Inspired in part by the e-mails and letters from thousands of Floridians, Gov. Jeb Bush has entered the legal arena on behalf of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, the 39-year-old brain-disabled woman whose court-ordered death by starvation is scheduled to begin in eight days.
Gov. Jeb Bush
In papers delivered yesterday afternoon to the Federal Courthouse in Tampa, assistant counsel Christa Calamas, on behalf of Gov. Bush, asked U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara for permission for the governor to appear as a friend of the court and to file an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief supporting the preliminary injunction filed by Terri’s parents.
On Sept. 22, Robert and Mary Schindler of Gulf Port, Fla., sued their son-in-law Michael Schiavo, who also is Terri’s legal guardian, in federal court to block the Oct. 15 removal of the feeding tube that is keeping their daughter alive.
They asked Lazzara to postpone removal of the tube until Terri is given therapy and training that would enable her to be spoon fed.
Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, the well-known “right-to-die” advocate, filed a motion yesterday asking Lazzara to dismiss the Schindlers’ lawsuit or rule against them, describing their action as “yet another attempt to find another forum to relitigate what has been litigated many times before.”
He also has indicated he opposes Gov. Bush appearing as a friend of the court.
Attorney Patricia Anderson, who represents the Schindlers in the courtroom tug-of-war with their son-in-law, declined to comment on the case.
Calamas requested Bush be allowed to submit written argument and information to the court “on the issue of the critical distinction between removing artificial life support and the deliberate killing of a human by starvation and dehydration, and whether the latter constitutes the deprivation of [Terri’s] life without due process of law.”
“Among the issues presented in this case, Calamas declared, “is whether the removal of artificial life support without concurrent therapy to allow Theresa (“Terri”) Schiavo to eat naturally is a violation of the patient’s constitutional right to life.”
Calamas said the outcome of the case “will determine whether a citizen of the state of Florida lives or dies. In light of the seriousness of this matter, and the inability to remedy an improper outcome, the governor has a strong interest in ensuring that Terri Schiavo’s fundamental right to life is not deprived without due process of law, and that it is properly balanced with her right to privacy and liberty.”
In a 12-page Amicus memorandum, Bush cited several Florida statutes in support of allowing Terri to be weaned from her feeding tube so she can receive nourishment orally. He also gave three reasons for his involvement in the case. He said he has a constitutional duty to see that the laws are executed faithfully and a sworn duty to uphold the constitution of the state of Florida.
In addition, the governor said, he “feels compelled to give voice to the thousands of Floridians who have communicated to him their concern over this case.”
Major euthanasia battle
As WorldNetDaily reported, the Schindlers have been fighting with their son-in-law for 10 years over the lack of care and therapy he has provided for their daughter, who suffered massive brain damage when she collapsed at her home 13 years ago under mysterious circumstances at the age of 26.
Terri Schindler-Schiavo before her disability.
The contentious family dispute escalated into a major euthanasia battle in 1998 when Schiavo petitioned the Florida courts for permission to end his wife’s life by disconnecting her feeding tube, insisting she is in a “persistent vegetative state” and that in casual conversations she had told him she would not want to be kept alive “artificially.” Although Terri breathes on her own and maintains her own blood pressure, she requires a simple tube in her stomach for nourishment and hydration.
Terri’s parents and siblings have claimed for years she recognizes them and tries to talk, and over a dozen prominent doctors and therapists have stated under oath she is not vegetative and with therapy could be rehabilitated. Nevertheless, a handful of doctors have testified she is in a “persistent vegetative state.” They claim her expressions and vocalizations are simply reflex actions, and she will never regain consciousness. Despite a scarcity of expert testimony and evidence for Schiavo’s position, Greer and Florida’s appellate courts consistently have sided with him and his attorney, Felos.
When the seven-member Florida Supreme Court washed its hands of the matter in August by turning down an appeal by the Schindlers to review the case, the way was clear for Schiavo to starve his wife to death.
On Sept. 17, probate Judge George Greer, of the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, scheduled Oct. 15 as the day Terri’s feeding tube would be removed.
At the same time, but in separate rulings, Greer – who has been in charge of the case from almost the beginning – denied any rehabilitation whatsoever for the disabled woman. An Aug. 26 request by the Schindlers asking that their daughter be allowed an eight-week trial of speech, occupational and physical therapy, was summarily rejected along with a motion made Sept. 10 that she be taught to swallow food so she could be spoon fed.
