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At the invitation of a federal judge, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has intervened in a federal lawsuit filed last month by the parents of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, the 39-year-old brain-disabled woman whose husband and legal guardian Michael Schiavo is determined to end her life by court-ordered starvation.
Terri Schindler-Schiavo before her disability.
On Sept. 22, Robert and Mary Schindler of Gulf Port, Fla., sued their son-in-law in federal court to block the Oct. 15 removal of the feeding tube that is keeping their daughter alive.
The following day, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara in a brief order set a date of Oct. 10 to hear arguments by the Schindlers and their attorney, Pat Anderson, regarding alleged violations of Terri’s civil rights and invited Crist to represent the state’s interests in the case.
”The constitutionality of a statute of the State of Florida affecting the public interest is drawn into question in this case,” Lazzara wrote. Consequently, the attorney general would be permitted to intervene if he wanted to present evidence regarding the constitutionality of Chapter 765, the state’s Health Care Advance Directives law, which establishes guidelines for discontinuing life-prolonging measures.
In a 19-page, friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Crist defended the constitutionality of the state law and ”the right of severely incapacitated people to refuse artificial, life-prolonging measures” – an issue at the heart of the case.
Crist said the Schindlers had not made a ”persuasive case” that the Florida statutes that provide ”a mechanism through which the profoundly incapacitated can exercise their constitutional right to refuse life-prolonging treatment” are unconstitutional.
However, he declined to become further involved.
”The attorney general takes no position on the merits of the action or on what should be done in this tragic case, and appears for the limited purpose of defending the statute as constitutional,” he said.
Crist’s decision to intervene is the latest twist in the legal battle the Schindlers are fighting to protect their daughter’s right to life against Schiavo’s determination to end it. In their lawsuit, they’re challenging the constitutionality of Florida statutes and charging that Terri’s civil rights have been violated both in the courts and by the way she was cared for at the nursing homes and the hospice where she has been residing for three years.
They are further alleging a conspiracy between Schiavo and probate Judge George Greer, of the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, who has presided over the case almost from its beginning.
Probate Judge George Greer (Photo: Bay News 9)
As WorldNetDaily reported, Terri’s parents have been fighting with their son-in-law for 10 years over the lack of care and therapy he has provided their daughter, who suffered massive brain damage when she collapsed at her home 13 years ago under still-unexplained circumstances at the age of 26.
The contentious family dispute escalated into a major euthanasia battle in 1998 when Schiavo sought court permission to remove her feeding tube, insisting she is in a ”persistent vegetative state” and that in casual conversations years ago, she had told him she would not want to be kept alive ”artificially.” Although she 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.
Schiavo claims he is only doing what Terri would want him to do. He says she wouldn’t want to live in the condition she’s in.
But Terri’s parents and siblings have claimed for years that Terri recognizes them and tries to communicate, and over a dozen prominent doctors and therapists have sworn in testimony and affidavits that she could be rehabilitated if allowed to receive therapy, while a handful of doctors have testified she is ”vegetative” or ”comatose” and will never regain consciousness. Nonetheless, despite a scarcity of expert testimony and evidence for Schiavo’s position, Judge Greer and Florida’s appellate courts have consistently sided with him and his attorney, George Felos, the well-known ”right-to-die” advocate.
In late August, 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 become involved cleared the way for Schiavo to starve his wife.
On Sept. 17, Judge Greer set the cut-off date for Oct. 15.
The question now is whether Judge Lazzara will agree the case belongs under federal jurisdiction and issue an injunction against removal of Terri’s feeding tube.
Attorney Pat Anderson declined to comment.
Terri’s supporters expressed mixed feelings towards Crist’s intervention. They’re glad he is limiting his involvement in the federal case to one of interpreting the constitutionality of the statutes. But they regret he has not done something to help Terri, especially in light of the outpouring of support for the vulnerable woman.
For over two months, people from across the country and around the world have been signing the Internet petition form posted on the family’s website, urging Gov. Jeb Bush to stop the legal proceedings until a full investigation is made into the case, looking particularly at how a young wife suddenly became incapacitated in the wee hours of the morning back in 1990. This would necessarily involve the attorney general.
To date over 40,000 people have signed the petition.
”40,000 signatures – that’s a lotta meatballs,” exclaimed Pamela Hennessey, the volunteer spokesperson for the family.
And according to Hennessey, that’s only part of the total.
”40,000 petitions are what we know of,” she explained. ”People are e-mailing, faxing and phoning the governor’s office, the state attorney’s office, as well as the attorney general of the state of Florida, asking them to intervene in this case and at the very least to investigate what the Schindler family believe are severe abuses against Terri – and that includes sequestering her from her civil and human rights.
“As far as we know that hasn’t happened yet and people are insistent that it happen,” she said.
Hennessey said she finds it ironic and tragic that Florida officials were willing to act quickly to stop the on-stage suicide of a participant at a rock concert, yet have offered no help for a disabled woman.
”Within eight days time, the county commissioners, the city of St. Petersburg, everybody mobilized to make sure this [the suicide] wouldn’t happen,” she said. ”And it was this guy’s choice. He intends to take his own life. He’s making that choice on his own, and they mobilized in eight days to stop him. Eight days. They passed a law to try to prevent it, and in five years time they can’t get their act together to look after Terri and it is not her choice to die – it’s her husband’s choice.
”What does that tell you about priorities in Florida?” she exclaimed.
Recently filed legal documents and information on Terri’s fight for life are posted on the family’s website.