A Florida probate judge today postponed issuing an order to begin the starvation death of Terri Schindler-Shiavo, a 39-year-old brain-disabled woman, after hearing legal arguments by attorneys for her parents that she must first be given a chance to learn to eat.
Judge George Greer, of the Probate Division of the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, was expected to set a date for removing the feeding tube Terri depends upon for sustenance, but delayed his decision after hearing from two attorneys for the Schindlers. Pat Anderson read three affidavits into the record, two of them by two speech-language therapists stating Terri could be taught to eat and talk. Celia Bachman argued that removing Terri’s tube without giving her a chance to learn to eat would be “state-assisted suicide” – a violation of Florida law.
Greer said he’d make a decision some time next week.
The delay is a setback for Terri’s husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, who has court approval to remove his wife’s feeding tube. But it was good news for Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler of Gulf Port, Fla., who have fought tenaciously for five years for their daughter’s right to live.
As WorldNetDaily reported, the Schindlers have been embroiled in a decade-long fight with their son-in-law over the lack of care and therapy given their daughter, who suffered massive brain damage when she collapsed at her home 13 years ago under questionable circumstances at the age of 26.
The ongoing family dispute erupted five years ago into a major euthanasia battle when Schiavo sought court permission to remove her feeding tube, claiming she is in a “persistent vegetative state” and that in casual conversations she had told him she would not want to be kept alive “artificially.” Although Terri breathes on her own and maintains her own blood pressure, she requires a simple tube into her abdomen to her stomach for nourishment and hydration.
Over a dozen prominent doctors and therapists have stated that with therapy she could be rehabilitated. A handful of doctors maintain she is “comatose” or “vegetative” and will never recover. Nonetheless, the Florida courts have consistently sided with Schiavo and his legal representative, George Felos, the well-known “right-to-die” attorney.
Last month, in a unanimous ruling, the seven-member Florida Supreme Court washed its hands of the matter by turning down an appeal by the Schindlers to review the case. The court’s refusal to intervene cleared the way for Schiavo to starve his wife.
Greer’s announcement to postpone scheduling Terri’s death caught her family and supporters by surprise. They were expecting the worst – that Greer would order Terri’s feeding tube disconnected immediately. That’s certainly what Shiavo and his attorney hoped for, and Felos asked that the cutoff begin at 5 p.m. Eastern time.
Pamela Hennessey, a volunteer media spokesperson for the Schindlers, was in the courtroom and gave WorldNetDaily a brief account of the proceedings.
She said attorney Anderson read several affidavits into the record – including two by speech-language pathologists who maintained Terri was an excellent candidate for rehabilitation if given therapy.
Celia Bachman, an attorney who has worked with Anderson as a consultant, presented insight into Florida guardianship laws.
Hennessey said Bachman didn’t counter Felos or challenge the appeal court ruling, but pointed out to the judge that there is a statute mandating that elderly and incapacitated people like Terri have the right to be kept free of abuse and exploitation and that the guardian and the courts must do no harm.
“If you’re going to remove that feeding tube, fine, go ahead,” Bachman said. “But your obligation is to give her a transition into being able to eat naturally, by herself, because doing anything else is against the law, against Florida statutes, and it is state-assisted homicide.”
When Greer asked if he shouldn’t schedule the day for removing the feeding tube, Bachman told him to “go right ahead and issue it. But issue it at a date so far into the future that Terri has at least had a chance to learn to be able to eat. Let her eat. Under the law you have no right to keep her from eating.”
WorldNetDaily talked with Anderson and Bachman by telephone after the hearing.
Anderson said she and Bachman explained to the court that removing the tube is one thing, “but guess what – Terri never said she didn’t want to eat.” She said Greer has an obligation to protect Terri because she is incapacitated, which means that when the tube is removed it has to be done in a way that doesn’t harm her.
Anderson explained that it’s been an assumption throughout the case that once you’re on tube feeding you’ll never eat again, and that to remove Terri’s tube she’ll die, because she can’t bring a spoon to her mouth.
“I challenged both of those assumptions by pointing out that we have an affidavit – which I read into the record – from a speech-language pathologist, Myra Stinson, who says she took four patients off of feeding tubes, weaned them off of feeding tubes, last month,” Anderson recalled.
Bachman confirmed Hennessey’s account of her statements and added she was satisfied with the outcome of the hearing.
“I feel it is very important that the judge is listening to these arguments and has decided to consider them,” she said. “That’s a very good result for today.”