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Michael Schiavo, reportedly angered by the latest developments in Washington, has done an about-face in his longstanding position of not allowing visitors to meet his estranged wife, Terri, the brain-injured Florida woman whose right to live is at the heart of a cliff-hanging euthanasia battle.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Schiavo invited both President Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to visit Terri at the hospice where she is undergoing a court-ordered starvation death after her feeding tube was removed Friday.
“Come down, President Bush,” Schiavo said in the Times interview Saturday. “Come talk to me. Meet my wife. Talk to my wife and see if you get an answer. Ask her to lift her arm to shake your hand. She won’t do it.”
She won’t, because she can’t, said Schiavo.
“Terri died 15 years ago,” he said, referring to her collapse in 1990 that cut off oxygen to her brain, leaving her seriously brain injured and unable to talk.
A handful of physicians say she is in a persistent vegetative state — that is, she may seem to be alert and awake, but the smiles and laughter she exhibits are simply reflex actions. Florida law permits removal of feeding tubes from patients who are PVS.
More than 40 physicians and therapists have weighed in on the side of Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, who maintain she is aware, though seriously impaired, and could improve with therapy.
Regarding his invitation to the president, Schiavo said he made a similar offer to Gov. Bush last week but has not had a reply.
Schiavo described U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who led the effort to extend Terri’s life, as a “little slithering snake” pandering for votes.
“To make comments that Terri would want to live, how do they [members of Congress] know?” he asked.
“What color are her eyes?” he demanded. “What’s her middle name? What’s her favorite color? They don’t have any clue who Terri is. They should all be ashamed of themselves.”
Schiavo’s invitations to the president and his brother represent an exception to his long-standing ban on visitors, which has kept Terri in near-total seclusion at the Woodside Hospice Facility in Pinellas Park, Fla. Only her parents and siblings are allowed ready access. All others, including her priest and the attorneys representing her parents, may visit only when accompanied by an immediate family member.
Nancy Valko, a critical care nurse in St. Louis activist on euthanasia and related pro-life issues, reacted with caution to Schiavo’s invitation to the president and governor.
“Hopefully, Terri is not being sedated or is too debilitated now from the dehydration to be seen, but it doesn’t look good if Michael is saying this,” she commented. “Personally, I think the fear of having Terri seen by the authorities and/or public is what was behind the quick removal of feedings Friday. Otherwise, why has Michael refused to allow pictures or to allow Terri outside?”
Except when she is taken to a whirlpool bath, Terri never leaves her room — not even to attend functions offered all other residents, such as sing-alongs and concerts. This past Christmas, when “Santa Claus” visited the hospice, her door was kept firmly shut to prevent the jolly gentleman from catching a glimpse of her, and she of him. Carolers, too, were barred.
Even Judge George Greer, who has presided over the contentious case since September 1999, has not met Terri, having been persuaded by Schiavo’s attorney, “right-to-die” advocate George Felos, not to visit her at the nursing home where she then was living.
On Jan. 10, 2000 – just days before the trial that sealed Terri’s fate was scheduled to begin – attorney Pamela Campbell, who represented Terri’s parents, formally asked Greer if he would visit the disabled woman so he could see for himself how alert she is.
At a hearing on the matter, Felos argued that since both parties had agreed Terri was in a persistent vegetative state, to
observe the patient was futile and unnecessary.
The judge accepted Felos’ arguments, rejecting the opportunity to see for himself the woman whose life was in his hands.
The ban on visitation, which Schiavo defends as a necessary protection of his wife’s privacy, came after a short video was played to the court during the 2000 trial, showing Terri alert and interacting with her parents.
The video, played at the trial over the objections of Felos, later was released to the public and run on a local TV channel.
Upon seeing the tape on TV, three physicians contacted the Schindlers offering to help.
Robert Schindler took each doctor in turn to the nursing home to meet his daughter. They were there long enough to see she was not in a persistent vegetative state, Schindler said, and they signed separate affidavits to that effect.
They also asked to be allowed to intervene in the case, but Greer rejected their requests and granted a motion by Felos for a no-visitation policy. Aside from nurses and her attending physician, the three doctors were the last professionals to have any contact with Terri for more than two years.
Other physicians in 2001 stated they believe Terri Schiavo is not PVS, but have been limited to basing their opinion on observing videotapes.
This holds for the 33 physicians who recently signed affidavits stating she is minimally conscious “or better,” as opposed to being PVS.
Terri’s eyes are brown
In his interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Schiavo took particular umbrage at no one knowing what color his estranged wife’s eyes are. They are brown.
But a neurologist personally selected by Schiavo and Felos to examine Terri prior to a medical hearing was unable to recall that particular fact on the witness stand.
In Oct. 2002, following a series of legal maneuvers by the Schindlers, the Second District Court of Appeal ordered a medical evidentiary hearing to determine whether Terri is, in fact, in a persistent vegetative state, and if she is, what treatments might help her.
Dr. Melvin Greer, chairman of the University of Florida’s College of Medicine in Gainsville, was one of two physicians chosen by Felos to examine her.
After performing a few bedside procedures to test her vision and hearing and general reflexes, Dr. Greer diagnosed Terri to be in a persistent vegetative state, for which there was no treatment. To test what he actually remembered about her, attorney Pat Anderson, representing the Schindlers, asked Dr.
Greer what color Terri’s eyes are.
“I don’t know,” he declared simply.
“She has huge brown eyes,” Anderson told Judge Greer in her closing remarks.
“If you remember nothing else about her, you remember that.”
When questioned by Anderson, Dr. Greer admitted he had not read a certain, major article in a British medical journal reporting a 43 percent error rate in PVS diagnoses over a five-year period.