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Schiavo family reunited; ACLU set to enter fray

PINNELLAS PARK, Fla. (BP)–Thankful for almost a full day of visiting with their sister and daughter Oct. 23, Terri Schiavo’s family said the redness around her eyes has subsided and it appears her kidneys are functioning.

Schiavo is the 39-year-old brain-damaged Florida woman at the center of a national debate, which has brought to the forefront moral and legal arguments concerning her quality of life and her so-called “right to die.”

On Oct. 15, a feeding tube — which had sustained her life since an unexplained heart failure left her brain-damaged in 1990 — was removed on court orders. Doctors disagree over whether she is in a “persistent vegetative state,” but the courts have sided with that opinion.

Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have been in a court battle for more than five years. He claims his brain-damaged wife would not want to live. The Schindlers say their daughter has never had the care and rehabilitation she needs in order to improve.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed an executive order into law Oct. 21, providing for the immediate rehydration and nourishment of Terri Schiavo after both chambers of the state legislature scrambled for nearly two days to pass a bill giving Bush the authority to intervene.

Late on Oct. 21 Schiavo was moved to Morton Plant Hospital from Woodside Hospice in Pinnellas Park, where she had been cared for. At Morton, doctors began IV therapy to rehydrate Schiavo in preparation for installing a new feeding tube. On Oct. 22, Schiavo’s feeding tube was reinserted and she was whisked back to the hospice.

Though they were barred from visiting Schiavo at Morton Plant Hospital and had not received any official word on her condition, the Schiavos were told late Oct. 22 they could visit their daughter and sister at Woodside Hospice.


“The family is staying with her almost non-stop now,” Bill Bunkley, legislative consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, told the Florida Baptist Witness late Oct. 23. “They reported the redness has gone away from her eyes and she’s passing urine.”

Bunkley said the news indicates her kidneys are operating and not damaged. He said the family had expressed concern that there doesn’t appear to be the kind of constant medical monitoring that people in Schiavo’s condition would typically receive.

After six days with no food or water, George Felos, attorney for Michael Schiavo, had speculated in news reports issued by the Associated Press that Terri Schiavo’s organs most likely would had been severely damaged and her kidneys would have ceased to function.

Schindler attorney Pat Anderson, on the television news show “On the Record” with Greta Van Susteren late Oct. 23, said, “[Terri’s] not going to spring back after being dehydrated for a week,” but Anderson reported that Schiavo appeared much improved over her condition just a few days before.

Anderson, who also said there is a 43 percent error rate in diagnosing a patient as in a “persistent vegetative state,” added that typically a patient in Terri’s condition, after being dehydrated for so long, would be in a hospital’s intensive care unit.

On the same show, Schiavo’s brother, Bobby Schindler, said he believed his sister “looked rather good” considering what she had just been through.

Schindler told Van Susteren his father turned 66 Oct. 23 and the family celebrated by bringing a birthday cake to the hospice and singing “Happy Birthday” with Terri. There were “big” smiles all around, he said.

After fielding comments from “right-to-die” advocates and constitutional analysts, Van Susteren, wrapping up her news show, told viewers that “frankly” she wouldn’t let an animal in her care die from starvation.


An American Civil Liberties Union spokesperson, siding with Michael Schiavo, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Oct. 23 it will help the husband in his fight against Gov. Bush and the Florida legislature in contesting whether the state’s top leaders acted unconstitutionally in disregarding various court rulings in the contentious case.

Pamela Hennessy, a spokesperson for the family, told the Sun Sentinel she is “outraged” at the ACLU’s latest move.

“I’ve been contacting the ACLU since the beginning of my involvement in this case to have them speak out against what’s going on with Terri,” Hennessy told the Sun Sentinel. “It’s going on against her will. She’s had her religious freedoms stripped from her. She’s had her civil liberties stripped from her. And they’re defending the husband?”

Though there had been talk Oct. 23 that Michael Schiavo might be considering a settlement in the case to transfer guardianship to Terri’s parents, Schiavo attorney George Felos told reporters in an afternoon news conference that his client would continue to pursue a legal fight to end his wife’s life.

Felos is expected to petition Florida’s Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 27, to say that “Terri’s Law,” as it’s now called, is unconstitutional.

AP reported Felos faces an Oct. 27 deadline to deliver legal briefs to Pinellas Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird to advance his claims that the new law violates an individual’s “right” to refuse medical care. The report said Felos also intends to argue that the law violates the separation of powers by allowing the legislature and governor to bypass a court’s decision. Legal scholars have said the legislature cannot pass retroactive laws intended for specific individuals.


