WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A Florida woman put on a feeding tube after she had a stroke is at the center of a court case that is similar to the lengthy legal dispute over the fate of Terri Schiavo.
Karen Weber, 57, has been periodically in a nursing home and a hospital in Okeechobee since her December stroke.
Much like the Schiavo case, Weber's husband and mother cannot agree how alert she is and whether she should be kept alive by a feeding tube. Unlike it, the family has remained cordial.
Weber does not have a living will and cannot talk. A judge issued an injunction, prohibiting the tube's removal, and has appointed a committee composed of a neurologist and two psychologists to determine her competency.
Weber's husband, Raymond, claims she is in a vegetative state. He sought earlier this year to have the tube removed and have his wife transferred to a hospice ward, where she would likely die. But Weber's mother and siblings are fighting to keep her alive, arguing she is alert and responsive.
The arguments are similar to those made about Schiavo, who was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state after her heart stopped in 1990.
Schiavo's husband wanted her feeding tube removed against the wishes of her parents. She died in 2005 amid protests outside her hospice after her husband prevailed in the polarizing dispute that reached Congress, President Bush and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Weber's husband and mother, Martha Tatro, have remained cordial, often visiting the woman together in the hospital.
Tatro, however, refuses to let her daughter die.
"She doesn't want this," Tatro said Tuesday.
Raymond Weber would only say: "I don't want this to become a media event." His attorney, Colin Cameron, said his client does not want this case "to turn into a Terri Schiavo-type circus."
"Mr. Weber is of the opinion that Karen does not want to live as a vegetable and that she would prefer the body to take its natural course," Cameron said.
Raymond Weber did not contest the March injunction that kept his wife's feeding tube in place, Cameron noted. If the judge determines that Karen Weber has the capacity to make her own choices, Raymond Weber would abide by the decision.
"There is no intent at this point to fight what's going on," Cameron said.
Tatro's attorney, Joseph Rodowicz, said he visited the woman in March and April, and that she was responsive and aware. Using body language, she indicated she did not want the feeding tube removed, he said.
"I actually witnessed her moving her hands and responding," Rodowicz said. "Based on that, my view of the law is that she's competent enough to make her own determinations and she made it clear to me that she does not want to go to hospice."
However, an attorney appointed by the court to represent Karen Weber said he visited her about two weeks ago and she was unresponsive.
"Now whether she comes and goes or has good days and bad days, that's yet to be determined," said the attorney, John Cook.
Tatro claims the drugs her daughter is taking, including powerful pain medications, can affect her awareness at times.
Her prognosis is unclear, but Rodowicz noted that "people wake up from comas. ... She's certainly not in a vegetative state."
Rodowicz also noted that even the existence of a living will in this matter wouldn't solve the problem.
"The question is when do you reach that incompetence level? When does that living will trigger?" he said.
Weber's mother acknowledges she likely will never fully recover.
"She can live, though, if that's what you call recovery, and that's all that's important," Tatro said, crying. "She wants to live, and it's up to the good Lord what kind of life she has."