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  Finn's Widow Speaks to Va. Panel

By Donald P. Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 1999; Page B09

RICHMOND, Jan. 27—The widow of Hugh Finn, who became the center of a national debate over a brain-damaged patient's right to die, today accused Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III and other state officials of "trampling" her right to remove a feeding tube from her husband so the politicians could pursue "their own personal and political agenda."

Michele Finn, testifying before a legislative panel here today, accused Gilmore and two other Republicans, Attorney General Mark L. Earley and Del. Robert G. Marshall (Prince William), of trying to impose their "personal view of morality" on her rights as Finn's spouse and legal guardian to carry out his wishes to end his life.

"There never was any justification for their interference," Finn said at a hearing on a bill that would reimburse her for legal fees she incurred after Gilmore temporarily blocked medical personnel from withdrawing a feeding tube from her husband.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) introduced the measure, which would pay Finn the $48,000 she spent last fall fighting Gilmore's unsuccessful effort to persuade the Virginia Supreme Court to effectively prevent Finn from having the tube removed last fall. The governor wanted the high court to reverse a lower-court ruling that Hugh Finn was in a "persistent vegetative state" as the result of a 1995 automobile accident.

After hearing nearly two hours of testimony today, a Senate subcommittee voted 5 to 0 to send the bill to the full Senate Finance Committee, but not before toning down some of the language. Saslaw said that "there was a feeling [that] we might have come down a little too hard on the [Gilmore] administration."

Alternately tearful and angry, Michele Finn, who lives in Louisville with the couple's two children, said she hoped that no one else would have to endure "the heavy hand" of a state government that stepped into what she called a private matter.

The protracted legal struggle that ended with Hugh Finn's death in a Manassas nursing home Oct. 9 "fractured our family," Michele Finn told the panel.

The family's estrangement became clear when Michele Finn was followed to the stand by her sister, E. Elaine Glazier, who defended Gilmore's intervention, saying he acted "at the request of myself and other immediate family members when the court system failed to protect Hugh."

Glazier, who lives in Merion Station, Pa., said she has "not yet come across a family member or friends who heard anything . . . prior to the accident" about Michele Finn's contention that her husband had expressed the view that he be allowed to die if he should become incapacitated.

Glazier's remarks were in conflict with those of Michele Finn and Hugh Finn's Louisville attorney, who have testified in court that Finn had told them he should be allowed to die if such a situation ever arose.

Shortly after Glazier began speaking before the panel, Michele Finn – who no longer speaks to her sister – left the room. She returned in time to hear her sister say: "Hugh was denied what anyone on death row would have been granted without question – the automatic right to appeal to have all . . . information considered before he was cruelly starved to death. Hugh was deemed expendable."

Saslaw asked Glazier, "Are you accusing your sister of murder?"

Glazier did not reply directly, but she said that Hugh Finn had been responding to therapy until he was transferred to the Annaburg Nursing Home in Manassas from a hospital in Philadelphia and that even after several doctors who examined him there pronounced him to be in a persistent vegetative state, he had communicated with her and others.

Glazier also suggested that her sister doesn't need the money because she and her children were the beneficiaries of several insurance policies, totaling nearly $500,000.

Saslaw responded that such benefits were not germane to the claim.

Michele Finn said she resented Glazier's "insinuations that I did not have Hugh's best interests in mind."

Before the hearing, Marshall distributed copies of several letters from family members that praised the governor's intervention.

In a letter to Marshall dated Jan. 22, Hugh Finn's father, Thomas G. Finn, of Woodbridge, criticized Michele Finn for seeking to "recover legal expenses and in defending her right to murder my son."

The hearing attracted a half-dozen top aides to Gilmore, including his secretary of health and human services and the governor's attorney, David Anderson.

"It's important that people understand that what the governor was being presented with was the interaction of so many family members . . . who had spoken with Hugh Finn, communicated with him," Anderson said in an interview.

The $48,000 that Saslaw is seeking for Michele Finn would be in addition to the $15,731 that a Prince William judge has ordered the state to pay her. The judge ruled that Gilmore's intervention in the Finn case violated legal prohibitions against frivolous lawsuits; the state is appealing the ruling.

Staff writer R.H. Melton contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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