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New motions in Schiavo case ask judge to ‘admit huge mistake’

CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)–Challenging a judge’s ruling that there was “clear and convincing” evidence Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to live in her state, attorneys Mar. 4 won a small victory when Florida Judge George W. Greer scheduled an expedited Mar. 8 hearing on that matter and another related to Schiavo’s medical condition.

“What we are asking the court to do is basically admit a huge mistake was made,” attorney David W. Gibbs told the Florida Baptist Witness. “We are asking Judge Greer to do what is the only noble and right thing.”

The action came the first full week after Greer’s Feb. 25 order directing the cessation of nutrition and hydration in the case of the 41-year-old disabled woman whose family believes her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, has not acted in her best interest. Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube is scheduled to be pulled March 18.

In 1990 Schiavo suffered brain damage after her heart stopped beating. Some doctors have said she is in a Persistent Vegetative State, while others disagree and say she is in a minimally conscious state and with rehabilitation can improve.

Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, disagree with Michael Schiavo over whether she should live. Although Michael Schiavo says his wife would want to die, no written request from Terri Schiavo exists. Michael Schiavo lives with his girlfriend, with whom he has fathered two children.

Both motions Greer plans to hear Mar. 8 request a “relief from judgment” of Greer’s 2000 order that permitted Michael Schiavo to withdraw Terri’s feeding and nutrition tube. One motion is based on Greer’s ruling that the testimony of Terri’s college and childhood friend, Diane Christine Meyer, was not credible. Meyer was to testify about Schiavo’s end-of-life wishes. The other motion asks Greer to consider new medical advances in the area of brain injuries and allow for an updated evaluation of Terri’s condition.

Meyer was considered a key witness in sharing Terri’s 1982 views about the case of Karen Ann Quinlan, a young woman whose parents fought to remove her from a respirator in 1976. Even though the respirator was removed Quinlan did not die at that time but lived in a nursing home until her death in 1985. Meyer had testified that she and Terri talked about Quinlan after watching a movie about the case, and that Terri, who was 19 years old at the time, did not approve of the parents’ action in removing their daughter’s life support.

The motion asserts the court ruled incorrectly in determining Meyer’s testimony irrelevant because it based its ruling on the faulty presumption that Quinlan was not alive in 1982.

Gibbs said the case is further complicated because it’s not a criminal case where new evidence would demand a new trial, but it’s a civil case where there are “not a lot of precedents on how you handle the death penalty.” For this reason the motion does not ask that Greer “void” his original order or stay action, but that based on this new evidence, the order be “vacated.”

“Diane was someone Terri would have been completely open and honest with,” Gibbs said, in emphasizing the importance of her testimony. “I am very hopeful that [Greer] does what I think to be the right thing.”

A motion asking for a current evaluation of Terri’s condition given new advances in medicine and a relatively new description of persons in a Minimally Conscious State (MCS), also asks the court to permit an evidentiary hearing to determine if Terri would wish to refuse her “assisted feeding” as the court has previously ruled.

The medical-related motion lists the following six items as grounds for vacating Greer’s Feb. 2000 order:

— Terri Schiavo’s previous evaluations are outdated;

— There is a high rate of misdiagnosis of persistent vegetative state cases and some severely brain-damaged patients do improve;

— Schiavo has moved into a “minimally conscious state” since her 2002 evaluations three years ago;

— A new neurological test can determine whether Schiavo is minimally conscious;

— Therapeutic methods developed since 2000 may help Schiavo learn to swallow;

— Michael Schiavo testified that he would want Terri Schiavo to receive any treatment that would help her.

Accompanying the medical motion are 17 affidavits from neurology and speech specialists from throughout the country who have offered their observations and services, to include the administration of swallowing tests and therapies, MRIs and other diagnostic tests. Many of the experts refer to recent gains in the area of understanding and treating brain injuries.

Gibbs told the Witness the second motion Greer will hear Mar. 8 is based on information that would not have been available when Terri was evaluated previously.

“What everyone is in agreement on is that medically speaking there have been major developments in the field of technology in the past three years,” Gibbs said. “What we believe is that if you look at the evidence of 2005, with what we know today, Terri is not in a Persistent Vegetative State.”

At the March 4 hearing, Greer also scheduled time for expedited hearings throughout the week of March 7-11 to consider 11 motions related to his Feb. 25 order authorizing the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube.

Greer also set aside March 9 to hold a hearing to determine whether Florida’s Department of Children and Families can intervene in the case. On March 3 Greer ruled that the DCF motion be made public. It was released March 4.

DCF’s motion asks for intervention in the case due to an ongoing investigation of allegations of abuse of Terri Schiavo. The allegations were received on or about Feb. 18 and Feb. 21.

The motion states DCF is obligated by law to investigate cases of abuse which might call into question the actions of Schiavo’s guardian in relation to, among other things:

— Current confinement issues at Schiavo’s residence;

— Experimental procedures performed without proper medical and legal procedures;

— Lack of manipulation of Terri Schiavo’s arms causing severe contractures.

The Schindlers have long contended that abuse may have occurred at the time of Terri’s injury and have sought the DCF’s action in regard to her care.
For more information about the Schiavo case, visit http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com/schiavo.fbw or www.terrisfight.org.

Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com

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  • Joni B. Hannigan