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A Futile Fight Over Va. Man

'98 Case Similar to Schiavo's Taught No Lessons, Family Says

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page B01

Six years after Hugh Finn died a very public death in a Manassas nursing home amid a bitter family dispute, his wife and his brother watch the developments in the Terri Schiavo case and see that their fight did not change anything.

Michele Finn and her husband's brother, Edward, were on opposite sides of the decision to remove Finn's feeding tube, but they both thought that his death might bring about some change.

Frank Nuar and others pray for Hugh Finn outside Annaburg Manor nursing home in Manassas. Finn's case sparked a political furor. (1998 Photo Tyler Mallory For The Washington Post)

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"When this happened to me," Michele Finn said, "I thought and hoped that it would send a message to government to stay out of these decisions, these very heart-wrenching decisions. It is very disappointing to me that this has gotten up to Congress the way it did over the weekend."

Hugh Finn's brother, Edward, who disagreed with his sister-in-law's decision to withdraw the feeding tube, said his family lives with the circumstances of his brother's death every day.

"The Schiavo case and my brother's case are identical," he said. He said he thought the issues raised by his brother's death might have resulted in new laws proposed by politicians who opposed Finn's feeding tube being removed.

"It hasn't had any impact at all," he said. The Schiavo case, he said, "is the exact same case, different bodies, six years later. They are going through the exact same thing, and I can tell you from the experience I had that she is going to end up dead in six days. . . . They tell you it is a painless death, and they make it comfortable and all that. But it is not. It is painful as hell."

In 1998, Finn, 44, was in a Manassas nursing home. Doctors described his condition as a persistent vegetative state, and his wife, acting on his wishes, made the decision to remove his feeding tube.

Her decision set off a family battle that escalated when Finn's parents and brothers tried to stop her in court. When the court ruled in favor of Michele Finn, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) decided to intervene. He filed a motion in state court seeking to stop the withdrawal of Finn's feeding tube. The motion was denied, and Gilmore appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which rejected his appeal.

The former governor said he would follow the same course today.

"I was trying to take a timeout," Gilmore said yesterday, "but sadly enough, that became lost, because it became a political football."

Finn died Oct. 9, 1998. At his funeral, Michele and her husband's family attempted to reconcile. But today the scars are still there, the emotions once again rekindled by the Schiavo case.

"I just feel very fortunate that I only went through the process for about a six-month period," Finn said in a telephone interview from her home outside Louisville. "I can't imagine going through this for the amount of time the Schiavo family has."

When it comes to life-and-death decisions, arguments are largely based on emotion rather than the law, said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University Law School.

"The thing is," Turley said, "I have never seen such a disconnect between the political rhetoric and the legal reality as in this case. I have gotten a lot of calls from members of Congress, including two who were on the floor [Sunday] night, and it is striking how little appreciation there is for the law. The law is relatively clear in this area."

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