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Life, death tug of war
in Florida courtroom
Posted By Diana Lynne On 11/13/2002 @ 8:52 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled
CLEARWATER, Fla. – The blown-up photograph of a daughter smiling at her mother sits on display in the
courtroom, and represents a line in the sand in the life-and-death tug of war over 38-year-old Terri Schindler-Schiavo currently being weighed by a Florida judge.
In the photograph, Terri has a radiant expression of love on her face as she gazes into that of her mother, Mary Schindler.
Pat Anderson, the attorney representing Terri’s family, says the image, gleaned from videotape
presented as evidence in last week’s trial, indicates the brain-damaged woman shows cognitive function that could improve with proper treatment and therapy.
George Felos, the attorney representing Terri’s husband Michael Schiavo, calls Terri’s response to
her mother an involuntary reflex by a woman in a persistent vegetative state that therapy and treatment
will not alter.
It’s the task of Circuit Judge George Greer to determine which argument to believe in formulating his ruling on Schiavo’s petition to have Terri’s feeding tube removed. Such an action would cause Terri to die by dehydration and starvation. Judge Greer already ruled in favor of Schiavo in February 2000 and Terri’s feeding tube was removed for three days in April 2001 before a series of appeals put his order on hold.
An appellate court, after affirming Greer’s ruling in one trial, reversed itself and remanded the case back down to the trial court, essentially ordering a new trial to determine Terri’s condition, the availability and efficacy of treatments for her and their acceptance within the medical community. Greer heard closing
arguments in this trial last week.
In February of 1990 at the age of 26, Terri collapsed at home and oxygen was cut off to her brain for several minutes. The cause of the collapse was determined to be a cardiac arrest induced by a potassium imbalance, although testimony given in this latest trial suggests Terri also suffered a neck injury.
Though severely brain-damaged, Terri breathes and maintains a heart beat and blood pressure on her own. She can see and move her limbs. But she needs a feeding tube to sustain her life. In the first couple of years after her collapse Terri received rehabilitative therapy and progressed to the point of saying “no,” according to nurses’ notes. She would also say, “yes” and “stop that,” according to her parents. But in 1993, the therapy was discontinued and Terri was relocated by her husband to one nursing home and then another before ultimately being moved to a hospice in 2000 where she remains.
Right to die?
The multi-faceted and precedent-setting court battle over Terri began in 1998 and has galvanized disabled and pro-life groups in opposition to what’s perceived as an important foothold for the right-to-die movement.
“Issues are complicated to people without principles. If you stand on little points of the law, this might
be complicated,” Christina Brundage, a registered nurse who worked at Terri’s hospice and is one of the dozens of pro-life advocates who turned out at the trial to support the Schindlers, told WorldNetDaily. “If you’re a human being, it’s simple. You either kill her or you don’t kill her. It’s clear,” she added.
“Have we raised sufficient issues, in the words of the 2nd [District Court of Appeal], that there might
be some doubt that she should die?” Anderson queried in her closing arguments. “Because if the court is
not a hundred percent satisfied that the facts and the law permit it, she can’t be made a sacrificial lamb
on the stage of the right-to-die movement,”
WND incorrectly reported that Felos is an advocate of euthanasia. Felos stresses he advocates the withdrawal of feeding tubes, but opposes euthanasia, which he defines as “the active intervention of an external agent to end a life” and, as he pointed out, is a criminal act. Further, Felos said he is a staunch supporter of better end-of-life care for patients which he believes will reduce public support for euthanasia and asssisted suicide. WND regrets the error.
In 1996 Felos served as the legal advocate for Estelle
Browning’s right to die, another high-profile Florida case. href="http://www.bluedolphinpublishing.com/Litigation.htm">In a book about the case, he describes
how he “plumbed the depths of death and dying and spearheaded a social revolution to enable death with
dignity in the state of Florida.”
“Individuals have a right to control their own body and the right to choose what medical treatment they
want and what medical treatment they don’t want,” Felos told WND. “If you’ve made the decision that medical treatment is no longer a benefit for you and you don’t want it, then you do have the legal and constitutional right to refuse it. And I’m an advocate of allowing people to enforce that right.”
One of the two neurologists Felos solicited to give expert testimony in last week’s trial, Dr. Ronald Cranford, is a bioethicist and renowned proponent of euthanasia. Cranford calls himself, “Dr. Humane Death.” According to the staff directory
for the University of Minnesota Medical School, “Dr. Cranford has specialized in the field of clinical ethics since the early 1970s. During this time, he served as a consultant to several national commissions on right-to-die issues.” Dr. Cranford is a familiar face at right-to-die trials across the country. He authored
a portion of a book entailed “Intended Death: The Ethics of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.” His section deals with the “physician’s role in killing and the intentional withdrawal of treatment.”
Still, Felos denies the Schiavo case is part of an agenda.
“This case is not about a movement or a philosophy. It’s about carrying out Terri Schiavo’s wishes,” Felos continued. “Her wishes, as found by the court in the last trial and affirmed on appeal, is that she did not want to be kept alive artificially.”
There is no written directive from Terri on the matter. In the 2000 trial, Judge Greer ruled on the basis
of testimony by Schiavo, his brother and sister-in-law that she made “casual statements” to them that she would not want to be kept alive artificially.
“My aim is to carry out Terri’s wishes,” Schiavo told WND. “If Terri would even know that I had
somebody taking care of her bodily functions, she’d kill us all in a heartbeat. She’d be so angry,” he added.
