With Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s judge-ordered starvation well into its fourth day, it is clear to her family and supporters that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush probably will not step in and prevent her death, despite indications earlier this week.
Terri responding to her mother in video clip available on terrisfight.org
The family’s mood ranges from despair to slow, burning rage at the court system and the refusal of the governor to take charge when a disabled woman’s life is at stake, according to Pamela Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Schindler family.
“The judges, and it looks like the governor too, have absolutely failed her as a person,” said Hennessey bitterly. “Her rights have not been respected, they have not been maintained, and they are inalienable rights.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, Bush met Wednesday morning with Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, and her siblings behind closed doors and assured them that if there were some way he could intervene and prevent the killing of the brain-disabled woman, he would do so.
That same afternoon, Terri’s life-sustaining feeding tube was removed by court order, an action long-sought by her husband Michael Schiavo, who also is her legal guardian.
Michael Schiavo (Photo: Baynews9.com)
Michael Schiavo has been living with another woman, Jodi Centonze, with whom he has a daughter and another child about to be born.
Doctors say that without food and water, Terri will die within two weeks, but her parents fear she will die this weekend from drugs they suspect she is receiving to relieve the pain of starvation and dehydration.
Pro-life advocate Randall Terry, who was with the Schindlers at their meeting with the governor, told WorldNetDaily: “We put the question to him: If there is a legal means for you to intervene and it did not violate the [doctrine of] separation of powers, and you were in fact upholding your oath of office, would you do it? He said, ‘Yes. I would be very interested. Let us know.’”
Criminal investigation urged
Bush’s legal team set to work. Constitutional attorneys and law firms contacted by his legal office explained to the governor in faxed memoranda that he has the authority and the obligation to use his executive powers to prevent Terri’s death and urged him to launch a criminal investigation into the case itself.
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Gov. Jeb Bush
“Not only does the governor have such power, but the governor has the constitutional duty to prevent any action taken pursuant to such a court order, because such action would violate Ms. Schindler-Schiavo’s constitutionally guaranteed ‘inalienable right to enjoy and defend life’ regardless of her ‘physical disability’ as secured by Article 1 Section 2 of the Florida State Constitution,” declared constitutional attorney Herb Titus, of Chesapeake, Va.
Titus, one of the constitutional experts contacted by the governor’s office, represents Judge Roy Moore in his battle over the 10 Commandments monument in the courthouse in Montgomery, Ala.
Attorney Richard Thompson, who heads the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote that Terri is “a victim of abuse and neglect,” and under Florida law, “it is a crime to abuse or neglect a disabled adult and to encourage another person to do so.”
He called on the governor to launch a full-scale criminal investigation into the circumstances of the case “and to take measures to prevent future harm to Ms. Schiavo pending the outcome of the investigation.”
The documents were made public Thursday at a noon press conference outside the hospice of the Florida Sun Coast’s Woodside Facility in Pinellas Park, where, by order of her husband, Terri has lived isolated from friends and other patients since April 2000.
Schiavo’s attorney George Felos, a right-to-die advocate, dismissed the opinions as “ideological and inflammatory rhetoric.”
The removal of Terri’s feeding tube is the final victory for Michael Schiavo in a battle with Terri’s family that has gone entirely in his favor.
As WorldNetDaily reported, the Schindlers had been fighting their son-in-law for 10 years over the lack of care and therapy provided for their daughter, who suffered massive brain damage when she collapsed at her home 13 years ago under mysterious circumstances at the age of 26.
The ongoing dispute escalated five years ago when Schiavo petitioned the court for permission to end his wife’s life by removing her feeding tube, insisting she is in a “persistent vegetative state” and maintaining she had told him years before she would not want to be maintained “by tubes” and “artificial means” 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. The Schindlers and many medical professionals believe that with therapy she could eat and drink without the tube, but Schiavo consistently has prevented that.
The Schindlers fought tenaciously to keep their daughter and the case alive in the courts, but they have been blocked virtually at every turn, particularly by probate Judge George W. Greer of the Pinellas County Circuit Court, who has had charge of the case almost from the beginning. When the seven-member Florida Supreme Court in August turned down a petition to review the case, the way was clear for Schiavo to starve his wife to death.
On Sept. 17, Greer scheduled Oct. 15 as the day Terri’s feeding tube would be removed. At the same time, in separate rulings, he denied any rehabilitation for the disabled woman or a chance to be spoon-fed.
Bush’s handling of this case is unlikely to win him respect or friends in either camp.
The Clearwater Bar Association denounced him earlier this month for sending a letter in late August to Greer, asking the judge to delay the date for removal of Terri’s feeding tube until a guardian ad litem [guardian of the litigation] is appointed who would “independently investigate the circumstances of this case and provide the court with an unbiased view that considers the best interests of Mrs. Schiavo.”
Greer said he ignored the letter.
“I read it because it came from the governor,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “Beyond that, it’s going in the file.”
The directors and officers of the Clearwater Bar Association were outraged at the governor’s letter-writing, seeing it as an intrusion not only on its turf in Pinellas County, but upon the judiciary branch as a whole and a threat to the constitutional structure of American government.
On Oct. 2, the association’s directors passed a formal resolution rebuking Bush.
“In attempting to influence the decision of a circuit judge,” the governor’s actions were “improper, tended to impair the independence of the judiciary, and violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers,” the resolution reads.
Worse, in their eyes, his actions “undermine and threaten the public’s confidence in the independence and objectivity of the judiciary, the rule of law, and the state of Florida’s ability to impartially administer justice through its state court system.”
