WATERTOWN, March 31, 2005 ( – With the death of Terri Schiavo, disabled rights advocates are asking the inevitable question, ‘who’s safe?’ Michael Schiavo’s successful bid to have his wife starved to death rested on his alleged recollection of an offhand comment Terri made years before while watching a television programme about Karen Ann Quinlan. Observers are warning that judicial acceptance of such flimsy evidence poses a threat to everyone. Cases like Schiavo’s and numerous others like it, show that anyone might fall into the hands of relatives, hospital bioethics committees or courts with ideological biases in favour of euthanasia.

One young woman, who contacted, told a story that was chillingly similar to Terri’s, but because of the steadfastness of her family, one which had a very different outcome.

Alicia Townsend is a 19 year-old first-year student at Southern Connecticut State University living in Watertown, Connecticut, who suffered a hemorrhage during brain surgery. Townsend went into a coma and after that was diagnosed with ‘locked-in’ syndrome, a complete paralysis of voluntary muscles in all parts of the body except for those that control eye movement. Townsend said that the doctors in charge of her care were not sure if she was conscious.

Unlike Terri Schiavo, Townsend displayed absolutely no responses to stimuli. She told, “I had minimal reflexes and had my eyes open and only stared straight ahead.” She said her situation was worse than that of Terri, “I was on a ventilator for several weeks, but the (tracheotomy tube) remained in place after that.” Later, she said, she was able only to wiggle two fingers.

Also unlike Terri, Townsend’s whole family was completely supportive of her rehabilitation. “It was only my family who continued to tell the staff that I was aware of what was going on. They brought in specialists then to try and find a way to communicate with me. After months of people working with me every day they found that I could blink once for ‘yes.’” Doctors recommended she be transferred to a convalescent home, but her family insisted she be checked in to a rehabilitative centre.

She said her mother and sister stuck by her in her struggle to recover. “They were convinced that I was ‘in there,’ even though I wasn’t able to move and they made it their goal to help me find my way ‘out.’ There was so little going on with me that I could see how someone could think I was not even conscious and may have left me to do nothing.”

Today, she says, “I can’t swallow or walk, and can only get nutrition through my feeding tube. I also have problems with sight, hearing and strength all over. I try to focus on bettering these issues, but in the mean time I try to be hopeful.”

In the face of those who insist that death is preferable to serious suffering, Townsend says, “If you asked me 4 years ago if I would want to be kept alive if I was severely disabled, I may have said no. But I have been fighting every day to stay alive and to get better. Sure I would have preferred to be healthy and be able to do everything, but I’m alive and there is always hope.”


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