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State lawmakers introduce bill to prevent nutrition removal

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A bill has been introduced in the Alabama Legislature to prevent nutrition from being withheld from patients like Terry Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tubes were removed after a lengthy court battle between her husband and her parents.

Rep. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said Monday he is sponsoring the Alabama bill, which would prevent the removal of nutrition from a patient who does not have a living will, which specifies the degree of medical care desired, or a clear legal guardian.

"This bill will make sure that the person making the decision to withdraw food and water has the best interest of the patient at heart," Brewbaker said. "The purpose is to protect the right of people who can't protect their own lives."

Congress passed a bill Monday to let Schiavo's parents ask a federal judge to prolong Schiavo's life by reinserting the feeding tube.

Michael Ciamarra, vice president of the Birmingham-based Alabama Policy Institute, said Brewbaker's bill is needed because Alabama law is vague concerning who makes the decision concerning removing life support or nutrition from an incapacitated person, when that individual has not left instructions in a will or does not have a clear guardian.

The bill will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee. The chairman, Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said Monday he has not seen the bill, but will make sure it gets a hearing in his committee.

Black, an attorney, said Alabama law does allow for living wills, where a person can say if he or she wants life support or nutrition if they can't make the decision for themselves. He said the decision is normally made by the next-of-kin if there is not a living will.

"It's a tough decision to make and a lot of times family members disagree on what should be done," Black said.

"Government's limited function is to protect life and liberty, with life being the most important," Brewbaker said.

He said he was partly inspired to introduce the bill because of his experience in caring for his 6-year-old son, Ben, who suffers from spina bifida. He said he has been around many people with disabilities since his son was born.

"You tend to look at their lives from a distance, but when you get to know them, you see they are happier, more content and more filled with passion than most able-bodied people," Brewbaker said.

Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly because of a possible potassium imbalance brought on by an eating disorder. She can breathe on her own, but the feeding tube is necessary to keep her alive.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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