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World-renowned author, artist and disability advocate Joni Eareckson Tada is joining Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and others in the Tampa Bay area of Florida to muster support for Terri Schindler-Schiavo, the 39-year-old brain-disabled woman whose death by court-ordered starvation is set to begin tomorrow when her husband and legal guardian gives the order to remove the feeding tube that is keeping his wife alive.
Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler of Gulf Port, who have not completely given up hope that somehow their daughter’s life will be spared, invited Terry, as well as Gary McCullough of Christian Communication Network, to organize a round-the-clock vigil.
Beginning with a press conference at noon yesterday, and for however long Terri is alive or until she is granted a reprieve, members of her family and supporters are holding a 24-hour vigil on her behalf at Hospice Woodside in Pinellas Park, Fla., where her husband, Michael Schiavo, has required her to live for over four years.
A press release from vigil organizers states Terri is neither in a coma nor a “persistent vegetative state,” that she is aware of her surroundings and has communicated that she does not want to be starved to death.
And Terri’s own parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, released this statement:
Bob and Mary Schindler (courtesy Bay News 9)
“We love our daughter very much and we want her home. Over the last 13 years, Terri has laughed with us, cried with us, talked with us, and even tried to get out of her chair. The accusations that Terri is in a coma or is a ‘vegetable’ are a lie.
“We beg Michael Schiavo, and those working with him to end our daughter’s life, to let her come home to her family. We will sign any agreement you want, giving you all monies related to Terri’s collapse and any insurance money that may be forthcoming. You take the money. We just want our daughter.”
Terry, well-known as an anti-abortion activist and for his efforts with Operation Rescue, explained his reasons to WorldNetDaily for becoming involved in the major euthanasia case.
“The fundamental right that all of us have is the right to life,” he said. “Whether we’re pre-born or disabled or in old age, no one has the right to summarily execute us.”
He and McCullough hope to draw “statewide and national attention to this cruel execution,” said Terry.
“It’s very important that you write and make clear to people that this lady is not in a coma,” he added emphatically. “She is not on a respirator, she is not a ‘vegetable’ – and I put that in quotes. She says yes, she says no, she laughs, she cries. A few months ago she tried to get out of her chair. This is a woman who with the right therapy could certainly make a massive recovery and comeback.”
Terry said he and the Schindlers are hoping that Gov. Jeb Bush “will do his constitutional duty and use his executive powers to rescue this woman.”
Original plans called for a demonstration in front of the main offices of Hospice of the Florida Sun Coast in Largo, but these were changed in favor of a round-the-clock vigil at its Woodside Facility in Pinellas Park.
“We want to be as close to Terri as possible,” he explained. “We want to draw attention to the fact that there is a woman in that building who is living on her own. She is not on a respirator or any life support system. She is just being given food and water. And they’re going to starve her to death.”
Judge rules against Terri
Terri’s fate took a decided downturn Friday afternoon when a federal judge in Tampa gave Schiavo the green-light to order his wife’s death.
At the end of a three-and-a-half-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara – a Clinton appointee – rejected a plea by Terri’s parents to establish federal jurisdiction over the case, claiming he had no authority to do so, and refusing to acknowledge that her statutory and constitutional rights, in particular her 14th Amendment right to due process, had been violated by Schiavo with help from the Florida court system.
The Schindlers further alleged a conspiracy existed between Schiavo and probate Judge George Greer, of the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, to deprive Terri of her due process rights and end her life.
He also turned down a request by the Schindlers for a temporary injunction on removing Terri’s feeding tube until her swallowing capabilities have been tested and she has received sufficient therapy and training to enable her to be spoon-fed.
Gov. Jeb Bush
Lazzara said he has “no jurisdiction” to get involved in Florida matters, despite a plea from Gov. Jeb Bush asking him to do so to keep Terri alive, the Tampa Tribune reported.
“Frankly, even if I were to find jurisdiction, I would be abusing my discretion if I issued an injunction” to block removal of the feeding tube, Lazzara said. “To say I have not been tempted would be an understatement. I must resist that temptation.”
Lazzara granted a motion filed Oct. 6 by Schiavo’s attorney George Felos, a well-known “right-to-die” advocate, asking for dismissal of the lawsuit the Schindlers had brought against his client, saying it was “yet another attempt to find another forum to relitigate what has been litigated many times before.”
