Editor’s Note: The life and death tug-of-war over Terri Schiavo is a 12-year-old court battle that remained under the radar of most major news outlets until recently. WorldNetDaily was among the first national news organizations to cover the story back when it primarily occupied the headlines of the local press in Southwest Florida, in November 2002.
As the rest of the news world works to catch up on this complex, multifaceted, precedent-setting case, readers have asked WND about errors and glaring omissions in the current widespread media coverage. In addition, much of what WND reported in previous years is now topping headlines elsewhere, leaving readers to question why they’re not finding the same details in current editions of WND.
In view of this, WorldNetDaily has decided to mine our extensive archives to compile a comprehensive analysis of the Terri Schiavo story.
Major media organizations paint the pitched battle over the life of Terri Schiavo as a clear- cut debate between pro-life and right-to-die advocates, bankrolled by big money activist organizations on both sides. But the case of the 41-year-old brain-injured Florida woman is anything but clear cut.
The little-publicized nuances of her 15-year saga often get lost amid the smoldering, post-election political warfare reignited by the intervention of Congress on behalf of Terri. But as President Bush pointed out in a statement on Terri Schiavo, “there are serious questions and substantial doubts” in her case.
Chief among these doubts is whether the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube on March 18, which amounts to slow death by dehydration and starvation, reflects her wishes. There is no written directive from Terri Schiavo on the matter.
Terri Schiavo before her disability.
In February of 1990 at the age of 26, Terri Schiavo collapsed at home and oxygen was cut off to her brain for several minutes. The cause of the collapse is disputed. Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, blames a cardiac arrest induced by a potassium imbalance associated with bulimia. The Schindlers suspect he tried to strangle her, based on court testimony by a neurologist that Terri had suffered a neck injury when she was admitted to the hospital.
No one was aware Terri Schiavo had an eating disorder. The Schindlers told WND that Terri was very conscious of her weight because she had been heavy in high school and her husband put pressure on her to stay thin, reportedly making comments like “If you ever get that fat again, I’ll divorce you.”
Michael Schiavo denies having made such comments to his wife.
Though severely brain-damaged, Terri Schiavo breathes and maintains a heart beat and blood pressure on her own. While her vision is impaired, she can see and move her limbs. But she needs a feeding tube connected to her stomach to sustain her life.
WorldNetDaily reported the tube was pulled to fulfill the court-ordered request of Michael Schiavo, despite attempted intervention by members of House and Senate committees and the Florida Legislature, and after Florida courts rejected a flurry of eleventh-hour motions by Bob and Mary Schindler to keep their daughter alive.
Bob and Mary Schindler (courtesy Bay News 9)
The Schindler family maintains Terri has consistently exhibited a strong will to live, despite the February 2000 ruling by Judge George Greer of the 6th Judicial Circuit Court in Clearwater, Fla., that she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means. Greer’s ruling was based on the testimony by Michael Schiavo, his brother, and his brother’s wife that Terri made “casual statements” to them a year before her injury that she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Greer declared that testimony “clear and convincing evidence” of Terri Schiavo’s wishes.
Florida law allows for consideration of oral expressions of end-of-life wishes.
Michael Schiavo told the court he and Terri had talked about life support when her grandmother was in a nursing home, unconscious for weeks and on a ventilator. He testified that Terri had said, “If I ever have to be a burden to anybody, I don’t want to live like that.”
Under Florida law, a feeding tube is considered a life-support device on par with a respirator.
Michael Schiavo (Photo: Baynews9.com)
“My aim is to carry out Terri’s wishes,” Michael Schiavo told WND after court proceedings in October 2002. “If Terri would even know that I had somebody taking care of her bodily functions, she’d kill us all in a heartbeat. She’d be so angry,” he added.
The Schindlers disputed Schiavo’s court testimony, and maintain Terri would never have said such a thing, that it would be completely out of character. They also argued that as a devout Roman Catholic, their daughter believes in the sanctity of life.
A girlfriend of Terri’s concurred. In court testimony, Diane Meyer shared her recollection of a conversation she had with Terri after watching the 1982 television movie about Karen Ann Quinlan. Meyer said Terri told her she did not agree with the well-known decision by Quinlan’s parents to take their comatose daughter off her respirator. Meyer remembers Terri wondering aloud how doctors and lawyers could possibly know what Quinlan was feeling or what she would want.
“Where there’s life,” Meyer recalled Terri saying, according to the The Buffalo News, “there’s hope.”
Although initially finding Meyer’s testimony “believable,” Greer concluded the conversation could not have occurred in 1982, because he believed Quinlan died in 1976. At that time, Terri would have been only 11 or 12 years old and, therefore, would not have made her end-of-life wishes as an adult.
As WND reported, none of the attorneys working on the Schiavo case at the time apparently noticed Greer’s mistake in dates; Quinlan did not die until 1985, about nine years after her court case ended and her respirator was removed.
Last month, attorneys for the Schindlers filed a motion claiming Greer made a “reversible error” in discounting Meyer’s testimony, which affected his determination of whether Terri Schiavo would want to be kept alive in her present condition.
