Right-to-life and disability advocates were shocked this past September, as a new document surfaced in the battle to save Terri Schindler-Schiavo from her husband and the Florida state judiciary. The reported document appears on “Hospice of the Florida Suncoast” stationary under the title, “Exit Protocol.” It lays out, in chilling detail, the anticipated physical and medical deterioration Terri would suffer should her husband succeed in having her feeding tube removed.

Along with his attorney George Felos, Michael Schiavo – Terri’s husband – alleges that Terri is in a persistently vegetative state. Subsequently, he continues to claim in both the courts and the popular media that Terri would feel no pain should her feeding tube be removed. Michael is a nurse by profession.

Cheryl Ford is also a registered nurse. She has spent the past few years assisting Bob and Mary Schindler in the battle to save their daughter from starvation and dehydration. At the invitation of the Schindlers, Cheryl recently completed a comprehensive review of Terri’s medical records.

During this review, she discovered the so-called Exit Protocol, dated April 19, 2001.

The document admits that, “Upon discontinuation of enteral feeding, the following signs/symptoms may or may not occur. … pain/discomfort.” The document then details the numerous symptoms of pain and discomfort that hospice staff should anticipate.

These symptoms include the complete breakdown of Terri’s skin and internal organs, followed by slow asphyxiation as bodily fluids thicken, and in the final stages before death, muscle spasms and bodily seizures. At each stage of the degeneration, the protocol prescribes different forms of medication to deal with the symptoms.

Father Robert Johansen is a young Catholic priest and a popular cultural and religious commentator among his generation of Catholics in America. Over the past year, he has grown close to the Schindler family and often relieves Monsignor Malanowski, an elderly priest who serves as the family’s chaplain. In bringing the so-called Exit Protocol to the attention of The Interim, Johansen was visibly horrified by the protocol’s contents.

“George Felos, Michael Schiavo and all the other advocates of feeding-tube removal have been saying repeatedly that dying by denial of nutrition and hydration is ‘peaceful’ and ‘painless,'” Johansen observed. “They’ve both said so in interviews and press conferences, such as on Larry King Live. So if dying by denial of nutrition and hydration is, as Michael said, ‘painless and probably the most natural way to die,’ then why is medication needed for pain and discomfort?”

Johansen also takes issue with the purpose behind the various medications prescribed. “Most of the ‘treatments’ described in this Exit Protocol are in fact not directed at easing the patient’s true condition,” he stated in a follow-up e-mail to The Interim, “but in masking the symptoms of dying by starvation and dehydration. These treatments are designed to create the appearance of a peaceful slipping away,” when nothing of the sort is happening.

The medications hide the fact that the patient undergoes a lengthy and painful deterioration, in which his/her body wastes away cruelly. Johansen implores readers to remember this the next time they hear or read someone say that Terri should be “allowed to die.”