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Religious Right 'Using Terri'?

Posted By Diana Lynne On 03/27/2006 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Editor’s note: The following commentary is by Diana Lynne, author of a powerful, comprehensive book on Terri Schiavo’s life and death, titled “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.”

In “Using Terri,” California civil appellate attorney Jon Eisenberg, who promotes himself as “one of the lead attorneys on Michael Schiavo’s side,” seeks to sound the alarm that the religious Right used Terri Schiavo as part of a grand conspiracy to “take away our rights.” Eisenberg’s book is a misleading, disingenuous case of the pot calling the kettle “black.”

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are funding a conspiracy – there is no better word for it – to take away our right to personal autonomy,” Eisenberg writes in his introduction.

“There is a money trail leading to virtually all of the lawyers for the Schindlers and Governor Jeb Bush, through more than a dozen religious Right organizations, from a handful of foundations,” Eisenberg continues. “This money trail shows that the exploitation of the Schiavo case by leaders of the religious Right is part of a broader scheme to change America into a theocracy where the Constitution is subservient to the Bible and religious fundamentalists across the Judeo-Christian spectrum would intrude on our lives from conception to death by taking away our rights of personal autonomy.”

Eisenberg names the “backers of the plan” he maintains originated with the creation of the Heritage Foundation in 1973 as the Philanthropy Roundtable, which he describes as a 600-member network of conservative foundations, think tanks, and evangelicals worth more than $2 billion.

To prove his conspiracy theory, Eisenberg says he “followed the money.” Through the use of IRS form 990s, which are filed by tax-exempt organizations, news reports and other Internet references providing financial data through 2003, he claims to have linked seven conservative foundations that are part of this Philanthropy Roundtable directly to the Schiavo case.

He purports to do this by stating these foundations made donations during the timeframe of the Schiavo court case (but prior to 2003) to 14 religious-right organizations. Eisenberg then “connected the dots” by finding associations between these 14 groups and the “foot soldiers” on the Schindler side of the court battle, and Gov. Jeb Bush.

Never does Eisenberg assert, nor will he ever prove, the donations flowing from the foundations were specifically earmarked for the Schiavo case.

“I discovered broader financial connections, where there was a constant flow of money to the foot soldiers, not discernibly earmarked for the Schiavo case in particular but generally financing the foot soldiers’ work in the trenches of the culture wars, thus facilitating their work in the Schiavo battle,” he writes.

All Eisenberg succeeds in proving with his “paper trail” is that the “foot soldiers” – attorneys hired by the Schindlers or working pro bono on their behalf, as well as anti-euthanasia activists Wesley Smith and Rita Marker with the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide – who all worked to preserve Terri Schiavo’s constitutional and fundamental right to life all share a respect for the sanctity of life and/or a respect for the U.S. Constitution, which grants all citizens an inalienable right to life.

Incidentally, Eisenberg’s proof that Gov. Bush was part of a religious-right conspiracy is that “Jeb Bush served on Heritage Foundation’s board of trustees before his election as Florida governor.” That was before 1998, the year the Schiavo case started.

Despite exhaustive detective work, Eisenberg came up with just three instances of payments made directly to a Schindler “foot soldier” from one of the 14 groups on the religious right. Among his claims:

  • Over the three-plus years during which attorney Pat Anderson represented the Schindlers she received $300,000 from the Life Legal Defense Foundation and a sum “in the six figures” from the Alliance Defense Fund. (The sum from LLDF and ADF are one and the same. Anderson told WND she received approximately $350,000 from LLDF, which acted as a “sponsoring agency” in applying for grants from ADF.)

  • Wesley Smith, who served as an unpaid adviser to the Schindlers, was financed by the Life Legal Defense Foundation because the organization gave away copies of his book to raise donations to fund the litigation costs on the Schindler side.

  • The National Right to Life Committee paid Bobby Schindler’s travel expenses on a trip to Washington, D.C., in March 2005, during which he lobbied for congressional intervention.

All told, Eisenberg’s “paper trail” likely amounts to approximately $400,000.

Now, let’s take a look at the “paper trail” on the other side of the courtroom aisle. According to attorneys representing Michael Schiavo, and petitions for fees they filed with the court, of the $776,254 reported to have been in Terri Schiavo’s medical-care trust fund on April 6, 1993 – which was money awarded by a jury sitting for a medical-malpractice claim Schiavo filed against two of Terri’s physicians – the attorneys got $456,816, or 59 percent. The disbursements were as follows:

  • George Felos: $358,434
  • Deborah Bushnell: $80,309
  • Gyneth Stanley: $10,668
  • Steve Nilsson: $7,405

By this accounting, the sums spent on both sides of the case are roughly equal. But which is more underhanded? Attorneys who receive donations from pro-life organizations spending nearly a half million dollars on a battle to preserve the life of Terri Schiavo? Or attorneys pursuing the death of Terri Schiavo spending nearly a half a million dollars of the monies given to her by a jury which were meant to fund her medical care for the rest of her life?

But wait, there’s more. The America Civil Liberties Union of Florida was involved in the case on behalf of Michael Schiavo between 2003 and 2005. Although Eisenberg asserts the two staff attorneys working on the case were not paid, George Felos publicly admitted the ACLU was underwriting Schiavo’s litigation expenses. He declined to offer further details.

Using Eisenberg’s methodology, the ACLU received $4.41 million dollars during the timeframe of the Schiavo case from the Open Society Institute, a private foundation controlled by liberal billionaire and political activist George Soros, according to a CNSNews.com report by Jeff Johnson. Soros, who has a personal fortune estimated at $7 billion, is considered the Daddy Warbucks of left-wing political campaigns and numerous left of center causes, including drug legalization efforts.

Employing Eisenberg’s methodology, George Soros conspired to cause Terri’s death.

Actually, as I’ll describe in tomorrow’s column, that conclusion doesn’t stray too far from the truth.

“For the religious Right, Terri Schiavo was a tool to be used,” Eisenberg concludes.

And yet, simple chronology of the case shows just the opposite – Terri Schiavo was a tool to be used by the liberal left. The case began as a right-to-die case at the end of 1995 when George Felos, a self-described crusader for the right to die, who boasts ties to the organization Choice in Dying – a 1992 reincarnation of the Euthanasia Society of America, according to New York corporate records – and who admits to having a “fascination with death and dying,” and considers death to be a “profound mystical experience,” was introduced to Michael Schiavo, who was living with a woman with whom he would father two children and ultimately marry after Terri’s death.

Life Legal Defense Foundation, the first pro-life organization to enter the fray on behalf of the Schindlers did so in 2001 after Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer sentenced Terri Schiavo to death with his Feb. 11, 2000, order to remove her feeding tube. In other words, Schiavo was a right-to-die case more than five years before it became a right-to-life case.

Remember Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: For every action, there’s an equal but opposite reaction.

“Using Terri” is a case of the pot calling the kettle “black,” and employing some “fuzzy math” along the way.


Be sure to get your copy of “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.”


Related columns:

The Silence over Terri

Nov. 10, 1984, set stage for Terri’s death


Related articles:

Will you be the next Terri?

Part II: Will you be the
next Terri?

Media ‘malpractice’ exposed in Schiavo coverage

Was autopsy the final word?

Michael Schiavo’s political foray panned

Michael Schiavo wades into political arena


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