Schiavo story changes
The Schindlers question why Michael Schiavo only belatedly recalled his wife’s “casual statements” allegedly refusing life support. Specifically, they point out he changed his story after winning more than $1.5 million dollars in a medical-malpractice lawsuit against Terri’s physicians who, Schiavo successfully argued, should have treated her potassium imbalance before it resulted in cardiac arrest. As WND reported, Michael Schiavo filed a petition in May 1998 to disconnect his wife’s feeding tube reportedly to carry out her wishes.
During the malpractice-suit trial nearly six years earlier in November 1992, Michael Schiavo made no mention of his wife’s alleged wish to die and conversely pleaded for the opportunity to personally take care of his wife at home for the rest of his life. He sought $20 million to cover the cost of her future medical and neurological care, estimating her life expectancy was 50 years.
Schiavo told the jury he was studying nursing because he wanted “to learn more how to take care of Terri.” According to a transcript of his testimony, Michael Schiavo was asked how he felt about being married to Terri, given her condition.
“I feel wonderful. She’s my life and I wouldn’t trade her for the world,” he replied. “I believe in my wedding vows. … I believe in the vows I took with my wife, through sickness, in health, for richer or poor. I married my wife because I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I’m going to do that.”
Bob Schindler points to the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., where his brain-injured daughter resides. (Photo: David Nee)
“Less than eight months later, [Michael Schiavo] tried to stop her medication for an infection,” Bob Schindler told WND. “She would have died but the nursing home where she was at the time overruled him and treated her. … Then he put a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order in her medical chart.”
When the hospice staff challenged the order’s legality, Schiavo backed away from it.
As for not treating the urinary tract infection, Michael Schiavo testified he was following her doctor’s advice.
But his brother, Brian Schiavo, believes he’d lost all hope of Terri recovering.
”I think he finally saw the reality of it,” Brian Schiavo told the New York Times.
By 1997, after his mother died, Michael Schiavo began mentioning his wife’s alleged end-of-life wishes.
“Which Michael are we to believe?” Bobby Schindler asks. “The one who promised he would take care of his wife for the rest of his life, or the one who says these were Terri’s death wishes?”
A woman who dated Michael Schiavo for a year between 1992 and 1993 claims to have insight into Schiavo’s apparent flip-flop on Terri’s wishes.
Cindy Shook gave a deposition to the Schindlers in April 2001, in which she stated that when she once asked Michael Schiavo about treatment for Terri he responded, “How the hell should I know?We never spoke about this. My God, I was only 25 years old. How the hell should I know? We were young. We never spoke of this.”
Based on this purported evidence that Schiavo lied about Terri’s wishes, Civil Court Judge Frank Quesada ordered doctors to reinsert Terri’s feeding tube, three days into her first court-ordered starvation.
Greer refused to hear the new evidence.
Per the malpractic-trial jury’s specifications, more than $700,000 of the $1.3 million awarded Michael Schiavo was placed in a trust fund to cover Terri’s therapy and medical treatment. Michael Schiavo was also awarded $600,000 to compensate for his loss. WND reported that more than half of the money earmarked for Terri Schiavo’s medical care has been spent on Michael Schiavo’s eight-year legal battle to end her life, despite attorneys’ public statements to the contrary. Schiavo attorney George Felos was reimbursed for fees totaling $358,434. Michael Schiavo’s other attorney, Deborah Bushnell, was paid $80,309. The attorneys say only about $50,000 remains of Terri’s medical-care fund.
WND also reported that to the horror of Terri’s family in October 2002, Bushnell filed a petition on Michael Schiavo’s behalf, seeking authorization of pre-payment for Terri’s cremation and burial expenses out of her medical-treatment fund.
It is the money that sparked the rift between the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo, who were close until the medical-malpractice award was delivered in 1993. Michael Schiavo says he was especially close to his mother-in-law and called the Schindlers “mom” and “dad.”
The Schindlers and Michael Schiavo lived together, ran fund-raisers together and worked together toward the common goal of trying to get their old Terri back.
In the first two years after her collapse Terri Schiavo received rehabilitative therapy and progressed to the point of saying “no,” according to nurses’ notes. She would also say, “yes” and “stop that,” according to the Schindlers.
In 1991, Michael Schiavo flew his wife out to California for experimental therapy involving electrodes. He returned discouraged with the outcome, however.
Therapy was discontinued and Terri Schiavo was relocated by her husband to one nursing home and then another before ultimately being moved to a hospice in 2000 where she remains. WND reported regulations generally prohibit a hospice from taking a patient who is not terminally ill and expected to live longer than six months to a year. But Felos was chairman of the board of directors of the hospice at the time, according to the non-profit’s annual reports, and was likely able to arrange for her admission. He subsequently stepped down from the post.
Then the money arrived. The two sides offer differing accounts of how the decade-old familial bond broke as a result.
The Schindlers believed the money could help Terri recover, given her early progress toward rehabilitation. They say Michael had agreed to also spend some of his award on her treatment and on the cost of taking care of her at home.
“After the money came in, Michael Schiavo refused to follow through on a commitment he made to get Terri special treatment at Shands Hospital in Gainesville,” Bob Schindler told WND. “So I went to his father to get him to intercede. I said, ‘He’s not doing anything for her. Please get him to do something.’”
”I was devastated,” Schindler testified in 1993.
When asked if Terri had been given therapy or rehabilitative treatment since 1993, Schiavo told WND he hired an aide between 1994 and 1996 to take her to the museum and to the hair salon in an effort to try to stimulate her.