Lazzara agreed with Felos that Terri’s parents were trying to get him to “relitigate” the case and that it was essentially a stalling strategy.
“That’s what this suit is about here – delay,” Lazzara said.
The case was argued in court by Christopher Ferrara of the American Catholic Lawyers Association, co-counsel with Patricia Anderson representing the Schindlers and Terri herself.
Pamela Hennessy, volunteer spokesperson for the Schindler family and the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, attended the hearing and pulled no punches describing the behavior of the judge in her comments to WorldNetDaily.
“I sat there in the courtroom, and it seemed that he cut off every other sentence Chris made,” she recalled. “He interrupted him endlessly. I don’t think he let [Ferrara] finish too many sentences. I don’t think Chris was really heard.”
Another eye-witness reported Lazzara at the beginning of the hearing demanded that Ferrara explain why he – a federal judge – was involved in the case and “hammered away” at the attorney as he was presenting his arguments for Terri, repeatedly interrupting him to demand, “What do you want me to do?”
On the other hand, Lazzara was highly respectful of Felos, and except for occasional quiet questions allowed him to speak uninterrupted for an hour.
Not even the fact that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had stepped into the fight for Terri last week impressed the judge, said Hennessy.
“[Lazzara] didn’t care,” she exclaimed. “He said the governor’s brief was well-written and he allowed him to be admitted as a friend of the court, but he said that [Bush] was only a friend of the court and had no power to intervene.”
Hennessy took umbrage at his claim that as a federal judge he cannot take jurisdiction.
“Of course he can,” she exclaimed. “Terri’s constitutional rights have been denied. He could have stepped in, but nope – he washed his hands of it, he didn’t want to get involved at all.”
Following Lazzara’s ruling, the family, including Terri’s brother and sister, asked to be escorted from the federal courthouse, the Tampa Tribune reported. It was the first time the Schindlers have sought to avoid reporters.
Schiavo smiled and hugged Deborah Bushnell, another of his attorneys, but declined to comment to the press.
George Felos hailed Lazzara’s ruling.
“I praise him for doing his judicial duty in spite of the emotions involved,” Felos told reporters. “I think this is a huge step toward Terri’s wishes being acted on. We could have been in federal courts for years.”
Schiavo and Felos maintain that withdrawing the feeding tube is what Terri wanted, and that they are simply acting in her best interests.
He dismissed as out-of-the-question the Schindler’s claim that Terri should be allowed to receive therapy to enable her to eat, pointing out that Greer had in several rulings prohibited such therapy. The possibility that Terri might be able to eat on her own is by definition “impossible,” said Felos, and therefore should not be attempted.
“An injunction that says don’t remove the tube until she can eat on her own is like saying don’t remove the tube until she can walk around the block,” he exclaimed. “It’s never going to happen.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, the Schindlers have been fighting with their son-in-law for 10 years over the lack of care and therapy Schiavo provided for their daughter, who, at the age of 26, suffered massive brain damage when she collapsed at her home 13 years ago under mysterious circumstances.
The contentious family dispute escalated into a major euthanasia battle in May 1998, when Schiavo petitioned the Florida courts for permission to end his wife’s life by disconnecting her feeding tube, insisting 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 on and maintains her own blood pressure, she requires a simple tube into her abdomen to her stomach for nourishment and hydration.
Although Terri’s parents and siblings have claimed for years that she recognizes them and tries to talk – and over a dozen prominent doctors and therapists have stated under oath that she is not in a persistent vegetative state and with therapy could be rehabilitated – a handful of doctors have testified she is “vegetative.” They claim her expressions and vocalizations are simply reflex actions and that she will never regain consciousness. Despite a scarcity of expert testimony and evidence for Schiavo’s position, the Florida courts have consistently sided with him and attorney Felos.
When the seven-member Florida Supreme Court in August turned down a petition by the Schindlers to review the case, the way was clear for Schiavo to order his wife starved to death.
On Sept. 17, probate Judge George Greer, of the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, scheduled this Wednesday, Oct. 15, as the day Terri’s feeding tube would be removed.
At the same time but in separate rulings, Greer – who has been in charge of the case since late 1999 – denied any therapy whatsoever for the disabled woman. An Aug. 26 request by the Schindlers that their daughter be allowed an eight-week trial of speech, occupational and physical therapy was summarily rejected by Greer, along with a motion made Sept. 10 that she be taught to swallow food so she could be spoon-fed.
