A Florida probate judge has ruled that Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s feeding tube cannot be removed until her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, have exhausted all avenues open to them in their quest for a new trial to determine whether the 40-year-old, brain-disabled woman would want to be starved to death or be allowed to live.
Judge George Greer, of the Pinellas County Circuit Court, on Friday rejected a motion filed Oct. 25 by attorney George Felos on behalf of Terri’s estranged husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, seeking permission to remove Terri’s feeding tube following a favorable ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.
In his three-page order Greer revoked the stay he issued Oct. 22 that was scheduled to expire at midnight, Dec. 6. In his new ruling, he dismissed Schiavo’s second request and extended the stay indefinitely.
“… this court has consistently entered stays and allowed [the Schindlers] to orderly prosecute their appeal,” Greer wrote. “The court is not persuaded to do otherwise now.”
Felos told the Associated Press the order was “outrageous” and that he’d seek to have it overturned. He said it could mean months, possibly a year, of delays.
“What everyone with any common sense should realize is this case has been mulled over time and time again,” Felos complained. “To permit endless stays for endless appeals is simply a miscarriage of justice.”
David Gibbs, the new lead attorney for Terri’s parents, was unavailable for comment, but a spokesperson for the Gibbs Law Firm in Seminole, Fla., said everyone in the office was “extremely optimistic.”
“We’re obviously very delighted and are busily at work on the appeal process, and we’ll be going forward with that,” he remarked. “The stay has given us a bit more time and more opportunity to present the case. We’re doing everything we can to help save Terri’s life.”
It was the second time in a week that Greer had blocked Schiavo’s intentions, and his ruling was the final action in a week-long filing-frenzy by attorneys engaged in the complex legal battle over Terri’s fate.
As WorldNetDaily reported, on Oct. 22 Greer dismissed a motion and memorandum of law by Schindler attorneys to re-examine the question of whether Terri – a life-long, practicing Roman Catholic at the time of her mysterious collapse in 1990 – would want the feeding tube she has depended on for 14 years removed in light of Pope John Paul II’s recent pronouncement that a feeding tube should not be considered “artificial” life support. The pope further declared that it is a sin to withhold food and water from people like Terri, who are said to be in a “vegetative” state.
Greer ruled that the pope’s statement was not of sufficient significance to force a new trial. But in a separate motion he rejected a demand Felos made in a letter the day before, for permission to remove Terri’s feeding tube no later than Nov. 5. Instead, he gave the Schindlers until midnight, Dec. 6, to appeal their case to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.
At a hearing Wednesday morning, Felos urged Greer to shorten the stay, arguing that appeals on several legal matters would be resolved in time to permit an earlier removal of the tube.
“Any delay or stay greater than that we don’t believe would serve any constructive purpose,” he told the judge.
Gibbs disagreed and asked for a stay extended indefinitely beyond Dec. 6.
“Basically, it’s your call,” Gibbs told Greer. “You have the discretion.”
In a statement posted on the family website, Bob and Mary Schindler said they were “filled with a sense of relief and hope that our daughter’s due process rights have been protected. We hope to pursue Terri’s civil and religious liberties through appeal and are grateful that the process had not been circumvented. We feel utterly confident that Terri would do the same for any member of our family if the tables were turned, and we know that protecting her life and her rights is the right thing to do.”
The entire case hinges on what Terri herself would want at this point in time. Would she want to have her feeding tube removed and “allowed to die,” as Schiavo and Felos contend? Or would she opt for continued feeding, therapy and rehabilitation? Schiavo insists he is simply carrying out his wife’s wishes. He says that everything he orders, including removal of her feeding tube, is done in accordance with her wishes, and any interference is a gross violation of her privacy, an action countering what she wants.
As WorldNetDaily has reported, Terri suffered major brain injury in 1990, when she collapsed under questionable circumstances in the St. Petersburg apartment where she lived with her husband. For reasons never satisfactorily explained, oxygen to her brain was cut off for several minutes, leaving her severely brain-disabled, unable to talk and dependent on a feeding tube for food and hydration. She was 26 years old.
Terri left no written instructions detailing what she would want if she were ever incapacitated, and is unable to communicate whether she would prefer being fed through a feeding tube or starved to death. But since 1998 Schiavo has insisted that his wife, whom he refuses to divorce, told him before her collapse that she would never want to live “by artificial means.”
During a weeklong trial in Jan. 2000, Schiavo persuaded Greer that Terri is in a “persistent vegetative state,” or PVS, one of several physical conditions which in Florida law allows a feeding tube to be removed from a non-terminally ill person who has not left a written directive. A neurologist testified that Terri is essentially unconscious – not comatose or brain-dead, but not really conscious. He said there no therapy is available to help her.
Florida law also allows simple oral statements, recalled by friends and family members years after they’re allegedly made, to be accepted as “clear and convincing” evidence of a person’s wishes. Drawing upon his own recollections, bolstered by a couple of similar statements by a brother and a sister-in-law, Schiavo convinced Greer that his account of Terri’s wishes was accurate.
Greer accepted as valid all evidence presented by Michael and his witnesses – from recollections about her end-of-life wishes to opinions about her chances for improvement, and in Feb. 2000 ordered her feeding tube disconnected.
Terri’s parents and her siblings dispute Schiavo’s contentions. They say Terri is alert, has a strong will to live, and could be significantly rehabilitated with aggressive therapy. More than a dozen physicians, therapists and speech pathologists have stepped forward to state agreement with the parents. The Schindlers also assert that Schiavo’s interests are conflicted since he has lived with another woman for at least nine years with whom he has had two children.
Through a series of appeals and stays the Schindlers have managed to keep the case and their daughter alive.
Court documents and other information are posted on the Schindler family website.
Links to all “Terri briefs” regarding the governor’s defense of Terri’s Law are on the Florida Supreme Court website, public information.