L. Shepherd

University of Virginia Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities; University of Virginia School of Law


According to many disability rights organizations, the issues surrounding the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube were disability rights issues. Many such organizations joined the fight against the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube and, following her death, have urged changes in state legislation that would restrict the removal of nutrition and hydration from individuals who have never clearly expressed a desire to refuse such treatment. Concerned to limit the effect of inappropriate "quality of life" evaluations in decisions to remove life support, these groups have characterized the permanent vegetative state as a condition of disability indistinguishable in many respects for other disabilities. This article examines the implications of these positions for people who are profoundly developmentally disabled. It argues that the view that the permanent vegetative state is merely at one end of a continuum of disabilities appears to serve neither the profoundly disabled person who has entered a permanent vegetative state, nor profoundly disabled people in general.

Keywords: schiavo, profoundly disabled, developmentally disabled, disability, disability rights, end of life, nutrition, hydration, feeding tube, persistent vegetative state, permanent vegetative state, pouloit, cantor, dignity, bodily integrity, best interests, life support, life-sustaining treatment

Suggested Citation

Shepherd, Lois L., Terri Schiavo and the Disability Rights Community. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2006; FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 188. Available at SSRN:

Lois L. Shepherd (Contact Author)

University of Virginia Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities ( email )

Box 800758
Charlottesville, VA 22901
United States
434-982-3970 (Phone)

University of Virginia School of Law

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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