Both sides in Schiavo case ramp up outreach to press

WASHINGTON: Groups on both sides of the right-to-die debate have been mobilizing to convey their messages to the public.

WASHINGTON: Groups on both sides of the right-to-die debate have been mobilizing to convey their messages to the public.

Media outreach heated up after a court ordered the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, which is vital to the survival of the severely brain-damaged woman.

The surrounding right-to-die issue has also become politically charged. Congress held a rare Sunday session on the matter on March 20. In the early morning hours of March 21, President Bush signed the For the Relief of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo Act.

Claire Simons, director of media relations for Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based organization advocating for the rights of the terminally ill, said that media requests have doubled since the legislation passed.

"This is an issue that cuts across party lines," she said. "It's a personal choice issue."

The group, which supports the removal of the feeding tube, issued a news alert early in the week that made its membership aware of the developments.

Simons also has been busy setting up media interviews with her organizations' two on-staff experts, who have been quoted in The Washington Post, on NPR, and on CNN.

On the opposite side, Diane Coleman, founder and president of Not Dead Yet, an Illinois-based group that opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia for disabled people, said that several members of her group have traveled to Pinellas Park, FL, where Schiavo's hospice is located.

"There's a lot of concern in the disability community over potential abuse or wrongful decisions made by guardians," she said.

Republican senators have also been focusing on messaging, issuing a set of talking points about Schiavo on the Senate floor, ABC News reported.

Robert Traynham, communications director for the Senate Republican Conference, the GOP's communications shop, said that he was familiar with the talking points, though he did not know where they came from.

The case also has become PR fodder for religious groups like the American Life League and Focus on the Family, as well as living-will providers and state medical associations.

The case has played heavily in the media because it involves a young woman, a committed set of parents, and a husband who has had kids with another woman, said Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. "Had this been an 86-year-old woman who had a stroke," it wouldn't have gotten as much attention, he said.

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