Network news outlets across the board and national newspapers – from the New York Times and the Washington Post to the Miami Herald and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – are misreporting the medical facts of the Terri Schindler-Schiavo story, say her family, doctors and the pro-family organization Focus on the Family.
“The media’s killing us, and they’re killing her, frankly,” said Terri’s father, Robert Schindler, at a press conference yesterday. The family and about a dozen people, including doctors and Terri’s caregivers, spent an hour trying to school reporters on the facts of the case.
Public opinion outside the courtroom matters in high-profile legal battles, as the 165,000 e-mails sent this week to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s office and the scores sent to state legislators exemplified. The community spoke and lawmakers heard them and responded with emergency legislation empowering Bush to defy Terri’s judge-ordered starvation by ordering the reinsertion of the 39-year-old brain-disabled woman’s feeding tube.
For the Schindlers, the first task at hand in setting the public record straight regards the erroneous use of the word “comatose” by newspapers and media outlets across the country in their coverage of the emotionally charged legal battle.
The Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines comatose as someone who is in a deep or prolonged state of unconsciousness. It is undisputed that Terri does not meet this definition. Even her husband, Michael Schiavo, who sought the court order to end her life does not call her “comatose.”
Yet, in a search of today’s coverage of the case using the Lexis-Nexis media search engine, WorldNetDaily found that national network news outlets across the board – ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NPR – refer to Terri as being “in a coma” or “comatose.” Prominent newspapers making the same error include the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Baltimore Sun, Cincinnati Enquirer, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, South Dakota’s Aberdeen American and even one local paper, the Bradenton Herald.
At the press conference, Terri’s family and several doctors also stressed it is debatable whether she is in a persistent vegetative state, or PVS, despite court rulings labeling her as such.
Terri responding to her mother in video clip available
“You have to get it through your heads. This girl is not PVS,” Robert Schindler pleaded with reporters.
Dr. William Hammesfahr, a Clearwater, Fla., neurologist, told reporters Terri’s eyes fixate on her family and she tries to follow simple commands, such as when doctors ask her to pull against their arm.
WorldNetDaily has reported Terri sustained brain damage when she mysteriously collapsed in 1990 at the age of 26 and oxygen was cut to her brain for several minutes. Terri breathes and maintains a heart beat and blood pressure on her own. She can see and move her limbs. But she needs a feeding tube to sustain her life.
Six years after being awarded $1.2 million in medical malpractice suits on the basis that he intended to seek long-term medical care and therapy for his wife, Michael Schiavo hired right-to-die attorney George Felos and launched a court battle to terminate his wife’s life. Terri has no written directive on the matter. Michael Schiavo says he’s fulfilling his wife’s wishes.
At a press conference Thursday Felos insisted his client was acting out of love and respect for his wife’s desire to “die with dignity.”
“Who in God’s name would subject themselves to what he has gone through for any other reason?” he said. “He always deeply loved her.”
After hearing testimony from Michael Schiavo, his brother and sister-in-law that Terri had casually told them she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means, circuit court Judge George Greer ruled in 2000 and again in subsequent trials to remove the feeding tube.
Felos and Schiavo maintain Terri is PVS, which in Florida is defined by statute as a “permanent and irreversible condition of unconsciousness in which there is the absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of any kind [and] an inability to communicate or interact purposefully with the environment.”
Last year, Greer reaffirmed his ruling in favor of Felos and Schiavo on the basis of testimony from two physicians solicited by them and a third appointed by him. The PVS diagnosis is required by law for the removal of the feeding tube.
The Schindlers, who have been fighting with their son-in-law for 10 years argue Terri is alert, responsive and vocalizes, and given appropriate therapy can improve. WorldNetDaily has reported their opinion is buttressed by that of nearly a dozen physicians who signed sworn affidavits that she is not PVS – affidavits Greer rejected as evidence. The physicians offered their opinions after viewing videotape of Terri taken during a court-ordered evaluation. Some doctors have offered pro-bono treatment for her, which her husband declines.
In excerpts of the video shown in court, Terri smiles, laughs,vocalizes and tracks a balloon from one side of the room to the other. The Schindlers posted three audio clips and a series of videos clips of Terri on their website.
“You can see on the tapes how she has a big smile on her face as soon as she sees her mother, like she’s opening up a Christmas present,” her father remarked to WorldNetDaily. “That’s what’s so heartbreaking.”
Felos and two neurologists – one of them a right-to-die advocate – maintain Terri’s vocalizing and apparent expressions of happiness at seeing her mother or her tracking a balloon with her eyes are merely “involuntary reflexes” by a woman in a persistent vegetative state, whose cerebral cortex has been so irreparably damaged her condition cannot be improved by therapy or treatment.
“There is no cognition, no consciousness,” Felos told the Tampa Tribune.
WorldNetDaily has reported that in the first couple of years after her collapse Terri received rehabilitative therapy and progressed to the point of saying “no,” according to nurses’ notes. She would also say, “yes” and “stop that,” according to her parents. But in 1993, following the malpractice-suit awards, the therapy was discontinued and Terri was relocated by her husband to one nursing home and then another before ultimately being moved to a hospice in 2000 where she remains.
During a covert therapy session, Robert Schindler reports his daughter sat bolt upright and tried to get our of her chair when told by a therapist over the telephone she was sentenced to die.
“My daughter is not in a persistent vegetative state. She is not a ‘plastic plant’ as Mr. Felos says she is. She is extremely brain-damaged, and she’s a human being,” Mary Schindler, Terri’s mother said at yesterday’s press conference. “She responds to me every time I go in there.”
“This is a case about a judicial system making an error,” Hammesfahr said.
Focus on the Family believes the liberal-biased mainstream media is promoting and facilitating the judicial error by misreporting the medical facts of the case. The conservative, pro-family organization issued a fact sheet prepared by physician Walt Larimore and bioethics analyst Carrie Gordon Earll, to assist the family in correcting the misinformation, or disinformation.
Among the points the fact sheet makes is that Terri “is not comatose,” “is not dependent on life support,” and was not dying by natural causes prior to the removal of her feeding tube.
“Focus on the Family believes that there is a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2), and therefore there are situations when medical interventions should cease and a natural death be allowed. The question is not whether Terri should be allowed to die, however. The question is whether she has been given the opportunity to live,” reads the fact sheet.
“The sad case of Terri Schiavo is a poignant sign of the advance of the Culture of Death and the impact of its logic on the nation’s conscience,” concurs R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in commentary posted on Crosswalk.com. “The liberal elites have embraced the euthanasia movement and are ready to define life in terms of its perceived ‘meaningfulness.’”
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