An eleventh-hour end-run around the court-ordered removal of Terri Schiavo’s life-sustaining feeding tube by members of House and Senate panels has succeeded in sustaining her life beyond today’s scheduled 1 p.m. EST deadline.
Early this morning, the House Government Reform Committee decided to launch an investigation into the case which has ricocheted through the Florida court system for 10 years.
The committee issued subpoenas which order doctors and the administrator at the hospice facility in Pinellas Park, Fla., where the severely brain-damaged woman resides not to remove her feeding tube and keep her alive until the investigation is complete.
At the same time, the Senate Health Committee requested Terri Schiavo and her husband, Michael, appear at an official committee hearing on March 28.
As a result, minutes before the 1 p.m. deadline passed Pinellas Circuit Court Judge David Demers ordered the feeding tube remain in place while presiding Judge George Greer addresses the matter of the congressional subpoenas in a court hearing.
Terri Schiavo responding to her mother in video clip available
Fox News reports the subpoenas were issued to Terri Schiavo, her husband, Michael, two of her attending physicians, and the hospice administrator.
The subpoenas direct the recipients to appear at the hospice facility to give testimony to House committee members on March 25 at 10 a.m. EST.
“No things including those things reflecting data, information, or records called for by this request shall be destroyed, modified, transferred, disconnected, discontinued, or otherwise made inaccessible to the Committee,” the subpoenas read, according to Fox, which means the feeding tube must stay in place for another week.
Ignoring the subpoenas would amount to being in contempt of Congress and would incur penalties of fines and or imprisonment.
“This inquiry should give hope to Terri, her parents and friends and the millions of people throughout the world who are praying for her safety,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Government Reform chairman Tom Davis said in a joint statement. “This fight is not over.”
News of the congressional intervention was well received by some three dozen protesters gathered outside Woodside Hospice for a prayer vigil in support of Terri and her family.
“Bob and Mary Schindler have been praying for a miracle to save their daughter. We believe right now the miracle may come from the middle district, the federal court here in Tampa. The miracle may be these actions taken by the United States Congress,” said David Gibbs, the attorney representing Terri’s parents, who also asked a federal judge in Tampa to block the removal and review the actions of state courts. “We believe Terri’s is a life worth living.”
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida office, told the Associated Press his group’s attorneys were working with Michael Schiavo’s attorneys to determine if the subpoenas would block the scheduled removal of the tube.
“This is clearly an effort to circumvent a lawful court order by a state judge,” Simon said, according to the AP. “I am not sure how a subpoena, which is ordinarily done to produce records or somebody to testify, can essentially have the effect of an injunction overriding the orders of a court.”
The efforts by the House and Senate panels come as lawmakers in both Washington and Tallahassee failed in their attempts to pass legislation to block Michael Schiavo from having the tube pulled over the objections of her parents.
WorldNetDaily reported yesterday, Florida’s state House passed a bill 78-37 that would block withholding of food and water from patients in a persistent vegetative state who didn’t leave a written directive.
Terri Schiavo has no written directive.
A similar measure in the Senate was rejected, however, 21-16.
Also yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would delay removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube by moving such a case to federal court. Senate Democrats blocked the legislation, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he would try to pass a separate bill. Lawmakers have postponed their Easter break in order to work on the legislation.
“If you’re going to put somebody to death, or have them starved to death, I would think that you would want a complete neurological exam in reaching that conclusion,” Frist said on the Senate floor. “In fact — this is what I’m told — that she hasn’t had an MRI or PET scan which suggests she has not had a full neurological exam.”
Michael Schiavo won a court order in 2000 to have his wife’s feeding tube removed, claiming she was in a “persistent vegetative state” and had declared orally she wouldn’t want to live in such a condition.
The Schindlers, however, insist their daughter, while severely handicapped, is responsive and demonstrates a strong will to live. Their opinion is buttressed by nearly a dozen sworn affidavits signed by physicians disputing Terri remains in PVS.
Terri Schiavo is not hooked up to any machines, but she requires the small feeding tube for nourishment and hydration.
Terri Schiavo before suffering severe brain damage in 1990.
The 41-year-old collapsed under disputed circumstances Feb. 25, 1990, suffering severe brain damage when her heart stopped momentarily. Michael Schiavo attributes the collapse to an eating disorder, but the Schindlers strongly suspect he tried to strangle her.
The Schindlers have pleaded with Michael Schiavo to divorce their daughter, pointing out he has been living with another woman for 10 years, with whom he has two children.
WND reported a Florida judge rejected a request made earlier this month by the state’s social services agency to investigate alleged abuse by Terri’s estranged husband, who serves as her guardian.
The Department of Children and Families filed a petition containing 30 new allegations of “abuse, neglect or exploitation” the agency said came through its anonymous abuse hot line. The accusations include failure to investigate experimental medical procedures, denial of legal counsel, lack of communication and visitation and lack of therapy.
Michael Schiavo’s attorney, right-to-die advocate George Felos, said the DCF’s attemp to intervene “reeks of political arm-twisting.”
The Schindlers have long sought the removal of Michael Schiavo as Terri’s guardian. 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.
“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,” Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother, told WND.
If neglect or abuse can be proved, the state can take over guardianship of Terri.
Should lawmakers’ efforts to intervene fail and the feeding tube be removed today, it would be the third time.
In 2003, “Terri’s Law” enabled Gov. Bush to intervene the second time Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed, after she had endured six days of starvation and dehydration.
“Terri’s Law” was later ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court, which said it violated the legal separation between the three branches of government.
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.