“Before hospice, there used to be monthly evaluations of Terri by physical therapists, occupational therapists, and every month they said ‘Terri will not benefit from therapy,’” he said.
Michael Schiavo attributes the falling out with the Schindlers to their bitterness over not receiving any of the malpractice money. In his recount of a February 1993 argument with them during an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Schiavo said Bob Schindler demanded: “How much am I going to get from her money?”
Michael Schiavo on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” (Photo: St. Petersburg Times)
Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother, told WorldNetDaily Schiavo distorted the conversation that triggered the feud between the families.
“My father was seeking money for Terri’s rehabilitation, which Michael Schiavo was refusing to give her,” he said, calling Schiavo’s accusation “ironic.” The Schindlers suspect Michael Schiavo is motivated by money, a claim Schiavo disputes by pointing out he offered three times to donate his malpractice award to charity.
But Bobby Schindler called it a “hollow offer.”
“The offer came with the stipulation that my parents agree to let my sister starve to death. Why would we let her starve to death?,” Schindler told WorldNetDaily. “This is documented. We have the letter from Felos. We even faxed it to Larry King’s producers and warned them he would make this claim. I wish Larry King would have the gumption to ask follow-up questions.”
“Vegetable” or neglected patient?
Another chief doubt distinguishing the contentious tussle over Terri’s life from a clear-cut, right-to-die case is whether she remains in a persistent vegetative state, or PVS, which is one of the conditions necessary under Florida law to legally permit the removal of her feeding tube.
Serendipitously, the Florida law governing end-of-life care was revised, effective Oct. 1, 1999, to the benefit of Michael Schiavo’s petition to remove Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. Prior to this date, it was necessary for two physicians to determine the patient had a “terminal condition” from which there is no reasonable probability of recovery in order to withhold or withdraw their life-prolonging procedures.
The revised law now allowed two physicians to deem the patient is in an end-stage condition and/or a persistent vegetative state, or PVS.
Four short months after the revamped law took effect, Greer ruled in February 2000 that Terri Schiavo was in PVS. Her feeding tube was subsequently disconnected for three days in April 2001 before a series of appeals put Greer’s order on hold.
Critics of the Schindlers’ long crusade to keep their daughter alive accuse the couple of changing their story just as demonstrably as Michael Schiavo. Specifically, in the original trial hearings a decade ago the attorney representing the Schindlers convinced them to stipulate that Terri was in PVS.
Since the 2000 trial, the Schindlers have gathered opinions from some 33 medical experts, which persuade them that Terri Schiavo’s condition is better described as resembling cerebral palsy.
Subsequently, they provided the court with “reams of medical evidence,” according to family spokesman Gary McCullough, indicating Terri could be rehabilitated. But the court would not consider it because of the original stipulation.
“It was a huge error on the part of lawyers at the front end,” he said. “Judge Greer is simply playing by the rule book … Some other judge should have been able to start from square one.”
A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, after affirming the ruling in one trial, reversed itself and remanded the case back down to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing to further explore Terri’s medical condition, the availability and efficacy of treatments for her and their acceptance within the medical community.
Per the appellate court order, five doctors – two selected by Schiavo, two selected by the Schindlers and one appointed by Greer – conducted diagnostic tests on Terri and reported their findings during the October 2002 evidentiary hearing.
The two neurologists petitioned by Schiavo attorney George Felos, as well as the court-appointed neurologist, testified that Terri remains in PVS and available treatment options at the time didn’t offer the “sufficient promise of increased cognitive function” in her cerebral cortex to significantly improve her quality of life. According to their testimony, Terri maintains subcortical and brain stem activity which governs involuntary actions such as respiration, digestion and responses to auditory and visual stimuli.
According to court testimony during the evidentiary hearing, PVS is misdiagnosed between 40 and 60 percent of the time.
WND pointed out that one of the two neurologists Felos solicited for testimony, Dr. Ronald Cranford, is a bioethicist and renowned proponent of euthanasia. Cranford calls himself, “Dr. Humane Death.” He is a familiar face at right-to-die trials across the country.
WND also reported Cranford is a member of the board of directors of the Choice in Dying Society, which promotes doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia, and was a featured speaker at the 1992 national conference of the Hemlock Society. The group recently changed its name to End of Life Choices.
In 1997, Cranford wrote an opinion piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune titled: “When a feeding tube borders on barbaric.”
“Just a few decades ago cases of brain death, vegetative state, and locked-in syndrome were rare,” he wrote. “These days, medicine’s ‘therapeutic triumphs’ have made these neurologic conditions rather frequent. For all its power to restore life and health, we now realize, modern medicine also has great potential for prolonging a dehumanizing existence for the patient.”
Felos is also a prominent right-to-die proponent. In 1996 he served as the legal advocate for Estelle Browning’s right to die, another high-profile Florida case. In a book about the case, he describes how he “plumbed the depths of death and dying and spearheaded a social revolution to enable death with dignity in the state of Florida.”
“Individuals have a right to control their own body and the right to choose what medical treatment they want and what medical treatment they don’t want,” Felos told WND. “If you’ve made the decision that medical treatment is no longer a benefit for you and you don’t want it, then you do have the legal and constitutional right to refuse it. And I’m an advocate of allowing people to enforce that right.”