With the state courts closed against them, the Schindlers, with Terri as plaintiff, sued Schiavo in federal court to block the scheduled Oct. 15 removal of their daughter’s feeding tube. In their Sept. 22 request for a preliminary injunction, they asked Lazzara to order that Terri be given therapy for sufficient time to wean her off her feeding tube and return her to receiving nutrition by mouth.
Friday’s ruling by Lazzara destroyed that chance and the hopes of Terri’s family and supporters that the vulnerable, possibly abused woman, would be allowed to live and receive the therapy and training that would bring her back from the twilight world she has been living so long. They were especially shocked because the facts of the case were compelling and so many obvious wrongs had been perpetrated against Terri.
Specifically, the Schindlers’ attorneys, Pat Anderson and co-counsel Ferrara, brought a “1983 argument” – so-called from its section number in Title 42 of the U.S. Code dealing with civil rights.
Section 1983 – “Civil action for deprivation of rights” – makes anyone, including state and local officials, that deprive “any citizen of the United States” of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,” liable for their actions to the party they’ve injured.
Terri Schindler-Schiavo before her disability.
That Terri never had an attorney representing her interests in four years of court proceedings, seemed one of many obvious violations of her right to due process.
The fact that she received no therapy or rehabilitation in 10 years – coupled with Judge Greer’s strict prohibition against any therapy or even testing – violated not only Florida guardianship law but the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
There was also the matter of the draining of Terri’s trust fund – with Greer’s full approval – which fell from $700,000 down to nearly nothing in just four years to pay the legal expenses of a husband who wanted her life ended.
Lazzara appeared interested in the issues. He asked for the official transcript of the Sept. 17 hearing, where Greer refused to protect Terri’s interests.
According to Anderson in a filing, when the Schindlers in their petition for therapy for their daughter reminded Greer that an incapacitated ward like Terri has a right to essential services and rehabilitation and that it is the duty of a judge in a guardianship proceeding to protect those rights and to prevent any harm being done by a guardian – Greer declared from the bench that if he acted on Terri’s behalf in this regard, Schiavo would move for his disqualification on grounds of “bias.”
Lazzara also asked for part of the court transcript from a medical malpractice trial in Nov. 1992, when Schiavo sued Terri’s doctors for not having diagnosed her physical condition. He claimed it was the likelihood that she was bulimic that led to her collapse, a condition her doctors should have caught.
Schiavo told the six-member jury that he needed money for his wife’s future care. He said he was studying to be a nurse “because I enjoy it and I want to learn more about how to take care of Terri.”
When asked by his lawyer how he felt about being married to Terri at that point in time, he answered: “I feel wonderful. She’s my life and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. I believe in my wedding vows.”
Michael Schiavo (Photo: WFLA-TV)
Asked to explain further, he said, “I believe in the vows I took with my wife, through sickness, in health, for richer or poor. I married my wife because I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I’m going to do that.”
He did not testify that Terri had, years before, told him she wouldn’t want to be fed or kept alive “by artificial means.” That claim came later.
Following the money
The jury responded to his protestations of love and awarded $1.2 million to Terri for her medical and nursing expenses and $630,000 to Schiavo for loss of spouse. She also received a further $250,000 settlement in a case filed on her behalf against another doctor. After the attorneys received their cut, Terri was left with $700,000 and Schiavo with $300,000. Her share of the settlement was placed in a trust fund and invested in blue chip stocks, U.S. Treasury bonds and a money market account. It was to be managed by a bank and guarded by the court. In April 1993 her assets were valued at $776,254.
Her trust fund remained relatively intact until 1997, when Schiavo hired Felos and others began – with court approval – to dip into Terri’s trust fund. Most of it went for legal costs.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, which investigated the matter in June 2001, by April 1998, her money was down to $713,825.
At Schiavo’s request, Greer ordered all financial billings sealed, but payments are public record. The SP Times estimated that almost half the trust fund was gone, with only $350,000 remaining.
Greer later approved a payment of $45,007 to Felos, covering a five-month period ending February 2002. Including that payment, Felos had by February 2002, billed for $352,211 from Terri’s fund. Other lawyers, too, helped drain the account – in particular, Deborah Bushnell, who received just under $50,000 between September 1993 and September 2001.
