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As hundreds of well-wishers across the country mark Terri Schiavo’s 40th
birthday with cards, pictures, music CDs and prayers, the legal battle over
whether it will be the brain-damaged woman’s last birthday takes another turn.
Terri’s guardian ad litem, who was appointed by the court in compliance
with “Terri’s Law” – the law quickly passed by the Florida Legislature Oct. 21 to allow Gov. Jeb Bush to override a court-ordered removal of her feeding tube on Terri’s 6th day of
starvation and dehydration – submitted his recommendations in the case.
In his 40-page report, Dr. Jay Wolfson, a University of South Florida
professor, concluded the court file documenting a five-year tug of war over
Terri’s life contains ample evidence that she remains in a “persistent
vegetative state,” or PVS, and is unlikely to ever recover. The conclusion
backs the argument of Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, who sought the
removal of her feeding tube in order to afford her “death with dignity.”
Terri responding to her mother in video clip available
Paradoxically, Wolfson recommended a ”fresh, clean-hands start,” for
Terri’s case which he suggested should include a new set of swallowing tests
and therapy before Bush decides whether the feeding tube should remain
inserted in her abdomen. Wolfson said if Terri could exhibit the ability to eat or
drink on her own, it could be presumed she wanted to live.
“He’s recommending something that we asked the courts to do in August
but were summarily denied,” Pat Anderson, the attorney who represents
Terri’s parents told the St. Petersburg Times.
Bob and Mary Schindler maintain their daughter is responsive, is not in a
persistent vegetative state and wants to live.
WorldNetDaily has reported the Schindlers have been locked in a 10-year
battle with Michael Schiavo over Terri’s life. Schiavo insists Terri does not
want to be kept alive “through artificial means.” Circuit Court Judge George
Greer ruled in 2000 that testimony by Schiavo, his brother and sister-in-law
that she had casually told each of them this a year before her injury was “clear
and convincing evidence” of her wishes.
Terri has no written mandate on the matter.
Wolfson’s mixed-bag report was interpreted by Schiavo’s attorney, George
Felos, as endorsing the court action to this point.
“I’m very pleased the guardian found the court process legitimate and finds
that the court without a doubt acted properly,” Felos told the Times. Felos and
Schiavo have appealed the governor’s intervention on the grounds that it
violated the state Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine, as well as
Terri’s right to privacy.
What’s not in Terri’s court file, however, are more than a dozen affidavits from experts asserting Terri is not PVS. Greer refused to enter them into the case.
Terri’s brother, Bobby Schindler, told Oprah Winfrey during a live appearance on her television program last month “there’s a real misconception” about her medical condition.
“It’s not just the family saying that Terri can be helped. We have over a
dozen doctors – half of them being neurologists – that all have either testified or examined Terri and all believe that she could significantly improve if she
was just given the chance,” he said.
“She cries, she laughs and she follows me around the room,” added Mary Schindler. “She laughs at her dad’s jokes. Each day is different.”
Mary Schindler, Bobby Schindler and Suzanne
Schindler Carr join Oprah via satellite, Nov. 14, 2003. (Photo: The Oprah
Greer ruled Terri is PVS based on the testimony of three neurologists who
testified in an evidentiary hearing in November 2002. The neurologists, one
appointed by Greer and two solicited by Felos, testified Terri’s apparent
responses to her family members are random reflexes consistent with people
in persistent vegetative states.
Wolfson said he visited Terri nearly daily over the past month but saw no
consistent sign she retains consciousness.
Bush is not obligated to follow Wolfson’s recommendations.
”Nothing in Dr. Wolfson’s report leads me to believe the stay should be lifted at this time, or that Mrs. Schiavo should be deprived of her right to live,” Bush said in a statement. ”I am concerned that too many open questions still remain. Chief among them is the issue of Mrs. Schiavo’s wishes, and whether or not there is clear and convincing evidence as to what those wishes were.”
New law on horizon?
Taking a page from the tug of war over Terri, Republican lawmaker proposes to rewrite Florida’s right-to-die statutes to err on the side of life in the absence of mandates from incapacitated people. State Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville introduced the “Starvation and Dehydration of Persons with Disabilities Prevention Act,” or Senate Bill 692, which requires a living will or other advance directive from patients before courts order their feeding tubes removed.
The Schiavo case is a he-said, she-said, who-said and she’s not able to
talk,” Wise told the Tampa Tribune. “I don’t know who said what. And that’s the
issue we wanted to get to … have something in writing.”
Wise’s proposed legislation faces an uphill battle and may not even reach
the Senate floor.
Senate President Jim
King, another Jacksonville Republican, controls which bills reach the
chamber floor. King was involved in crafting the state’s current right-to-die
statutes. He told the Tribune the bill won’t be heard in the upcoming 2004
“I don’t want anything on the floor in that Senate that is going to give
platforms to people who want to roll back the hands of time for whatever
reason,” King told the local paper. “As soon as you put something on the floor,
as well-intended as it may be, anybody can amend it. Then all of a sudden I’m
sitting there facing a bill or bills that can dismantle what I consider to be my
Terri’s family hopes the public will bring pressure to bear on King to step
out of the way of the measure, in the same way public sentiment expressed in
some 165,000 e-mails to the governor and legislators inspired them to
intervene. The Schindlers urge visitors to their website to contact
the Senate leader.
Meanwhile, Pamela Hennessey, spokesperson for the Schindlers, reports the birthday girl is doing well today and was feted by a crowd of supporters outside the Pinellas Park, Fla., hospice where she has resided for over three years.
Bob, Mary, Bobby Schindler and Terri’s sister, Suzanne Carr, marvel over a birthday cake brought by volunteers.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” and carved up a cake provided by volunteers.
The Schindlers will attempt to decorate Terri’s room with some of the hundreds of cards and gifts sent from all over the country, including a hand-made quilt from a California woman.
WorldNetDaily reported Sunday over 500 e-mails had come to the family’s website offering prayers, words of encouragement, poems and even a couple of jokes. They were submitted with the promise that Terri’s family would read each one to her.
”When people learned her birthday was coming up, they just started sending notes and cards and e-mails,” Hennessey told WorldNetDaily. These have been arriving daily at the headquarters of the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation in St. Petersburg.
Some of the cards and gifts sent to Terri.
Mary Schindler sticky-tacked some of the cards on the walls in Terri’s room earlier in the week, but they were promptly removed.
Schiavo also does not permit flowers in Terri’s room.
“The family’s not giving up. They’re going to try and do nice things for Terri,” Hennessey said.