Zogby, March 2005:

WASHINGTON (BP)–Americans apparently did not support the starvation and dehydration of Terri Schiavo after all.

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A new poll by Zogby International showed the public favors protecting disabled people such as Schiavo from being denied food and water, according to LifeNews.com. The survey results contradict those of surveys conducted before Schiavo’s March 31 death and commissioned by major news media organizations.

Schiavo, 41, died in a Pinellas Park, Fla., hospice 13 days after being disconnected from a feeding tube. The severely brain-damaged woman was at the center of a battle between her husband, Michael, and parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. Her husband contended she would not have wanted to be kept alive by a feeding tube, although no written guidelines existed. Her parents sought to keep her alive and offered to care for her. A state judge ordered her tube be disconnected March 18.

In the Zogby poll, the public was asked, “If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water?” The result showed 79 percent said the person should continue to receive food and water, while only 9 percent said food and water should be withheld, LifeNews reported. The question closely described Schiavo’s condition when her feeding tube was removed.

In a poll sponsored by ABC News and released March 21, however, 63 percent of Americans polled supported the disconnection of Schiavo’s feeding tube. The survey’s description of the woman said she had “suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible.”

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey issued March 22 reported 56 percent believed the feeding tube should have been disconnected, while 31 percent disagreed and 13 percent did not have an opinion. A CBS News poll released March 23 showed 61 percent agreed with removing the tube, while 28 percent were opposed and 11 percent had no opinion.

Potentially misleading information was provided in all three polls. Since Schiavo required no assistance for her heart and lungs, the ABC poll’s use of the phrase “life support” easily could have provided an inaccurate portrayal of her condition. Both the CNN and CBS surveys described Schiavo as being in a “persistent vegetative state,” a contention refuted by some neurologists, who said she could have been in a minimally conscious condition.

In other Zogby poll results, according to LifeNews:

  • 56 percent said guardianship should have been transferred to Schiavo’s parents, when they were told Michael Schiavo had a decade-long relationship with a woman who had given birth to two of his children; 37 percent disagreed.
  • 49 percent said there should be exceptions to the rule a spouse should act as the guardian for a severely disabled person; 36 percent said there should be no exceptions.
  • 43 percent said the law should presume an incapacitated person would want to live when he does not leave a written directive for medical care, even if he has a feeding tube, while 30 percent objected.
  • 42 percent said elected officials should order a feeding tube remain connected when there is a conflict over what the patient would have desired, while 18 percent said the tube should be removed.

Terri Schiavo’s Story