Bob Schindler, Terri’s father, questions who’s killing whom and wonders what Terri would say about
the night she collapsed if she could speak.
“He’s trying to kill Terri. That’s the bottom line. And for the past 10 years he has tried to kill Terri in one form or another,” Schindler told WND. “He tried to stop her medication for an infection. She would have died but the nursing home overruled him and treated her. That’s when he moved her to another
nursing home, by the way. He put a ‘do not resuscitate’ in her medical files,” he continued.
In recent days, family members have grown alarmed over finding the temperature in Terri’s hospice room
repeatedly set at 64 degrees Fahrenheit – prompting her to begin coughing – while the rest of the facility is kept warm.
The Schindlers allege Schiavo’s motivation is that once Terri dies, he stands to inherit money awarded from a malpractice lawsuit and placed in a medical-care fund for her.
“Once malpractice money came in February 1993 she was put on the shelf [in a nursing home],” Anderson declared in her closing arguments.
“She hasn’t had her teeth cleaned since 1995 when he decided to stop cleaning her teeth,” Anderson
told WND. “Never had a mammogram. She last had a pap smear in 1996.”
Victor Gambone, Terri’s attending physician hired by Schiavo in 1998, testified he was unsure
whether his patient had her teeth cleaned in recent years and said she hadn’t received therapy. He said he accepted Schiavo’s word that therapy had been deemed unnecessary.
Schiavo shrugs off the Schindlers’ accusations as “useless words from useless people,” and claims the Schindlers’ motivation is that they didn’t receive any of the malpractice money.
“Somebody else can have that money,” he told WND. “I offered it to charity four times and [the
Schindlers] refused to take that offer.”
At this point, the money in Terri’s medical fund is largely spent. According to court records, Felos has filed a series of petitions seeking reimbursement for fees totaling $358,434. In July of 1998, shortly after Felos filed Schiavo’s motion to remove the feeding tube the total in the fund was $718,000. As of three weeks ago $110,000 remained.
When asked if Terri has been given therapy or treatment since 1993, Schiavo said he hired an aide between 1994 and 1996 to take her to the museum and to the hair salon in an effort to try to stimulate her.
“Before hospice, there used to be monthly evaluations of Terri by physical therapists, occupational therapists, and every month they said ‘Terri will not benefit from therapy,’” said Schiavo.
Recognition or involuntary response?
In last week’s trial, Drs. Gambone, Cranford, another neurologist solicited by Felos, as well as a court-appointed neurologist, testified that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state, or PVS, one of the conditions necessary according to state statute to legally permit the removal of her feeding
According to testimony, PVS is misdiagnosed a minimum of 40 percent, and a maximum of 60 percent of the time.
These experts also testified that Terri maintains subcortical and brain stem activity which governs involuntary actions such as respiration, digestion and responses to auditory and visual stimuli.
While Schiavo’s doctors and the court-appointed doctor see no improvement in the cat scans of Terri’s brain from 1996 to 2002, William Maxfield, a Tampa radiologist petitioned by the Schindlers, testified Terri has shown improvements in brain tissue and would benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a treatment that increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
William Hammesfahr, a Clearwater neurologist petitioned by the Schindlers, testified that Terri shows cognitive function and would benefit from a treatment called vasodilation, which is similar to that proposed by Maxfield.
Portions of a four-hour videotaped examination of Terri by Dr. Hammesfahr were shown to the court.
In the video, Terri appears to interact with her mother and follow commands to open and shut her eyes.
“Anyone who saw that video is saying the same thing: Terri is responsive, she’s cognizant, she
reacts to her mother incredibly,” said Schindler.
Dr. Cranford called the videotape and the blown-up photograph taken from it “sensationalized” and a
In his closing statements, Felos urged Judge Greer to review the full four hours of tape.
“We see Terri moan, we see Terri make facial gestures. Yes, some of her gestures and moans are
involuntary response to the environment. Some are random,” he said. “I’m sorry to disillusion anyone.
But it’s unfortunate that Terri doesn’t have the cognition or the ability to recognize and make that expression. … She has involuntary response to physical stimulus.”
“The overwhelming majority of people would agree that there are fates worse than death,” Felos
concluded. “Can you imagine the agony and torture … if Terri Schiavo had cognition of her condition?
Thank God she doesn’t,” he said.
Terri’s sister, Suzanne Schindler disagrees.
“I see a horrific scene of somebody that’s been neglected. She hasn’t been … given rehabilitation in
over ten years, but I still see my sister. She’s in there. She is severely brain damaged. But she shows us
all the time that she’s in there just by her reactions,” she told WND.
“I see a shell of somebody I used to know. Somebody I loved and adored very much,” said Schiavo. “And now she’s a shell. … She’s existing. That’s not life,” he said. Schiavo told WND he has “moved on with a portion of [his] life” and is engaged.
Judge Greer said he intends to rule by Nov. 22.
Anderson and the Schindlers are not optimistic he’ll rule in their favor.
“He’s going to rule against us again. I have no doubt in my mind about it,” Schindler said. “I think the judge has a mindset.”
Greer has consistently ruled against the Schindlers in the dozens of hearings held since January 2000.
“The system has failed this girl and it just offends me,” Anderson said. “We don’t treat people like this in America. We don’t kill helpless, disabled people. That’s the stuff that happens in Third World countries.”
Schiavo appears to be confident about the ruling. Attorney Deborah Bushnell filed a petition on his behalf just prior to the recent trial seeking authorization of pre-payment of Terri’s cremation and burial expenses.
WND incorrectly reported Felos filed that petition.
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