It’s not certain how much of the money intended for Terri’s rehabilitation remains. Felos told the Philadelphia Intelligencer that a few months ago only $50,000 was left. He said the money ran out last July and he hasn’t been paid since. Terri’s medical care at the Woodside Facility is now paid for with federal tax dollars through Medicaid, he said.
Court records show Felos’ fees came to about $400,000, according to the Philadelphia Intelligencer.
GAL removed for ‘bias’ against Schiavo
The Schindlers have long contested that their daughter has not been represented in the entire four years of court proceedings that were determining her fate, seemingly a clear violation of due process.
The problem was that Terri hadn’t made a will, nor indicated in writing what treatment, if any, she wanted were she ever in such a situation. In Florida law, however, if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that a person is in a persistent vegetative state or a terminal condition, then life-prolonging methods can be withdrawn. That includes feeding and hydration through a simple feeding tube.
Terri’s condition certainly wasn’t terminal. She was – said some doctors – in a persistent vegetative state.
At the malpractice trial in 1992, no mention was made of what she might have wanted. When, six years later, Schiavo petitioned the court to remove Terri’s feeding tube, he claimed she had on one occasion told him that if she were ever in a situation of needing to be “artificially maintained,” that she did not want any kind of life support.
Attorney Richard Pearse was appointed to be guardian ad litem [guardian for the litigation] – or GAL – by probate Judge Patrick Caddell and charged with investigating the case, and issued a 10-page report in Dec. 1998.
Pearse urged in no uncertain terms that the petition for removing the feeding tube be denied.
He also recommended that a guardian ad litem (not necessarily Pearse) be appointed to protect her interests.
And he made it clear that he did not believe Schiavo’s sudden recollection of Terri’s wishes.
“Regarding the pending petition filed by Mr. Schiavo to withdraw the gastric feeding tube which sustains the ward, he claims that the ward told him after their marriage that she would not want to be kept alive artificially,” Pearse wrote. “Mr. Schiavo indicated strongly to [Pearse] that his petition to withdraw life support has nothing to do with the money held in the guardianship estate, which he would inherit upon the ward’s death as her sole heir-in-law.”
He continued: “The only direct evidence probative of the issue of the ward’s intent is the hearsay testimony of the ward’s feeding tube which would inevitably result in her death” However, his credibility is necessarily adversely affected by the obvious financial benefit to him in the event of her death while still married to him. Her death also permits him to get on with his life.”
That Schiavo’s attitude and actions changed as soon as the money from the malpractice suit was in the bank was not lost on Pearse.
“From that point forward, the ward’s husband has isolated the ward from her parents, has on at least one occasion refused to consent for the ward to be treated for an infection, and, ultimately, four years later, has filed the instant petition for the withdrawal of life support on the basis of evidence apparently known only to him which could have been asserted at any time during the ward’s illness,” he said.
“Since there is no corroborative evidence of the ward’s intentions, and since the only witness claiming to have such evidence is the one person who will realize a direct and substantial financial benefit from the ward’s death, the undersigned guardian ad litem is of the opinion that the evidence of the ward’s intentions developed by the investigation, does not meet the clear and convincing standard.”
Charging Pearse was “biased” towards Schiavo, Felos promptly had Pearse removed as guardian ad litem. No one was appointed in his place.
By the time the case came to trial in Jan. 2000, Schiavo had found two witnesses to corroborate his version of Terri’s wishes: Scott Schiavo, his brother, and Joan Schiavo, a sister-in-law.
Greer accepted their testimony as “creditable and reliable.” Not as good as “clear and convincing,” but apparently close enough.
He also dismissed the criticism that “Michael Schiavo has not acted in good faith by waiting eight plus years” to file his petition.
“That assertion hardly seems worthy of comment,” Greer said.
As to the prognosis for recovery, Greer ruled that “beyond all doubt” Terri was in a persistent vegetative state, and had “no hope of ever regaining consciousness and therefore, capacity, and that without the feeding tube she will die in seven to 14 days.”
“Unrebutted medical testimony” says that such death would be painless, he assured.
Legal documents and information on Terri’s fight for life are posted on the family’s website.
This article based in part on reports by the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times.