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Legal options for Schiavo reduced by appeals court ruling


LAKELAND, Fla. (BP)–Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals denied an appeal March 16 challenging Sixth Circuit Judge George Greer’s refusal to hear a motion filed last month that claimed Terri Schiavo’s constitutional right to due process had been violated.

In question was Greer’s February 2000 order which found “clear and convincing evidence” of Terri having told Michael Schiavo, her husband and legal guardian, she would not want to live as a severely disabled individual -– thus paving the way for the judge’s order to remove nutrition and hydration delivered twice a day through a feeding tube.

Terri Schiavo is the 41-year-old Florida woman at the center of a worldwide euthanasia debate. She collapsed when her heart stopped beating in 1990 and was left severely brain-damaged. Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler have battled Michael Schiavo over the removal of their daughter’s feeding tube, contending that he gave up too soon and, for more than a decade, has sought ways to end her life.

The Schindlers believe Terri, who has been bumped from nursing home to hospice, should have received the extensive rehabilitation Michael Schiavo promised when he received more than $1.3 million for her care in a malpractice lawsuit. They also believe she should have been appointed an independent attorney in the proceedings that led to Judge Greer’s order to end her life.

Citing an apparent conflict of interest in the case, the Schindlers have long argued that Michael’s relationship with another woman with whom he has lived and has had two children should be just cause for removing him from making decisions that are in her best interest.

In hearings leading to Greer’s 2000 decision, three people testified Terri would want to be removed from artificial life support, which at the time of her collapse did not include nutrition and hydration. Since Terri’s collapse in 1990, Florida lawmakers have broadened the definition of artificial life support to include nutrition and hydration. The three witnesses were Michael Schiavo, his brother and his sister-in-law, according to Barbara Weller, an attorney representing the Schindlers.

Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, however, have said their daughter, a devout Catholic, would not want to be starved to death in violation of the church’s teachings — and that several irregularities have existed in the years before and since Greer’s rulings which should cause the courts to take a closer look.

Some of the unresolved issues include charges of abuse currently under investigation by Florida’s Department of Children and Families. Greer denied a motion by DCF to intervene in the case earlier this month, but the agency was granted March 16 a motion to expedite their appeal before the Second District Court of Appeals.

The appeals court did not, however, grant the DCF a stay in the case pending the outcome of the appeal which will take place after the March 18 court-ordered date for Terri’s feeding tube to be removed.

The appeals court’s opinion on the Schindlers’ appeal to void Greer’s 2000 motion stated, in part, that both the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo were allowed to present evidence in prior hearings and “it is doubtful that the Schindlers’ most recent motion for relief from judgment contains even a facially sufficient claim.”

The opinion relies on previous proceedings to establish the merits of the case and did not allow for additional hearings on any of the points raised.

“These arguments are not only issues that would not render a judgment void, but they are also issues that have long been resolved in this case,” the opinion stated.

In other news, the Gibbs Law Firm which represents the Schindlers has yet to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in a motion dealing with the question of whether Terri’s religious rights were violated by Greer’s 2000 order. It is unknown if they will file an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court on the Second District Court of Appeals’ March 16 order.
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    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan