An attorney representing Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s parents filed a petition Monday seeking an emergency hearing to restore visitation rights to the family of the 40-year-old, brain-disabled woman, who has been kept in virtual seclusion for 46 days by order of her estranged husband, Michael Schiavo.
Robert and Mary Schindler have not seen their daughter since March 29, when their son-in-law – who as Terri’s legal guardian has absolute control over her – barred all visitors pending completion of a police investigation into suspicious marks, said to resemble “puncture wounds,” that were allegedly found on her arms “immediately after” a 45-minute visit by the Schindlers.
The implication was that Terri’s parents had been trying to inject something into her, or perhaps withdraw blood.
In fact, the “wounds” were discovered several hours after the Schindlers visited her. A toxicology exam conducted at Morton Plant Hospital concluded there were no unauthorized substances in her system, and the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration reported that investigators sent to Terri on April 1 could not confirm the presence of needle marks, and the skin on her arms appeared “intact.”
Nonetheless, Schiavo refused to lift his ban on visitation even at Easter, and the police investigation has not been completed.
In her petition, Anderson slammed Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, for sending out a press release “to several dozen print and electronic media outlets,” as soon as he heard about the marks, “in essence accusing the parents of criminally assaulting their beloved daughter.”
She also took issue that the media were notified of Terri’s physical condition before her parents had been, as mandated by a 1996 court order, and that the Schindlers only learned of the incident when a local television channel phoned them for a comment.
“This family is enduring a nightmare, all because of a staged incident,” said Anderson. “Terri’s mother cannot even see her own daughter, comfort her, touch her or interact with her.
“It’s amazing to me that anyone would think Terri Schiavo deserves this form of punishment,” Anderson continued. “For her to be confined and isolated in this fashion is something I find cruel and completely contrary to Florida Statutes. Death-row inmates get better treatment.”
No fee, no see
In the past month and a half, Anderson tried repeatedly to get the Schindlers’ visitation rights restored.
Her decision to file a formal request with the courts was prompted by a proposal Schiavo made just before Mothers Day, that he might allow the Schindlers to visit their daughter, but only if they agree to hire, at unknown cost, an off-duty police officer to accompany them each time they visit her. Should they refuse to pay, they would continue to be denied access to their daughter.
The offer was made in a letter faxed May 6 to Anderson by Deborah Bushnell, another of Schiavo’s lawyers.
Posting a guard on Terri is nothing new in itself. In compliance with Schiavo’s wishes, at least one armed, off-duty police officer has been stationed outside the door of her room, around the clock, since October, at $25 an hour. The cost is being borne by the non-profit Hospice of the Florida Sun Coast in Pinellas Park, where she’s been a patient since 2000.
But the requirement that to visit their daughter the Schindlers must pay for an additional guard who would stay in the room with them to watch their every move is new.
In her letter, Bushnell said she had asked the hospice if it would be willing to
allow its security officers to be in the room with Terri’s parents during
their visits, but had not received a reply.
Bushnell wrote “it does not seem likely that such an arrangement can be made with them in the near future” and suggested the Schindlers pay for the additional security, whatever the cost might be.
Anderson blasted the suggestion Terri’s parents be forced to pay to visit their daughter – especially for this past Sunday.
Terri responding to her mother from video clip on Terrisfight.org
“No mother should have to pay an admission fee to see her child on Mother’s Day,” she declared. “By recommending that the financially-strapped Schindlers may only visit Terri if they pay yet another off-duty police person to accompany them, is an effort to inhibit them from freely seeing their own daughter.”
Anderson likened the suggestion to another Schiavo made earlier in the case, which at first glance appeared benevolent.
“A couple of years ago, Michael Schiavo contacted Terri’s parents and offered to give the balance of Terri’s money over to charity,” Anderson recalled. “He and his attorneys used this as a talking point for the media ?claiming that Michael had no financial interest in Terri’s death. What they neglected to mention was that that particular offer was predicated upon the Schindler’s agreeing to Terri’s dehydration and starvation death.
“This latest tactic from Ms. Bushnell is really no different. I will not be surprised if Ms. Bushnell uses this as another talking point with the media in an attempt to make herself and her client appear less cruel,” she said.
By “financial interest” Anderson was referring to Terri’s once-sizable trust fund a jury awarded her in a malpractice suit in November 1992 to pay for rehabilitation.
Where’s the money?
As WorldNetDaily reported, Terri collapsed under unexplained circumstances in February 1990 at the age of 26. Oxygen to her brain was cut off for several minutes, leaving her severely brain-disabled, incapacitated, and dependent upon a feeding tube for sustenance.
A jury awarded her nearly a million dollars to pay for custodial care and her rehabilitation, and Schiavo received $300,000 for “loss of spouse.” None of her money went for the intended rehabilitation, and the family has been kept in the dark about the costs of her care. In the past few years her fund has been drained of its assets to pay the legal costs of Felos, Bushnell and other lawyers hired by Schiavo to ensure his wife’s death. According to one source, there’s only about $50,000 left.
Schiavo – who for nine years has lived with another woman with whom he has had two children – insists his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive “by artificial means,” and four years ago he convinced Pinellas County Probate Judge George Greer to allow him to remove her feeding tube so she would die, as is permitted in Florida.
Terri’s parents and siblings don’t believe she made the statements attributed to her and through a series of legal maneuvers have managed to keep the case and their daughter alive. Their options appeared to have run out last year when the 2nd District Court of Appeal made a final ruling in Schiavo’s favor, and the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
In October, the disabled woman endured six days without nourishment and hydration before Florida lawmakers passed “Terri’s Law” allowing Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene and order her feeding tube reinserted, an action immediately challenged by Felos and the American Civil Liberties Union, which jumped in on Schiavo’s side.
Last week, Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird handed a victory to Schiavo by summarily ruling the law was unconstitutional. The decision could clear the way for removal of Terri’s feeding tube and her court-sanctioned death.
Ken Connor, representing Gov. Bush in the action, immediately notified the court there’s an automatic stay on implementing the ruling and filed an appeal with the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
But the stay could be set aside by Judge Baird and the appeal court could rule in Schiavo’s favor as it has in the past.
“The effect of all of this of course is that Michael Schiavo effectively gets to kill his wife through starvation and dehydration, if in fact this order [by Baird] is upheld,” said Connor. “And yet that decision is initiated by a man who has an admitted conflict of interests.”
Judge George Greer, who has presided over the case since 1999 and is responsible for the rulings, all of which have favored Michael Schiavo, refused to hear Anderson’s motion on an expedited basis, stating he does not consider it an emergency.
It will be heard May 26, at an already scheduled hearing dealing with a request by Bushnell for additional restrictions on visitation.
Information, including court filings, are posted on the Schindler family website.