Still, Felos denies the Terri Schiavo case is part of an agenda.
“This case is not about a movement or a philosophy. It’s about carrying out Terri Schiavo’s wishes,” he said.
On the other side of the aisle, Alliance Defense Fund boasts of its “significant funding” of Terri Schiavo’s defense. According to its mission statement, attorneys with the alliance litigate “matters protecting religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values.”
The Group supported the Schindlers’ legal costs for over a two-year period, during the time Anderson represented the Schindlers. She left the case in September, 2004 and was replaced by David Gibbs III.
The devout Baptist’s law firm specializes in defending the religious liberties of “Bible-believing organizations.” It’s an offshoot of his father’s Christian ministry, the Christian Law Association, which seeks to spread the gospel of Jesus and help defend constitutionally guaranteed liberties.
“I believe that God gives each life a calling,” Gibbs told the St. Petersburg Times. “I believe that I have been called to help other Christians.”
While Schiavo’s experts and the court-appointed expert saw no improvement in the CAT scans of Terri’s brain from 1996 to 2002, William Maxfield, a radiologist petitioned by the Schindlers, testified Terri has shown improvements in brain tissue and would benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a treatment that increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
William Hammesfahr, a neurologist petitioned by the Schindlers, testified that Terri shows cognitive function and would benefit from a treatment called vasodilatation, which is similar to that proposed by Maxfield.
“I spent about 10 hours across about three months [examining Terri] and the woman is very aware of her surroundings. She’s very aware. She’s alert. She’s not in a coma. She’s not in PVS,” Hammesfahr told CNN Tuesday night. “With proper therapy, she will have a tremendous improvement. I think, personally, that she’ll be able to walk, eventually, and she will be able to use at least one of her arms.”
Portions of a four-hour videotaped examination of Terri by Hammesfahr were shown to the court during the evidentiary hearing. In the video, Terri appears to interact with her mother with a reaction of happiness, follow commands to open and shut her eyes and lift limbs, and tracks a Mickey Mouse balloon across the room with her eyes.
Terri responds to her mother.
Anderson later described her behavior in a statement to an appellate court.
“Terri smiles appropriately, she laughs appropriately, she tracks a balloon with her eyes, she tracks a set of flashing lights with her eyes, she opens her eyes wide on command, she squeezes her eyes shut on command, she turns her head and looks in the direction of the speaker, she follows Dr. Hammesfahr’s movements around the room with her eyes, and, perhaps most poignantly, Terri tries as hard as she can to do that which is asked of her,” Anderson said.
Schiavo’s experts chalked Terri’s responses to commands up to “involuntary reflexes.” Cranford called the videotape a “cheap trick.”
In his closing statements, Felos urged Greer to review the full four hours of tape.
“We see Terri moan, we see Terri make facial gestures. Yes, some of her gestures and moans are involuntary response to the environment. Some are random,” he said. “I’m sorry to disillusion anyone. But it’s unfortunate that Terri doesn’t have the cognition or the ability to recognize and make that expression.”
Asked to describe his reaction to the video, Michael Schiavo told WND: “I see a shell of somebody I used to know. Somebody I loved and adored very much. And now she’s a shell. … She’s existing. That’s not life.”
“The overwhelming majority of people would agree that there are fates worse than death,” Felos
summed up in his closing arguments at the evidentiary hearing. “Can you imagine the agony and torture … if Terri Schiavo had cognition of her condition? Thank God she doesn’t,” he said.
Terri’s sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, offered a contrasting interpretation of the taped medical examination.
“I see a horrific scene of somebody that’s been neglected. She hasn’t been … given rehabilitation in
over 10 years, but I still see my sister. She’s in there. She is severely brain damaged. But she shows us
all the time that she’s in there just by her reactions,” she told WND.
Appearing live on “The Oprah Winfrey show” via satellite, Vitadamo described Terri’s reactions as “purposeful.”
Mary Schindler, Bobby Schindler and Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo join Oprah via satellite, Nov. 14, 2003. (Photo: The Oprah Winfrey Show)
“When you go in and say ‘hi’ to Terri, Terri will in a sense do her best to say ‘hi’ to you. Or there’s a lot of times where if you tell Terri you’re going to leave, she’ll cry. She doesn’t want you to leave. So her reactions are very purposeful.”
“She cries, she laughs and she follows me around the room. She laughs at her dad’s jokes. Each day is different,” Mary Schindler added.
Bobby Schindler told Oprah “there’s a real misconception” about Terri’s medical condition.
“It’s not just the family saying that Terri can be helped. We have over a dozen doctors – half of them being neurologists – that all have either testified or examined Terri and all believe that she could significantly improve if she was just given the chance,” Bobby Schindler said. “For whatever reason, Michael [Schiavo] lost hope for Terri back in 1992. And from that point on she has been completely neglected, has gotten no rehabilitation, no therapy.”
Schindler was referencing 17 sworn affidavits from medical experts collected by the family since Greer’s PVS ruling, disputing Terri is in PVS. The number of affidavits has grown to 33 since this television interview. Three early affidavits came from physicians who saw Terri’s videotaped examination during local TV stations’ coverage of the court proceedings and voluntarily jumped on the band wagon to try and save her.