The directors called on the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida Bar to “address this matter further,” an indication Bush is not going to escape the continuing wrath of the Clearwater Bar Association.
“What concerns me is that the governor felt it appropriate to involve himself officially in a pending civil lawsuit in which neither he nor the state of Florida is a party or witness, for the apparent purpose of influencing the outcome of the case,” the association’s president Robert Dickinson declared in a press release announcing the resolution. “By doing so the governor violated one of the basic tenets of our constitutional government.”
The division of “our constitutional republic,” he explained, is that the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government must be separate and distinct.
“The separation of these powers is the cornerstone of the ‘checks-and-balances’ system of government under which the United States has prospered and each of its citizens expects to be treated fairly,” he said.
120,000 e-mails for Terri
When told about the resolution, Pamela Hennessey dismissed the notion that the public’s confidence in the judiciary system and rule of law would be shaken if the governor wrote a letter to Greer or intervened to save Terri, or that his doing so would violate the separation-of-powers doctrine.
“If anything, people will lose confidence in the judiciary system if he doesn’t step in,” she exclaimed.
In addition to acting as spokesperson for the Schindlers, Hennessey is webmistress for the family’s website. Through its petition to Bush asking him to intervene, she keeps her finger on the pulse of public opinion.
She reports that since setting up the online petition in late July, the number of e-mails surging through the server to the governor’s office has topped 120,000 and are coming in at a rate of 10 per second, so many her side of the server had to be shut down, though they are still going to the governor.
“People are very angry, very cross that he’s not stepping in,” Hennessey said. “He needs to step in and act as a check upon the actions of the judge and the judicial system.
“The checks and balances that are failing are those of the circuit court,” she said. “The judge in this case is immune from the consequences of what he has done. There is obviously nothing to stop him from issuing a death warrant and seeing that is carried out — and people do not like that. They are very concerned.”
An ‘unshackled judiciary’
The resolution rebuking Bush was passed before he filed his Oct. 6 amicus [friend-of-the-court] brief in a failed attempt to bring the case under federal jurisdiction. The brief will no doubt prompt an even greater outcry from the Clearwater Bar Association than the letter to Greer, with increasingly vehement charges made about Bush being a threat to the separation-of-powers system.
But attorneys at the AFA Law Center in Tupelo, Miss., challenge those charges. The American Family Association was among those contacted by the governor’s legal office for advice on the powers and obligations of the executive branch.
The immediate problem, says the public-interest law firm, is not an over-reaching executive, but an out-of-control judiciary, one that has “unshackled itself from constitutional restraints” and is “embarking on a campaign to impose its own will over the will of the law,” as Joe Murray, staff attorney and communications director, put it.
In his memorandum, Law Center attorney Brian Fahling explained to the governor that under the Florida Constitution he has the authority to make certain the laws of the state are “faithfully executed.”
Section 943.04 of the Florida statutes authorizes the governor, upon written order, to direct the Department of Criminal Justice, Investigations and Forensic Science, “to investigate violations of any of the criminal laws of the state.”
In fact, Bush’s own amicus brief cites reasons to believe the statute prohibiting assisted suicide [Section 782.02] is being violated, because — in the words of the brief — “Terri’s right to life is violated by the state when the state, acting as her guardian, assumes that her wish to live without artificial sustenance is the same as a wish not to be fed at all. The state has an ‘unqualified’ interest in life.”
Again, quoting Bush’s own brief, denying Terri oral sustenance creates “an unnecessary conflict with Florida statutory law by implying that physicians may cooperate with a person’s alleged express wish not to feed herself.”
“The laws of the state of Florida, then, as set forth in the governor’s brief, are not being faithfully executed,” Fahling wrote. “The authority of the governor to issue an executive order in this case is consonant with his duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed. If the consequences of the husband’s exercise of discretion [given him by Judge Greer] are determined to result in the unlawful taking of life, it is entirely appropriate that such actions be interdicted by law enforcement at the direction of the governor.”
Bush derelict in his duty?
Not only is it appropriate, it is incumbent upon Bush to do so, Law Center chief counsel Stephen Crampton told WorldNetDaily.
“Failure to do so would be a dereliction of duty,” he said.
While the Clearwater Bar Association and the courts insist intervention by the governor would violate the doctrine of separation of powers, there is a second doctrine that Bush runs afoul of if he does not intervene — the doctrine of checks-and-balances — in which each branch of government is empowered to act as a check upon actions by the other two branches, Crampton maintains.
The veto power is one of the ways a governor or president can check an action by a state legislature or the Congress.
“That is why enforcement of the laws is in the hands of the executive branch, at every level of government, not in the hands of the legislative body or the courts,” said Crampton. “Executive officers that take orders directly from the executive — not from the legislature or the courts — to go out and actually implement and enforce whatever law or decree the legislature or court issues. That power lies with the executive branch — in Terri’s case that’s the governor. That in and of itself is the embodiment of the check-and-balance system. That is why Governor Bush has every right to weigh in and to take an independent stand with regard to the constitutionality of what the court has done in this case.
“Stepping in for Terri would be analogous to vetoing a piece of legislation,” Crampton continued. “It is doing what he is duty-bound to do as the chief executive officer of the state of Florida. The whole concept of checks and balances encompasses the duty to independently weigh the pros and cons of the actions that you’re called upon to enforce — not blind obedience to judge-made rulings.”
The memoranda and other legal documents and information on Terri’s case are posted on the family’s website.