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Attorney: Jeb Bush letter only a 'good first step'

Posted By Sarah Foster On 08/28/2003 @ 5:00 pm In Front Page | Comments Disabled

A letter sent by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to a probate court judge asking him to delay the removal of a feeding tube from a brain-disabled woman is “a good first step,” but the governor will need to do more if he wishes to halt the pending starvation death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, says noted anti-euthanasia author and attorney Wesley Smith.

“The letter is nice, but it’s not sufficient for the task,” Smith told WorldNetDaily.

In the two-page communication dated Tuesday Bush asked Judge George Greer, of Florida’s 6th Circuit Court, Probate Division, to allow Terri to live until a court-appointed guardian can “independently investigate the circumstances of this case and provide the court with an unbiased view that considers the best interests of Mrs. Schiavo.”


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Terri Schindler-Schiavo before her disability.

Bush also urged Greer to reweigh evidence as to Terri’s wishes “as often as necessary … to determine whether ‘clear and convincing evidence’ still exists that Mrs. Schiavo would now choose withdrawal of life-prolonging procedures.”

Smith said he was “not optimistic” that the letter would have any effect.

“[A request] will not be enough to persuade the judge,” he explained. “It doesn’t mean anything unless the governor is willing to have the attorney general bring an action by the state of Florida to investigate certain issues and support the right to life of this woman.”

Although there is some question about how much even a willing governor can do in a case like this, Smith said Bush should try to intervene, “and if he fails, at least the effort has been made.”

He said the governor’s “essential point” is correct, that a guardian ad litem should be appointed to look at a number of troubling issues that have surfaced. However, there is nothing requiring Greer to appoint anyone guardian or to carry out even one of Bush’s suggestions.

“The judge is free to pay no attention whatever to the governor’s letter as it is not a formal document in the case,” said Smith.

And that’s exactly what Greer did.

“I read the letter because it came from the governor and I respect his position,” Greer told the Associated Press. “Beyond that, it is going in the file.”

Greer insisted that he is bound by the 2nd District Court of Appeals order of June 6 to set a hearing date for removal of the feeding tube and that he is “not inclined” to appoint another guardian. At present, Terri’s legal guardian is her husband, Michael Schiavo.

On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the appeals court ruling by refusing to intervene in the case. Greer has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 11, at which time he will set a date for removing the tube, which will result in Terri’s death by starvation and dehydration within 10 to 14 days.

At a news conference Tuesday, Schiavo said he wished the governor would keep his thoughts to himself.

“This is not about Jeb Bush, it’s not about the Schindlers, and it’s not about me,” he said, according to WFLA-TV in Tampa. “It’s about Terri, and it always has been about Terri.”

As WorldNetDaily reported, Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler of Gulf Port, Fla., have been locked in a decade-long battle with their son-in-law over the care and custody of their daughter, who suffered massive brain damage when she collapsed at her home 13 years ago under unexplained circumstances at the age of 26. She left no written instructions detailing treatment in the event she ever became incapacitated.

Two years after Terri’s collapse a jury awarded Schiavo $1.3 million in a malpractice lawsuit he brought against her doctors. The money was placed in a trust fund to pay for medical treatment and rehabilitation, but she has received no therapy in over 10 years and only minimal nursing care.

The bitter family dispute over the quality of her care escalated into a major euthanasia battle five years ago when Schiavo petitioned the court for permission to have Terri’s feeding tube removed, claiming she is in a persistent vegetative state from which she can never recover and that she would not want to be kept alive by “artificial means.” The Schindlers and a growing number of doctors and professionals in the field of rehabilitation of disabled people claim she could recover with therapy, but the courts have consistently sided with Schiavo and his lawyer, right-to-die advocate George Felos.

Smith, who has written two major books on euthanasia, “Forced Exit” and “The Culture of Death,” is a recognized authority on medical ethics and the social dynamics of what he calls “food-and-fluid” cases like Terri’s. When it comes to discussing her case – the way it’s being handled in the courts and its wider ramifications – he doesn’t mince words.

“Basically Terri is to be denied food and water because she’s disabled,” Smith said bluntly. “It’s discrimination against disabled people. If you did this to a horse you’d go to jail.”

Since filing his petition in 1998, Schiavo has maintained that in seeking his wife’s death by starvation he’s only carrying out her wishes. He says that despite her not having left any written instructions, she once told him that she would not want to “be a burden” or to be kept alive “on anything artificial.” Later, his brother Scott and another brother’s wife recalled Terri had made similar statements to each of them on separate occasions, that she “would not want any kind of life support.”

Smith is skeptical of such recollections and of the notion that the once-vital young woman would choose to be starved to death rather than receive therapy and be nourished by means of a simple feeding tube through her abdomen to her stomach.

The key issue

“I find it interesting that [Schiavo and his relatives] never said that when the medical malpractice suit was pending and the money wasn’t in the bank,” Smith remarked. “That to me is the key issue. That affects credibility. … Casual statements that are brought up long after the fact, after the money is in the bank, when the same kind of statements were never made to the father or mother or the siblings, and we have apparently no other independent friends of hers other than those related to the husband – these statements strike me as not very convincing evidence.”

Nonetheless, Judge Greer accepted these alleged remarks by Terri as indicative of her wishes.

Smith also took umbrage at the fact Schiavo has been allowed to act as Terri’s guardian despite several attempts by the Schindlers to have him removed from that role.

“It’s beyond the pale to me that a man who wants to remarry – and has one child with his fianc?e and is expecting another – is allowed to have any say in this whatsoever when there’s such an obvious conflict of interest,” Smith exclaimed. “It gives a whole new meaning to [the saying] ’til death do us part,’ doesn’t it?”

The fact that Schiavo would inherit upon her death whatever is left in Terri’s medical trust fund set up with the money from the malpractice suit presents a second conflict of interest.

“Because he has a stake in her death – he wishes to remarry and at the same time would inherit whatever is left of her medical trust fund – that he should not be the one making these decisions,” said Smith. “That should be done by the people who want to care for her – her parents and siblings – and why a judge can’t see that is beyond me,” he exclaimed.

Smith says the case for Terri’s death is very weak. She is not unconscious; she’s clearly interacting with her environment – which means she is not a candidate for court-ordered starvation under Florida laws. Moreover, the evidence claiming that she once said she would not want to be kept alive if incapacitated is suspect.

“In the event of such a weak case – unless it’s decided that people like Terri do not deserve to live – you would give the benefit of every doubt to life,” Smith said. “But in our society today, because of this right-to-die advocacy and the idea that it isn’t the sanctity of human life that counts but the quality of human life, the benefit of doubt is being moved towards the side of death.”

Smith warns that if it becomes acceptable and legal to withhold food and water, the next step will be to promote lethal injection or other simple method of terminating unwanted patients. The cases would provide “a backdoor entr?e” to euthanasia.

“Once the food-and-fluid cases become accepted, the logic is why protract [death] for 14 days and deal with all that kind of stuff; let’s give them a needle,” he said.

Previous stories:

Gov. Bush’s plea for Schindler-Schiavo rejected

Jeb Bush intervenes for Schindler-Schiavo

Schindler-Schiavo on ‘death row’

Husband bars priest from brain-damaged wife

Brain-damaged woman hospitalized

Terri trying to talk

Petition drive launched for Terri Schiavo

Judge: Remove woman’s feeding tube

Removal of guardian sought in right-to-die case

Motion called ‘garbage’ in right-to-die case

Emergency motion in right-to-die case

Life, death tug of war in Florida courtroom


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