A more recent affidavit comes from Sarah Green Mele, a speech-language pathologist on the staff of the top rehabilitation facility in the country, Rehabilitative Institute of Chicago. WND reported Mele declared in a nine-page sworn statement that Terri Schiavo is definitely not in a persistent vegetative state and that she is trying to talk.
Although she did not examine Terri Schiavo in person, Mele reviewed all her available medical records, including those for physical therapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy given during the first two years of her disability. She studied the videotape presented at the October evidentiary hearing, along with audio recordings of Terri and her father, in which she vocalizes in response to questions directed at her. The Schindlers posted three audio clips and a series of excerpts from the video on their website in an effort to muster public support.
Among Mele’s conclusions:
“… Mrs. Schiavo is clearly aware of her environment and interacts with it, albeit inconsistently. She is able to comprehend spoken language, and can, at least inconsistently, follow simple one-step commands.”
“Her eye movements, easily observed on the videotape, are particularly suggestive that she recognized family members and responded.”
“Terri is clearly vocalizing. She does not appear to vocalize at random during these examinations. Her vocalizations are generally purposeful and usually in response to specific environmental stimuli, most particularly family members.”
Mele noted the family has been trying to coach Terri in basic speech and that she seems to say “yeah.”
“Her use of this sound ['yeah'] on the audiotape is apparently in response to her father,” she wrote. “It is reasonable to conclude that Terri is trying, despite her motor deficits, to speak as best she can. Terri is clearly a suitable candidate for speech-language therapy.”
Encouraged by the physicians’ affidavits, but thwarted by the restricted access to Terri imposed by Michael Schiavo, the Schindlers conducted a covert rehabilitation program from November 2002 through February 2003. WorldNetDaily exclusively reported Terri Schiavo received daily, hour-long “tough-love” therapy sessions over cellphone with staff members of a therapeutic company, Galaxy Wave Group.
“In December of 2002, I confronted Ms. Schindler with the ‘truth’ and told her that unless she helped me in returning her from the comatose state that she was in that she was going to die a horrid death,” company president, Joe Champion wrote in a sworn affidavit. “I explained in detail that they would remove the single tube that was providing her nutrition and she would slowly die of starvation. At this point,
it was reported by her father that she sat up in bed and became teary eyed.”
At the time, Bob Schindler announced to supporters gathered outside of Terri’s hospice that during the cellphone conversation with the therapist, his daughter suddenly bolted upright as if trying to get out of her chair.
According to the therapist, who does not wish to be named, Terri was able to move her hand, her arm, her leg on command. She couldn’t speak, but she followed instructions.
“The bottom line is she is not vegetative, the way the husband and the side the court has gone with want to portray her,” the therapist said. “She definitely has some brain damage and severe problems, but she is not a vegetable.”
Schindler family attorney Barbara Weller similarly reported the severely brain-injured woman cried and yelled out that she wants to live after being told her life-sustaining feeding tube was about to be removed by court order.
Weller essentially told Terri Schiavo, “You had better say you want to live or they will kill you. Just say you want to live.”
Terri Schiavo responded with a drawn out, “IIIIII,” then screamed out “waaaaaaaa” so loudly that a police officer stationed outside the room came in. The officer then ordered Weller removed from the room, according to prominent pro-life activist Randall Terry.
The event was witnessed by Vitadamo and her husband, Michael.
Legislative, executive branches join in
Ignoring the Schindlers’ affidavits, Greer sided with Schiavo in November 2002 and reaffirmed his original ruling that Terri Schiavo was in PVS. He ordered the feeding tube be pulled Jan. 3, 2003. Numerous appellate court and federal court motions delayed this second removal until Oct. 15, 2003.
As WND reported, Terri endured six days of dehydration and starvation before a ground swell of public support for the incapacitated woman prompted the Florida Legislature to pass “Terri’s Law,” which empowered Gov. Bush to order Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube reinserted.
Gov. Jeb Bush
Some 165,000 e-mails, spawned by a petition drive launched by a devoted network of volunteer Terri supporters, urged the governor to act.
“Like the tens of thousands of Floridians who have raised their voices in support of Terri Schiavo’s right to live, I have been deeply moved by these tragic circumstances,” Bush said in a statement. “I understand the limitations cited by the judges who have declined to hear the later stages of this case. However, any life or death decision should be made only after careful consideration of all related facts and conditions. For that reason, I appreciate the extraordinary action of the legislature today, and will use the discretion they have granted regarding the restoration of nutrition and water to Terri Schiavo.”
Felos blasted the legislation as “absurdly unconstitutional.”
In a 44-page brief appealing the reinsertion of the feeding tube carried out per Bush’s order, Felos argued “Terri’s Law” “eradicates Mrs. Schiavo’s rights to privacy and due process,” and is an “example of legislative and executive overreaching prohibited by the separation of powers enshrined in the Florida Constitution.”
The new law “gives the governor unfettered and unreviewable discretion to ‘stay’ the withholding of artificially provided nutrition and hydration from Mrs. Schiavo and prevent her from dying with dignity,” Felos contended in his brief, adding, “nothing could be more repugnant to the Constitution of the state of Florida.”
As it had threatened it would do if the legislature and governor acted to save Terri, the American Civil Liberties Union joined the fray as co-counsel on Schiavo’s side against the governor and Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist.
“This dangerous abuse of power by the governor and Florida lawmakers should concern everyone who may face difficult and agonizing decisions involving the medical condition of a family member,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU.
