With a March 18 deadline for removal of her feeding tube and death by starvation, Terri Schiavo's defenders have mounted a last-ditch campaign to save her life.
Her attorney has filed a request for a new trial, based on an error the judge made in a trial in 2000. A foundation representing her family is petitioning Florida lawmakers to intervene again (Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida state legislature passed an emergency law to save her last year, but a judge has since nullified it). And the state's social services agency has asked the court to stay its death order until it can investigate allegations that Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, has abused her.
Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, have asked their lawyer to petition the court to divorce their daughter from her husband. The Schindlers wish to continue caring for her. The husband — now living with another woman, with whom he has two children — has insisted on his wife's "right to die."
At the center of the dispute is Judge George Greer of the Pinellas County Probate Court, who has set March 18 for the beginning of what he has termed "the death process."
When Judge Greer ruled for Terri's husband in 2000, he made an error, which went undetected until now, says attorney David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association, representing Terri's parents.
The husband, Michael Schiavo, maintains that Terri told him that she would never want to be kept alive by artificial means. In the 2000 trial, Terri's longtime friend, Diane Meyer, testified that Terri told her in 1982 that she did not agree with the decision by Karen Ann Quinlan's parents to take their daughter off life support. (Ms. Quinlan, a young New Jersey woman, went into a coma after mixing drugs with alcohol at a party. Her case attracted national attention.)
Judge Greer found that this conversation could not have taken place in 1982. His reasoning: Ms. Meyer's use of present-tense verbs to describe Karen Ann Quinlan's condition. As the judge recalled it, Ms. Quinlan died in 1976.
But in fact Ms. Quinlan lived nine years after being taken off life support, dying in 1985. Therefore, Gibbs said, Terri could have had the conversation with Ms. Meyer in 1982 as Ms. Meyer described it. Terri, now 41, would have been 18 or 19 years old in 1982 — under the law, an adult.
"If Judge Greer's 2000 order … were a criminal death sentence," Gibbs said, "Terri would be entitled to a new trial on the basis of reversible error."
Gibbs' motion asks the judge to declare that his mistake in Ms. Quinlan's dates erroneously influenced his decision in 2000 and to either reverse his decision or order a new trial.
An Appeal to the Governor
The Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation, on behalf of Terri's parents, has asked Gov. Jeb Bush and the state legislature to intervene. The foundation, with Gibbs acting as its attorney, has also filed a petition for divorce.
Calling Judge Greer's actions in the case "reprehensible," the foundation cites Michael Schiavo's open adultery as grounds for divorce. It has petitioned the court to remove Schiavo as Terri's legal guardian, citing "his failure to comply with the Florida law-mandated guardianship requirements. This motion dates back to November of 2002, but the court has never ruled on it."
Schiavo, contends the foundation,
- Spent Terri's medical fund on his own legal interests.
- Denied her necessary medical services.
- Lives in adultery with another woman.
- Petitioned the court to allow him to cremate Terri immediately upon her death (thus preventing an autopsy).
The foundation has also accused Greer of denying Terri due process of law.
According to Terri's parents, Terri is neither brain-dead nor in a coma. "She laughs, cries, moves, makes childlike attempts at speech, blinks her eyes, and focuses on those who come to visit her," said Jerry Nordskog, a friend of the family. "She needs therapy. God could cause her to respond with medical treatment … [but] Terri has been constantly denied proper treatment."
Updated medical analysis and therapy might prove beneficial to Terri, the foundation argues — if it is given a chance.
Meanwhile, the foundation has asked concerned citizens nationwide to contact Gov. Jeb Bush (phone: 850-488-4411 or [email protected]), Senate President Tom Lee (850-487-5072 or [email protected]), and Speaker Allan Bense (850-488-1450 or [email protected]) to ask Florida to pass new legislation transferring guardianship to families in cases like Terri's.
Allegations of Abuse
Florida's Department of Children and Families has asked Judge Greer to stay his order for 60 days so it can investigate at least 30 new allegations that Terri's husband has abused and neglected her, according to a March 4 story by the Associated Press.
In its petition to the court, the agency said it received the allegations anonymously through its abuse hot line. The judge is expected to rule on the request sometime this week.
The agency said the allegations included 1) failure to investigate new, experimental medical procedures that might help Terri, 2) lack of communication and visitation on the part of Michael Schiavo, and 3) failure to provide for Terri's arms to be manipulated by a physical therapist, which has caused "severe contractures."
Terri suffered a heart attack 15 years ago resulting in brain damage. The cause of the heart attack is not known.
Terri's parents want to provide her with new kinds of medical and physical therapy, which they say might cause her condition to improve.
Although she can breathe on her own, she has lost the ability to eat or drink without a feeding tube.
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.