Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Protests Outside Schiavo Hospice Chaotic

Yahoo! News
Protests Outside Schiavo Hospice Chaotic

Sat Mar 26, 7:57 AM ET

By JILL BARTON, Associated Press Writer

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Jennifer Johnson, barefoot and in her pajamas, ran to her grandfather's bedside once a hospice worker said his death was moments away. She got there — one minute too late. Johnson said the chaos outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo is dying kept her from saying goodbye.

When Johnson arrived, a police officer demanded identification; she had none. And after a hospice employee cleared her, another officer halted her for a search with a metal detector.

The delays lasted three to four minutes — the last of her grandfather's life.

"It's a terrible, extra obstacle to put in front of a family. ... Everything is about Schiavo," Johnson said. "It's all about her and in my family's case, it cost us dearly."

Woodside Hospice has 70 patients besides Schiavo, whose parents are desperately trying to have her feeding tube reconnected. Dozens of protesters have arrived from across the nation since the tube was removed March 18, and at least 15 have been arrested, prompting a police barricade around the facility and unprecedented security.

Family members visiting patients must pass through a police checkpoint to park, then show identification outside the door before another security screening inside. They also must walk by scores of signs decrying Schiavo's "crucifixion," "torture," and "starvation," plus navigate around hordes of media who have been camped outside.

"To have to maneuver through all of this and have a hostile environment outside when all they want is peace and quiet and to enjoy those few days they have left with a loved one is a horror," said Dr. Morton Getz, executive director of Douglas Gardens Hospice in Miami.

Getz said many people with a family member in a hospice have to make the same excruciating decision that courts have made for Schiavo.

"It's causing a lot of grief and questions in their own mind on whether they did the right thing," he said. "It's unconscionable to have a family member to be near the end stages of life and to get there, you have to walk through signs that say, 'Murderer.'"

Most protesters direct their signs and their chants against the courts and Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, who insists she would not want to be kept alive artificially.

But walking through a hostile environment can only add stress to what's already an emotionally draining situation.

"It probably has the same psychological effect on the residents' families as it does on someone who is walking into an abortion clinic and facing signs and aggressive behavior," said Elizabeth Foley, a Florida International University law professor who specializes in bioethics.

Over the past few days, as Schiavo's parents' attempts to have their daughter's feeding tube reinserted repeatedly failed, signs outside the hospice have grown more desperate. Doctors have said Schiavo would probably die within a week or two of the feeding tube being removed.

Messages compare Michael Schiavo to Scott Peterson, convicted of killing his wife and unborn child in California, and John Evander Couey, who allegedly murdered a 9-year-old girl in Homosassa.

One woman in a wheelchair regularly moves up and down sidewalks in front of the hospice yelling in a megaphone, "We're disabled, not disposable!" and "Terri is a person, not a vegetable!"

Relatives of hospice residents say the clamor — intended to rattle Michael Schiavo — rattles their patience.

"It's a real pain in the neck," said Bill Douglass, whose mother-in-law is a resident. He said the only consolation is that she is "oblivious" to the outside scene.

Police and hospice officials say they are trying to minimize the intrusion on hospice residents and their families, and that the security measures are meant to protect the privacy and safety of all residents, not just Schiavo.

But Johnson, 24, said her 73-year-old grandfather, Thomas Bone, was restricted from moving freely around the hospice grounds during his final days. He died just hours after Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed and protests intensified.

"They've taken away hospice's greatest quality, that it is peaceful and serene and quiet and calming — and it's not fair," Johnson said.