Bush’s attorney, Kenneth Connor, dismissed the separation-of-powers argument, contending Florida courts have ruled lawmakers can act to affect prior court decisions. Connor maintained Terri Schiavo’s rights under the Florida Constitution actually were preserved, not violated, under “Terri’s Law,” which provides extra protection for disabled people who have nothing in writing and whose family members are divided on treatment.
Last May, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Douglas Baird declared the law unconstitutional, on the basis of Felos’ separation-of-powers and right-to -privacy arguments.
A month later, after having passed on the opportunity to adjudicate other aspects of the Terri Schiavo case, the Florida Supreme Court bypassed the 2nd District Court of Appeal and assumed jurisdiction over the “Terri’s Law” appeal. WND reported that after hearing oral arguments, the justices rendered a 7-0 decision in September that struck down the law.
“It is without question an invasion of the authority of the judicial branch for the Legislature to pass a law that allows the executive branch to interfere with the final judicial determination in a case,” Chief Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the court.
The United States Supreme Court subsequently refused to hear the case, paving the way for the third removal of Terri’s feeding tube last week.
Counting the black robes
As WND reported, the extent of judicial review of the Terri Schiavo case is a bone of contention between the two sides. The Schindlers assert Schiavo and his attorney routinely exaggerate the number of judges who’ve weighed in on the case knowing that less vigilant members of the media will ignorantly repeat the distortion – and they have.
Specifically, at the time of Schiavo and Felos’ appearance on “Larry King Live” in late October 2003, only four judges had been involved in adjudicating the case over the past decade – Greer and three appellate court judges. Yet, Bobby Schindler complained, Schiavo claimed 19 judges had “concluded this is Terri’s wish” and Felos said 20 judges “found Michael Schiavo to be a loving, caring husband.”
“They’re adding up all the judges on the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court even though those courts refused to hear our case,” said Schindler.
A sampling of coverage this week indicates journalists continue to repeat the distortion.
When Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” anchor Alan Colmes suggested to the Schindler family the case had been extensively adjudicated and because of that they should accept it as fact that Terri does not wish to live, Vitadamo jumped in to correct him:
“You know, Alan, absolutely not. And you know, one judge, Judge Greer, found that Terri had these alleged wishes. And then you had a couple or three appellate judges that upheld this decision,” she said. “There’s not a litany of judges that agree with him. I believe Judge Greer was wrong. Those wishes were fabricated. They are hearsay evidence. And I know my sister. She would never in a million years want to be starved to death.”
“What I think you’re seeing now is a display where the judicial system is, they’re flexing their muscles,” added Bob Schindler. “They’re showing who’s in command of this country. And we’re not. The public is not, and the people you elect to Congress are not. The judges are. And woe to this country with those people in power. We’ve lost control.”
Felos worries more about execuitve fiat than judicial tyranny.
“It saddens me greatly that we have to run to court to get court orders to protect Terri Schiavo from the abuse by the state of Florida. The conduct of the executive branch of the state of Florida has been reprehensible in this case,” he told WFTS-TV.
Judge George Greer
Before the Florida Supreme Court became involved in the constitutionality of “Terri’s Law” last fall, Greer was the primary adjudicator of the seven-year case. In addition to his consistent rulings siding with Michael Schiavo, Greer routinely rejected the scores of motions brought by the Schindlers, including their petitions for new swallow tests for Terri. Medical records show she hasn’t received any since 1993.
WND has reported Terri’s feeding tube might not even be necessary. Because she does not drool but is swallowing and controlling her own saliva, many doctors believe she could be fed by spoon, thereby obviating the need for a feeding tube.
Since September 1993, the Schindlers have repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, petitioned the courts to have Michael Schiavo removed as Terri’s legal guardian.
Just prior to filing his May 1998 petition to disconnect his wife’s feeding tube, Michael Schiavo got engaged to another woman, with whom he lives and has fathered two children. He refuses to divorce Terri, maintaining he’s determined to carry out what he believes to be Terri’s wishes.
“I moved on with a part of my life. I’m sorry that the Schindlers can’t move on with any of theirs,” Schiavo told WND.
WND has reported the Schindlers argue, on the basis of his admitted adultery, and alleged neglect and abuse, that Michael Schiavo has a conflict of interest and is unfit to serve as Terri’s legal guardian.
“Fidelity is a key component of the respect and dignity that our society expects one spouse to afford the other; yet, this guardian believes that Terri’s disability releases him of his legal and moral responsibility,” Anderson argued in a motion asserting Schiavo violated Terri’s rights to be treated with dignity and respect and her right to privacy established under Florida Statute 744.474. The motion argued Terri deserves a divorce.
The Schindlers’ 24-page petition filed in federal court in August 2003 also argued the malpractice-award money created a conflict of interest for Schiavo and accused him of “wasting, embezzlement, or other mismanagement of the ward’s property” by spending the money in Terri’s medical-care fund on attorneys’ fees.
“While exhausting Terri’s money for the purpose of killing her, not one red cent could be found by Schiavo to enhance the quality of her life after receipt of the malpractice award. … [A]nd the expenditure of nothing for therapy that would reduce the pain of contractures, enhance Terri’s ability to swallow, or facilitate recovery of basic abilities is the grossest form of asset mismanagement,” Anderson stated in the petition.
