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Guardian’s recommendations released for Schiavo

CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)–Supporters from across America gathered outside Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., Dec. 3 to celebrate the 40th birthday of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman at the center of a national “right-to-die” debate.

The celebration came a day after a court-appointed special guardian ad litem released a 40-page report Dec. 2 calling for a “fresh, clean-hands start,” including swallowing tests to see if Schiavo can eat and drink on her own.

Terri Schiavo, who collapsed in 1990 due to unusual circumstances that caused her heart to stop beating, is now in what some doctors term a “persistent vegetative state.” Her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, has been in a bitter dispute for nearly a decade with her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who believe she never received the therapy that would have allowed her to improve.

On Oct. 15, Michael Schiavo, with the circuit court’s support, had Terri’s feeding tube removed, leaving her to die of starvation and dehydration. On Oct. 21, after both chambers of the Florida legislature acted promptly to provide a remedy, Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law ordering the reinsertion of a feeding tube. Michael Schiavo has challenged the constitutionality of the law, claiming it violated the state constitution’s separation of powers.

In a flurry of court proceedings since that time, issues that have emerged are related to the suitability of Michael Schiavo as guardian, the parents’ standing in Michael Schiavo’s case against Bush, the alleged bias of at least one judge involved in the rulings, the viability of a jury trial versus a judge’s ruling, whether the case against the governor was correctly filed, and the request of the governor’s attorneys to depose seven witnesses, one of whom is presumed to be Michael Schiavo’s longtime live-in girlfriend with whom he has fathered two children.

Jay Wolfson, a University of South Florida professor who was appointed guardian ad litem for Terri Schiavo, wrote in his report to Bush, released Dec. 2, that he is willing to continue to offer information about Terri’s condition to the governor. He recommended that tests be conducted to see whether she can swallow, which would make the feeding tube a moot point.

“To benefit Theresa, and in the overall interests of justice, good science and public policy, there needs to be a fresh, clean-hands start,” Wolfson wrote.

In the report, Wolfson said he visited Terri Schiavo at the hospice where she lives in hopes of documenting whether she is aware of and can interact with her surroundings. He said at times Terri appeared to be responding to her mother, though he said her responses were not repetitive or consistent.

Wolfson acknowledged that Terri had a “distinct presence.”

“It would be easy to detach from her if she were comatose, asleep with her eyes closed and made no noises,” Wolfson wrote. “This is the confusing thing for the lay person about persistent vegetative state.”

Wolfson also appeared to push for a decision about what should be done about Terri’s feeding tube after the test results come in. According to an Associated Press report, Wolfson said Bush, Michael Schiavo and Terri’s parents, Mary and Bob Schindler, should come to some agreement about whether to continue Terri’s nutrition and hydration if she cannot swallow on her own.

Gov. Bush in a statement thanked Wolfson for his efforts in preparing a “review of nearly 10 years of information in only 30 days” but said there are still “too many open questions.” He cited potential “conflicts of interest” regarding Terri Schiavo’s husband Michael and questioned whether there is “clear and convincing evidence” about Terri’s wishes.

Bush said he is encouraged by Wolfson’s recommendations for swallowing tests and therapy and said he hopes Michael Schiavo and his attorney, George Felos, will not continue to oppose the testing.

“I am also concerned we do not know the expertise of the individuals who provided the ‘answers’ to the questions that are addressed in the report,” Bush said. “I am sure that Dr. Wolfson, who indicated his reliance on ‘good science-based medicine,’ understands the importance of knowing which good scientists and good doctors he relied on to reach certain conclusions.

“As I have said from the beginning, the state must protect every Floridian’s right to life, and in so doing, err on the side of life. As Governor, I will continue to do just that,” Bush continued. “Nothing in Dr. Wolfson’s report leads me to believe the stay should be lifted at this time, or that Mrs. Schiavo should be deprived of her right to live.”

Pat Anderson, an attorney for the Schindlers, said in a news report that she agreed with Wolfson that testing should be conducted. But she said asking the Schindlers to allow their daughter to die from starvation would be inappropriate under any circumstances.

Well-wishers Dec. 3 wished Terri Sciavo a quiet “Happy Birthday” on her 40th.

“It is so very good to know that so many people see Terri as a person and not an ‘issue,'” family spokesperson Pamela Hennessy said in a statement. “This gives us all pause to consider those amongst us who may not be able to speak for themselves — but who are still very much part of our human race.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com, where a “Terri Schiavo: A life at stake” special section can be accessed.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan