A Florida judge today ordered that Terri Schiavo’s life-sustaining feeding tube be removed March 18 at 1 p.m.
Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer denied a motion for an indefinite stay filed by parents Robert and Mary Schindler, who wanted more time to pursue medical tests that might prove their severely brain-damaged daughter could benefit from physical therapy.
Greer could have ordered the tube be removed immediately. The extra three weeks gives the Schindlers time to appeal the decision.
In today’s order [pdf file], Greer reasoned that five years had passed since the February 2000 order to remove the feeding tube and the court, “therefore, is no longer comfortable in continuing to grant stays … .”
The judge said the court is “persuaded that no further hearing need be required but that a date and time certain should be established so that last rites and other similar matters can be addressed in an orderly manner.”
Schindler family spokesman Gary McCullough, who is at the St. Petersburg-area hospice where Terri lives, told WorldNetDaily he’s encouraged there still is time to act, noting the Florida legislature will be in session 10 days before the deadline.
The Department of Children and Families also seeks intervention in the case, asking for a 60-day stay to probe allegations of abuse.
In addition, the Schindlers filed a motion to remove their son-in-law Michael Schiavo as Terri’s guardian, arguing he is her husband in name only and consistently has sought to withhold care and therapy.
Schiavo has been living with fiance Jodi Centonze, with whom he has two children, for 10 years. Schiavo has said he plans to marry Centonze upon Terri’s death.
Today’s decision came exactly 15 years after Terri Schiavo collapsed under disputed circumstances and suffered brain damage when her heart stopped momentarily.
She breathes on her own and appears to be responsive to people and her surroundings in photographs and videos released by the family. But early in the legal process, the Schindlers agreed with Michael Schiavo’s attorneys to stipulate Terri is in a “persistant vegetative state” — a decision the parents now regret. Michael claims his wife had told him she would never want to be kept alive in such a condition, although she left no written directive.
The Schindlers assert their daughter never would have seriously expressed such a wish and point out Schiavo made his claim only after he won a $1.3 million malpractice suit on Terri’s behalf and began seeing Centonze.
The Schindler family says there is evidence Terri’s sudden brain injury was caused by Michael Schiavo himself, alleging a pattern of abusive behavior, medical records indicating trauma, and his motion filed with Judge Greer to ensure Terri is cremated immediately upon death.
Schiavo claims Terri collapsed due to a potassium imbalance triggered by bulimia that caused her to suffer cardiac arrest.
In the 1992 malpractice trial, Schiavo argued he needed the money for long-term care for his wife, based on a life expectancy of another 50 years. But seven months after receiving the cash, the Schindlers argue, he began to withhold care and therapy, first ordering nurses to not give Terri antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, which could have resulted in her death.
Bobby Schindler told WND his family never has believed Terri would want to die, contending Michael Schiavo’s actions indicate the “wishes” are fabricated.
“Which Michael are we to believe?” he asked. “The one who promised he would take care of his wife for rest of his life, or the who who says these were Terri’s death wishes.”
Florida probes abuse
Noted “right-to-die” attorney George Felos, who is representing Michael Schiavo, argued in court Wednesday that the question of guardianship was irrelevant, because regardless of who had that role, the court has ruled Terri’s wishes were that she not live in her current condition.
At the Wednesday hearing, the Department of Children and Family services submitted a petition to Greer asking for 60 days to conduct an investigation of alleged abuse.
DCF spokesman Bill Spann said confidentiality laws prevent his discussion of the details of the case, but Florida law “provides for the investigation of allegations of abuse of elders, the disabled and other vulnerable adults.”
Greer said he would not consider the petition, but added, “The department can do whatever the department thinks the department needs to do.”
Felos said the petition “reeks of the intervention of politics in this case.”
The Schindlers’ lawyer, David Gibbs, replied: “I object to any characterization of our government, in good faith, coming to this court … seeking to intervene when there’s serious allegations of abuse.”
Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday he was exploring options to block removal of the feeding tube and would do “whatever I can within the means, within the laws, of our state to protect this woman’s life. I won’t go beyond that.”
Terri Schiavo has had her feeding tube remove twice since Greer ruled in February 2000 that artificial feeding must be stopped. The order finally was carried out in April 2001, after more than a year of litigation, but a series of hearings led to restoration of feeding after two-and-a-half days of starvation and dehydration.
In October 2003, Terri went without food or water for six days before a new state law allowed Gov. Bush to order the tube reinserted. “Terri’s Law” later was struck down by the the Florida Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
Bobby Schindler told WND he’s astonished Schiavo has been allowed to remain as Terri’s guardian while having, de facto, another wife.
“Michael claims he loves Terri, and he has said it on numerous occasions, but he treats her in a way I don’t think most of us would treat our own pets,” Schindler said.
Among the family’s complaints are that Michael Schiavo:
- Has not allowed therapy or rehabilitation since 1992, despite medical records indicating Terri is responsive.
- Has prevented swallowing tests or swallowing therapy since 1993, despite medical testimony Terri can be taught to eat.
- Ordered caretakers not to clean Terri’s teeth since 1995, resulting in removal of five teeth in April 2004.
- Placed Terri in hospice in 2000, despite the fact she is not terminally ill.
- Refuses to allow Terri to leave her room. She has not been outside since 2000.
- Has refused to fix her wheelchair since 2000.
- Refuses to allow Terri to practice her Catholic faith by attending weekly mass.
- Ordered Terri’s shades down at all times.
- Ordered doctors not to treat Terri when she had a life threatening infection in 1993 and 1995.
- Removes family pictures from Terri’s room, denies flowers from family and friends, denies certain CDs to be played for Terri, and refuses to allow her to listen to music with headphones.
- Refuses to release medical information to parents since 1993 despite court order requiring him to do so.
- Has limited the visitors list, requiring they must first be approved by him and removes visitors at own discretion. Schiavo removed the Schindlers from the visitors list a total of eight months between 2001 and 2004.
- Denies all requests for Terri to attend nursing home functions and refuses to allow therapeutic animals to visit with her, knowing that she is an animal lover.
Joni Eareckson Tada, a well-known Christian advocate for the disabled, issued a statement after Greer’s decision Wednesday to extend the stay, urging that the requested medical tests be run.
Regardless of the test results, Tada said, Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube still should not be removed.
“If it is removed, it will inaugurate a dangerous social policy concerning a severely disabled person’s right to live, a policy founded on irrational fears of disability,” she said.
Tada said the “individual liberties of severely disabled Americans — especially their right to life — would be inextricably tied to the whims of a guardian who may not have their best interest at heart.”
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.