Michael Schiavo (Photo: WFLA-TV)
With the state courts closed against them, the Schindlers sued their son-in-law in federal court to block the scheduled Oct. 15 removal of their daughter’s feeding tube. In their Sept. 22 request for a preliminary injunction, they asked Judge Lazzara that Terri be given therapy for a sufficient time to wean her off her feeding tube and return her to nutrition by mouth.
The following day, Lazzara set a date of Oct. 10 to hear arguments by the Schindlers and their attorney Patricia Anderson regarding alleged violations of Terri’s civil rights. Anderson will be joined by Christopher Ferrara of the Catholic Lawyers Association.
At this point, the governor stepped in. It isn’t the first time Bush has expressed an interest in the case.
‘An unbiased view’
In an Aug. 26 letter to Greer, Bush asked the judge to delay setting a date for removal of Terri’s feeding tube and to appoint a special guardian who would “independently investigate the circumstances of this case and provide the court with an unbiased view that considers the best interests of Mrs. Schiavo.”
Greer chose to ignore the letter.
“I read the letter because it came from the governor and I respect his position,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “Beyond that, it is going in the file.”
At a news conference that same day, Schiavo – who insists he only is doing what Terri would want him to do – said he wished the governor would stay out and keep his thoughts to himself.
“This is not about Jeb Bush, it’s not about the Schindlers, and it’s not about me,” he complained, according to WFLA-TV in Tampa. “It’s about Terri, and it always has been about Terri.”
But the governor didn’t see it that way, and in his memorandum he strongly disputed the notion denial of therapy would be Terri’s desire.
Bush said he “takes issue with the apparent assumptions by the state courts that Terri’s wish to be without such artificial means of support is the same as a wish to die, and that withdrawing her feeding tube is the same as allowing her to die.”
“Rather, there are two separate and distinct actions here,” the governor said, “only one of which has been shown by clear and convincing evidence to be Terri’s wishes. The first is the withdrawal of the feeding tube, which does not necessarily result in death and dehydration. The second is the withholding of natural oral feeding, which would proximately cause her death.”
Bush said the first action, withdrawing her feeding tube, “protects her fundamental liberty and privacy interests by enforcing her wishes as to her medical treatments, as found by [Greer’s guardianship court] to be proven.” But the second action, to withhold food completely, “would terminate her fundamental right to life under the Florida and federal Constitutions, without any evidence – let alone clear and convincing evidence – that she favors oral starvation and [de]hydration.”
Therefore, he said, “Terri’s right to life is violated by the state when the state, acting as her guardian, assumes that her wish to live without artificial sustenance is the same as a wish not to be fed at all.”
Bush made it clear in a footnote he was talking specifically about the trial court under Greer.
The governor stressed that in Florida law even incapacitated people such as Terri retain specific rights that may not be denied or ignored either by the court or guardian. These are set forth in Florida Statutes Section 744.3215. One is a retained right to receive necessary services and rehabilitation.
“While many rights may be delegated to a guardian , the right to receive necessary services and rehabilitation may not,” says Bush.
Bush said the first action, withdrawing her feeding tube, “protects her fundamental liberty and privacy interests by enforcing her wishes as to her medical treatments, as found by [Greer’s guardianship court] to be proven.” But the second action, to withhold food completely, “would terminate her fundamental right to life under the Florida and federal Constitutions, without any evidence — let alone clear and convincing evidence — that she favors oral starvation and [de]hydration.”
Probate Judge George Greer (Photo: Bay News
“The guardianship court recently prohibited the provision of such therapy requested by Terri’s parents,” Bush wrote, recalling Greer’s Sept. 17 ruling. “Such prohibition is impermissible in the context of the Section 765.401 [of the Florida Code] action to terminate life-prolonging procedures and is an impermissible deprivation of Terri’s rights under Florida’s guardianship law and her right to life under the Florida and federal constitutions.”
Nor does the court alone bear the blame, he stated, as the guardian has a responsibility to protect the ward.
“If the guardian [Michael Schiavo] and the courts refuse to entertain such an option [rehabilitation], they are arbitrarily and capriciously depriving Terri of her constitutional right to life,” Bush declared.
Contacted for comment, a spokesperson in the governor’s press office said no statements had been issued regarding Bush’s action and none were contemplated.
“The amicus memorandum is public and we’re letting it speak to the issues,” she said.
Legal documents and information on Terri is posted on the family’s website.