Among the neglect and abuse complaints of the Schindlers is that Michael Schiavo:
- Has not allowed therapy or rehabilitation since late 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 her parents since 1993, despite a court order requiring him to do so.
- Has limited the visitors list, requiring they must first be approved by him and removes visitors at his 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 told WND.
“Once malpractice money came in February 1993 she was put on the shelf [in a nursing home],” Anderson declared in closing arguments at the 2002 evidentiary hearing.
Bob Schindler likens his daughter’s confinement at hospice to being in jail.
“She has literally been in prison for four years. She’s not permitted to go outside. She has no stimulation,” he said in an appearance on “Hannity & Colmes” in late 2003.
The Schindlers’ charges of abuse and neglect mirror those laid out in an 700-page complaint filed with the Florida Department of Children and Family in 2001. The charges were investigated and DCF officials concluded they were “unfounded with recommendations,” according to the anonymous complainant.
Greer ruled earlier this month he would hear a DCF 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.
Felos said the DCF’s attempt to intervene in the case “reeks of political arm-twisting.”
The Schindlers’ federal lawsuit seeking the removal of Michael Schiavo as Terri’s guardian references court testimony and depositions from several former caregivers who assert Michael Schiavo had forbidden medical professionals to provide his wife with any therapy or rehabilitation and had attempted to hasten her death while she was a patient.
As WorldNetDaily reported Carla Sauer Iyer, a registered nurse who cared for Terri at the nursing home where she resided from April 1995 until August of 1996 when she was fired after notifying the police about the case, stated in a sworn affidavit Terri used to talk to her as much as she could and frequently used what sounded like the word “pain.” She also interpreted Terri’s vocalizing at times as crying “help me.”
Iyer stated Michael Schiavo used to make comments such as “When is she going to die?,” “Has she died yet?” and “When is that b—- gonna die?”
While acknowledging she had no proof, Iyer said she suspected Michael Schiavo injected Terri, who normally has “very stable” blood sugar levels, with regular insulin to drive her into hypoglycemic shock during his visits.
“Terri would be trembling, crying hysterically and would be very pale and have cold sweats,” Iyer said in her deposition. “So I’d check her blood sugar. The glucometer reading would be so low that it was below the range where it would register an actual number reading.”
In her sworn deposition, certified nursing assistant Heidi Law said that even though Michael Schiavo ordered that his wife receive no rehabilitation or range of motion therapy, she and a co-worker secretly gave her range of motion therapy anyway behind closed doors.
“I and Olga would give Terri range of motion anyway, but we knew we were endangering our jobs by doing so,” Law wrote. “We usually did this behind closed doors, we were so fearful of being caught. Our hearts would race and we were always looking out for Michael, because we knew that, not only would Michael take his anger out on us, but he would take it out more on Terri. We spoke of this many times.”
Law, who cared for Terri Schiavo at the same nursing home as Iyer from March to mid- 1997, also described Terri Schiavo swallowing liquids and Jello.
“At least three times during any shift where I took care of Terri, I made sure to give Terri a wet washcloth filled with ice chips, to keep her mouth moistened. I personally saw her swallow the ice water and never saw her gag,” Law wrote. “On three or four occasions I personally fed Terri small mouthfuls of Jello, which she was able to swallow and enjoyed immensely. I did not do it more often only because I was so afraid of being caught by Michael.”
Law also reported hearing Terri Schiavo say “mommy” from time to time and “help me” a number of times.
Schiavo has repeatedly and strenuously denied allegations of abuse and neglect. Felos described Iyer’s accusations as “a bunch of garbage.” He called the caregivers’ claims that Terri spoke to them “a fabrication.”
Likewise, Greer dismissed Iyer’s testimony as “not credible.”
The federal lawsuit was also subsequently dismissed.
The court-appointed independent guardian established by “Terri’s Law,” Jay Wolfson, described Michael Schiavo as another kind of “nightmare.”
”His demanding concern for [Terri's] well-being and meticulous care by the nursing home earned him the characterization by the administrator as ‘a nursing home administrator’s nightmare,”’ he wrote in his assessment.
Conflict of interest?
Another component of the Schindlers’ contention of Schiavo’s conflict of interest as Terri’s guardian is medical evidence suggesting Terri may have been the victim of physical abuse. The report of a total-body bone scan done on Terri Schiavo while she was in a rehabilitation facility in March 1991 – 13 months after her collapse – describes what are known as “hot spots” suggestive of multiple fractures in her ribs, first lumbar vertebra, several thoracic vertebrae, both sacroiliac joints, and both knees and ankles, all deemed “presumably traumatic.”
The report states, “the patient has a history of trauma” and “the presumption is that the other multiple areas of abnormal activity ["hot spots"] also relate to previous trauma.” It speculates an alternative explanation to trauma would be “neoplastic bone disease.”
Unnamed physicians who reviewed the report at the request of Anderson concluded Terri was the victim of severe physical abuse. They noted the presence of “heterotrophic ossification,” or bone matter formed around the fractures, suggesting the fractures were not fresh. One physician commented: “Somebody worked her over real good.”
Felos called the report, and its associated allegations of abuse “garbage.” Citing medical records, he told WND the ossification was due to osteoporosis, which he said could be explained by the combination of Terri’s paralysis and the anti-seizure medication she was given.
