The public fires back at the TV star's comments regarding the right-to-die controversy

By Stephen M. Silverman and Tom Cunneff
Updated March 24, 2005 05:00 PM

Everybody Loves Raymond star Patricia Heaton has stirred up more controversy after speaking out this week regarding Terri Schiavo, whose life-or-death story has gripped the nation.

Heaton, 47, voiced her opinions about the case on both Entertainment Tonight and the Feminists for Life Web site, saying, “We must not let Terri Schiavo be starved to death.” The comments followed last Friday’s decision to remove the 41-year-old Florida woman from life support after having been in a vegetative state for nearly 10 years.

“This deliberate and painful destruction of a woman’s life cannot be justified or tolerated. Terri deserves better,” Heaton said in a statement.

Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, saying that he is honoring his wife’s wishes to die, has asked that Terri be permitted to expire in private, while her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, say such action goes against Terri’s Catholic upbringing.

Continues Heaton: “By his actions Michael Schiavo has demonstrated that he should not be the one making the ultimate life or death decisions for a woman who, only in legal terms, remains his wife. … Feminists have always challenged the idea that married women have no rights of their own,” said Heaton. “A husband should not be granted absolute control over his wife’s fate, especially a disaffected husband with dubious motives.”

Heaton’s comments have sparked a backlash from those who feel the actress has overstepped her bounds. A Heaton fan Web site was bombarded by angry posts, prompting administrators to take down Heaton’s message board. A notice on the site now states: “The ‘Goodbye Raymond’ guestbook is not accepting any entries at present.”

Heaton tells PEOPLE she’s not concerned about the backlash. “It does not affect me one bit,” she says. “I don’t have any concern over it. My feeling is I’m standing up for someone who has no voice. If people have a problem with that, so be it.”

Seems everyone is taking shots at her, even Howard Stern, who said today he wants to pull her feeding tube. “When I heard that, I was disappointed because I was just about to give him power of attorney,” she jokes, “and I don’t think I’m going to do that now. I’m taking him right back out of my will.”

Other celebrities adding to the debate surrounding Terri Schiavo include Mel Gibson and country singer Randy Travis. Gibson said, “I fully support the efforts of Mr. & Mrs. Schindler to save their daughter … from a cruel starvation. Terri’s husband should sign the care of his wife over to her parents so she can be properly cared for.”

A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 909 adults taken last weekend said that nearly six in 10 people think that Schiavo’s feeding tube should be removed and felt they would want to remove it for a child or spouse in the same condition.