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Attorney’s affidavit: Terri tried to say ‘I want to live’

UPDATED 3/26/05

‘Do something,’ Terri Schiavo’s mother begs governor.

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (BP)–On Friday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George W. Greer heard arguments on a motion filed by Schindler attorney David Gibbs III asking Greer to vacate his Feb. 11, 2000, order authorizing the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube, and his Feb. 25, 2005, order that the feeding tube be removed on Mar. 18.

According to the motion, the basis for the latest action was the filing of new affidavits by individuals who believe there may be new “clear and convincing” evidence regarding Terri Schiavo’s medical condition and her end-of-life wishes.

Dr. William Cheshire Jr., a neurologist at Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic, in his affidavit said it is his medical opinion after seeing Terri Schiavo in person and examining her medical records that she is not in a persistent vegetative state, but instead may be in a minimally conscious state.

Florida statutes currently allow the removal of a person’s nutrition and hydration if they are in a persistent vegetative state with no chance for recovery and they have previously stated with end-of-life wishes in writing or by “clear and convincing evidence” made their wishes known verbally.

An affidavit filed by Barbara Weller, an attorney for the Gibbs Law Firm, said she was with Terri Schiavo after her feeding tube was removed Mar. 18, and heard her try to say, “I want to live.”

In Wellers’s statement, she said Schiavo had been in “good spirits” and responding to her sister Suzanne’s bantering, even laughing out loud when Suzanne joked that her sister was like the “bionic woman.”

What happened next, Weller said, shocked her.

“I stood up and leaned over Terri. I took her arms in both of my hands. I said to her, ‘Terri if you could only say “I want to live” this whole thing could be over today.’ I begged her to try very hard to say, ‘I want to live.’

“To my enormous shock and surprise, Terri’s eyes opened wide, she looked me square in the face, and with a look of great concentration, she said, ‘Ahhhhhhh.’ Then, seeming to summon up all the strength she had, she virtually screamed, ‘Waaaaaaa.’ She yelled so loudly that Michael Vitadamo, Suzanne’s husband, and the female police officer who were then standing together outside Terri’s door, clearly heard her.”

The attorney’s motion asks for immediate relief aid, given the fact that it was Schiavo’s eighth day of starvation and dehydration and Weller’s testimony of “highly significant information” should be considered as “new evidence” which is “clear and convincing” according to state court standards.

Greer said Friday night he would issue an opinion by noon, Mar. 26.

Standing with her family before reporters Good Friday evening, Terri Schiavo’s mother sent a terse plea to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asking that he act to intervene to save her daughter’s life.

“Gov. Bush, you have the power to save my daughter. It’s been seven days, please do something,” Mary said stoically in a very brief statement outside the Pinellas Park hospice where her daughter is now in her eighth day of being starved and dehydrated per a court order which was enacted Mar. 18. Her husband, Bob Sr., and children, Bob Jr. and Suzanne Vitadamo, joined Mary.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had just announced their denial of an appeal of a ruling in the federal court in Tampa which found that Terri Schiavo’s constitutional right to due process had been satisfied already by the state courts.

Gov. Bush repeatedly has stated on the record that he is doing everything legally within his scope of power to save the life of their daughter–and that he had urged the Florida Legislature and Florida’s Department of Children and Families to step up their efforts to provide a remedy. All efforts, so far, have failed.

Bob Schindler said Gov. Bush hasn’t done enough.

“With the stroke of a pen, he could stop it, he
could stop it immediately,” the exhausted man said.

Calling Bush a man of integrity, Schindler said there should be no political agendas afoot in this desperate life and death situation.

“He has to come to the plate,” Schindler said of Bush.

Reserving most of his criticism for the judiciary, which repeatedly has turned down motions and appeals to restore his daughter’s feeding tube, Schindler said he finds their actions “disgusting and revolting.”

“They either find a way or make a way,” Schindler said of the various courts, which have reviewed rulings previously made by Sixth Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer. “What you’re seeing is a textbook example of judicial tyranny.”

Earlier in the evening after a visit with his duaghter in her hospice room, Schindler told reporters the effects of dehydration and starvation now are “showing” on the 41-year-old disabled woman despite the fact that she still responds to her mother, Mary.

“I kissed her and got the lemon face from her again,” he said, brightening. “I told
her that we’re still praying for her and that she shouldn’t give up, because we’re not.

“But the people who are interested in seeing her die are getting their wish. It’s happening,” Schindler added.

Supporters at the Woodside Hospice remained steady and somber with about 200 gathered at any given time on Friday. Some prayed, some read their Bibles and others held signs mostly supportive of the disabled woman’s right to live.

“In the highest court, life is the verdict,” one sign read. The voices of supporters were sometimes raised when they launched into singing hymns–one song was “Because He lives.”

Organizers in the evening announced a special viewing of The Passion of the Christ set up on a grassy stretch of land outside the front of the hospice where orange plastic fencing kept supporters off of the sidewalks.

Earlier in the day Bobby Schindler Jr., after returning from a visit with his dying sister, said he didn’t know about any developments in a new hearing scheduled before Judge Greer that was set for 5:30 p.m. EST.

“Let me know what it is,” Schindler told some reporters. “We just have to wait and see and stay hopeful.”

Bob and Mary Schindler went in to visit with Terri at 6:30 p.m. EST. Up until that time Mary had stayed at the family home in seclusion–unable, according to family spokesperson Paul O-Donnell, to will herself to be bedside where she was helpless to prevent her daughter’s death.

Ken Blake, Mary’s first cousin and his wife Linda had joined the Schindlers.

“Terri’s losing bodily fluids and that’s making her look drawn,” Ken Blake told the Florida Baptist Witness. “I don’t see any weakening of the spirit.”

Blake said Bobby Schindler was joking with his sibling as all younger brothers are prone to do.

“Her brother kids around with her,” Blake said of the mood inside Terri’s hospice room where six at a time are allowed to visit. “Circumstances change, but relationships stay the same.”

“She’s very peaceful,” Linda Blake said. “She’s the strength in this whole thing, no doubt.”

David Bayly, pastor of a Presbyterian church (PCA) in Toledo, Ohio, told the Witness despite concerns by some that it would be better to let Terri die since she is now in danger of being even more severely brain damaged–he believes efforts to restore her feeding should continue “every moment she’s alive.”

“She is alive,” Bayly said. “Death is the irreversible cessation of all bodily functions and until that point we feed her, preserve her.”

Bayly said he believes starvation at any point is inappropriate and the only “cruel” action would be to continue to deprive her of food and water.

“It would be kindness personified to bring her back–to her family, to her, to all these people who love her,” Bayly said.

Reminiscing about the love he feels for his own five children, Bayly said he feels sad for Bob and Mary who are facing the prospect of losing their daughter in this manner.

“I’m hugging kids that I don’t know here,” he said. “If they could, my kids would be here to support Terri.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan