CROWLEY: Among those keeping a close eye on the legal debate in the Schiavo case are people who work to protect the rights of the disabled. Joining me to share his perspective is Andy Imparato, the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. Thank you so much for being her here. What -- why do people with disabilities and those who represent them feel so strongly about this case? What's at the heart of it?

ANDY IMPARATO, CEO, AMERICAN ASSN. OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: First, let me thank you for bringing this perspective on your show, not only am I the president of the American Association of People With Disabilities, but I do have a disability, bipolar disorder. And you may not see a lot of connection between what I go through and what Terri Schiavo's situation brings up, but there are two core principles, really, from a disability perspective, that I want to emphasize:
One is that life with a disability is worth living. It's not a fate worst than death. And a lot of people in American culture still think disability is a fate worse than death and we think that helps them -- the people on the side to let Terri Schiavo die -- it helps them feel okay with that. Part of that comfort is devaluing the life of a person with a disability.
The other principle which is equally important is self-determination. People with disabilities should be able to determine for themselves what happens to them. That issue, the disability community is split on in the context of this case. Some people feel that Terri Schiavo should be able to determine for herself not to have food and hydration. Other people feel she may have made that decision in her early 20s, but she hasn't been given an opportunity to change her mind.
Part of self-determination is the ability to change your mind if your situation changes. A lot of people who are living with severe or significant disabilities, after they've lived with the disability for a few years, their perspective on their own condition changes dramatically and they actually see their quality of life as much higher than they might have imagined that it would have been before they acquired the disability.

CROWLEY: But in this case, Terri Schiavo's unable to tell us, to communicate in any way what her wishes might be. In that case, do you believe that the husband's word that his wife, indeed, would not have wanted to live like that is still not good enough?

IMPARATO: And again, I want to be clear that the disability community, on that question you just asked, is split. I can tell you what I personally believe, but I'm not speaking for the whole community. From my perspective, we need safeguards for people in Terri Schiavo's situation. Because we can't determine what her views are. If we accept as fact that we cannot determine Terri's current views, we need safeguards.
One of the things we're most concerned about is that not enough effort was made to see if she can communicate what her current wishes are. The husband has kept rehabilitation professionals, communication therapists -- people who could try to determine if there is an ability to communicate a desire here -- they've been kept away from her. She hasn't got the occupational therapy, the kinds of services we would expect somebody in her situation to get.

CROWLEY: To be perfectly blunt and honest and none of these questions are all that pretty, is the fear here that there could be a level of acceptance of this that would include people who will be denied medical treatment who want it?
Isn't that fear, people will die that don't want to die?

IMPARATO: Absolutely. The fear here is there is a slippery slope and when we start devaluing the lives of peoples with disabilities, we don't know where that's going to stop. You also need to take into account the financial implications of all of this. We have an economy that is not doing as well as it once was and a lot of people are looking at how can we save money. One way to save money is make it easier for people with disabilities to die. We don't want to see that happen.

CROWLEY: Andy Imparato, we really appreciate your input and following this case with you. Appreciate it.

IMPARATO: Thank you.

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