Felos also said a follow-up X-ray done to verify the cause of the “hot spots” showed “degenerative bone disease, not multiple fractures … and only showed a minor fracture in the femur.”
Medical records show Terri has never been evaluated or treated by an orthopedic surgeon for the injuries revealed in the bone scan, which the Schindlers believe may have a profound bearing on her current medical condition. Greer rejected the Schindlers’ motion to investigate the matter, echoing Felos’ position the bone-scan report was “irrelevant.”
“A possible ‘minor’ compression fraction of the femur occurring over twelve years ago has no relevance to the issue now before this court,” Felos argued in his counter motion.
Terri’s mysterious collapse
To the Schindlers, the bone scan speaks to their long-held suspicions over the cause of Terri’s mysterious collapse in 1990.
After studying the bone scan, world-renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden posed an explosive theory on Fox News Channel’s “On the Record” hosted by Greta van Susteren. WorldNetDaily reported Baden, who is co-director of the Investigative Unit of New York State Police in Albany and former chief medical examiner for New York City, ruled out potassium imbalance and a heart attack as factors in Terri’s mysterious collapse and pointed to head trauma and bone injuries as a more likely cause.
Neurologist Hammesfahr testified in the 2002 evidentiary hearing that Terri was admitted to the hospital after her collapse with a “suspiciously rigid neck” and that he’d only seen “this peculiar constellation of injuries,” referencing her rigid neck and cardiac arrest, in a case of attempted strangulation.
In testimony given during the 2000 trial, Terri’s girlfriend and co-worker, Jackie Rhodes, said Terri had discussed getting a divorce and moving in with her. She testified the couple had a violent argument on the day of Terri’s collapse, which prompted her to urge Terri to not stay at home that night – a suggestion Terri disregarded.
Terri Schiavo pre-tragedy.
“There are only two people who know what happened the night that she collapsed. And one of them is trying to kill the other who is too disabled to speak,” Anderson told WND.
WND reported Schiavo addressed the allegations of attempted strangulation in his Larry King interview.
“If I strangled her to the point of unconsciousness, her trachea would have been crushed,” he said, adding that no physician made notations regarding “marks around her neck,” which he said would have been there if the allegation was true.
Still, two starkly different versions of the events immediately following Terri’s collapse remain.
According to Schiavo, he heard a “thud” in the hall at 4:30 a.m. and got out of bed to find his wife lying face down on the floor. Schiavo said he rolled her over and saw she was “lifeless” and called 911.
“If Michael rolled her over, then he rolled her back,” Bobby Schindler told WorldNetDaily. “He has also stated [in other interviews] that when I showed up he was cradling her in his arms. Now he’s changing his story?”
According to Schindler’s account, Schiavo called Bob Schindler Sr. first, who then alerted Bobby because he lived in the same apartment complex as his sister. Then, prompted to do so by Bob Schindler, Schiavo called 911. Bobby Schindler said when he arrived on the scene, Terri was face down with her arms underneath her and her hands up by her neck.
“It’s etched in my mind,” said Schindler, adding that he heard a “gurgling or snoring sound” coming from Terri.
Schiavo, in turn, accuses Bobby Schindler of lying. But when challenged by a caller to Larry King’s show whether he was willing to take a lie detector test, Schiavo responded, “I’ll refrain from answering that right now.”
Felos dismisses the allegations and innuendo of scandal as desperate “delay tactics” mounted by the Schindlers and insists his client is acting out of love and respect for his wife’s desire to “die with dignity.”
“Who in God’s name would subject themselves to what he has gone through for any other reason?” he said. “He always deeply loved her.”
The lingering doubts and questions in the Terri Schiavo case have galvanized supporters around the world, prompting calls from a wide spectrum of people – from actor-director Mel Gibson to disabled-rights champion Joni Eareckson Tada, to Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, to the Vatican – to spare the incapacitated woman’s life.
Protesters gathered outside the hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., where Terri Schiavo resides. (Photo: David Nee)
One California businessman even felt compelled to offer Michael Schiavo $1 million to walk away from Terri, an offer Schiavo promptly rejected. And a pledge fund set up with the same objective in mind by radio talk host, Glenn Beck, totals more than $6 million.
As the clock ticked down to removal of the feeding tube, and throughout every day of Terri’s court- ordered starvation since, pro-life organizations, disability-rights groups, and hundreds of other supporters have staged round-the-clock prayer vigils and protests outside Terri Schiavo’s hospice.
Equally passionate right-to-die supporters canvas the airwaves and newspaper front pages, vocalizing their support for Michael Schiavo and condemning the governmental intrusion into what they consider to be a private family matter.
Political pundits have echoed the sentiments of Felos that the politicians should “be ashamed” of their actions to “deprive Terri of her wishes.”
Meanwhile millions of casual observers across the country and throughout the world remain transfixed by the hour-by-hour developments in the drama, each either waiting for justice or praying for a miracle.
Editor’s note: WorldNetDaily has been reporting on the Terri Schiavo story since 2002 – far longer than most other national news organization – and exposing the many troubling, scandalous, and possibly criminal, aspects of the case that to this day rarely surface in news reports. Read WorldNetDaily’s unparalleled, in-depth coverage of the life-and-death fight over Terri Schiavo, including over 150 original stories and columns.
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.