While basic medical care has been restored per Gov. Bush’s executive order, Terri Schiavo continues to be under the guardianship of her husband until a judge decides otherwise. The law signed by Bush gave both parties five days to agree on an independent guardian or accept one appointed by a Pinellas County Circuit Court judge.

If agreement has not been reached, the judge has said he will appoint as guardian Jay Wolfson, both a medical doctor and a lawyer, who is a professor of health and law at Stetson University. Wolfson also works for the College of Public Health at Florida State University and the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida.

Advocates for Terri Schiavo have said they are concerned about views Wolfson already may have expressed about quality of life issues and about the governor’s action in this case.

If appointed, Wolfson would become Schiavo’s advocate in legal proceedings, but it is still unclear what the scope of his powers would be.

CNN news reported Oct. 23 Terri Schiavo’s parents have accused their son-in-law of selfish motivations in the case. Michael Schiavo, who is engaged to be married to another woman with whom he has fathered a child, won a $1.2 million malpractice case against his wife’s gynecologist and another $250,000 in a settlement with her general practitioner. In addition, he received $300,000 for pain and suffering and loss of consortium.

Though most of the money was to go toward therapy for Terri, the circuit court judge routinely has approved expenditures from Terri’s trust for attorney’s fees for Michael Schiavo.

CNN reported Michael Schiavo has refused to comment on whether a life insurance policy on Terri Schiavo exists.


Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, a Bush spokeswoman told the Tallahassee Democrat the governor’s office had received nearly 165,411 e-mails and “thousands of phone calls” since Aug. 27. In an Oct. 23 report, the Democrat quoted Alia Faraj who said the office normally gets an average of about 5,000 e-mails a week.

“We don’t have the lines to handle that many calls,” Faraj said. Not knowing the nature of each of the messages, she added that “people are generally in support of saving Schiavo.”

Florida’s Supreme Court, which has in the past refused to hear Schiavo’s case, has received about 100 calls in various offices, Crag Water, told the Democrat. Representatives for House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, and Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, told the Democrat they also had received numerous calls from people expressing their thanks.

A Chicago Tribune writer, in an Oct. 23 story titled, “Death, life and politics in Florida,” explored the case, describing it as “the most complex and heartrending life-and-death drama imaginable.”

“Truth is that even after exhaustive media coverage, large holes remain in the Schiavo story. The reasons for the bitter feud between her husband and his in-laws are still murky,” the writer asserted, without citing sources. “So is the question of why he didn’t turn over Schiavo’s care to her parents, and devote his energies to his new partner and their child.”

The writer raised questions about Schiavo’s quality of life and then asserted that by preparing a living will this situation could have been avoided. The writer also asserted, “Legislatures are almost invariably wrong when they rush in to overrule court decisions because they don’t like them.”


Bill Bunkley, legislative consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, said he believes the fight has just heated up in right-to-life issues.

“As many people have breathed a sigh of relief, this is the first wakeup call that this may be a long process as well as a gut-wrenching one,” Bunkley told the Witness Oct. 23. “This is a spiritual battle.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press Oct. 21, “we need to have a presumption in favor of life, not a presumption in favor of death.”

“Our national leaders would be wise to begin addressing this issue to ensure that all humans — regardless of their age and physical or mental condition — have a right to be protected from predators who might seek to ‘pull the plug’ on their life,” he said.

“The Schiavo case is a terribly wrenching case wherein we see the clash of two very disparate civilizations — the Judeo-Christian civilization, which is based upon the sanctity of all human life, and the neo-pagan relativist quality-of-life civilization,” Land said. “When these two totally antagonistic worldviews come up against each other, it makes a real difference in people’s lives because real people die when the quality-of-life ethic usurps the sanctity-of-life ethic.

“The fight over Terri Schindler Schiavo’s right to live and our society’s reaction to that fight shows us just how deeply the sanctity-of-life ethic has been eroded in our culture,” Land said.

Joni Eareckson Tada, an evangelical who also is a quadriplegic, told James Dobson on his radio program Oct. 22 that she views the case as “Roe v. Wade for people with disabilities.”

“We see people at our Joni and Friends family retreat who are far more disabled than Terri,” Tada said. “They come to these retreats with feeding tubes, with ventilators. They have no cognitive skills. They cannot seem to recognize their loved ones, and yet they have a right to live. They have a right to human treatment. They have a right to be fed. They have a right to rehabilitative therapy. And these are the things that up until this point have been denied Terri.”
A website set up by Terri Schiavo’s supporters — www.terrisfight.org — has video showing her moving her head from side to side, opening her eyes, smiling and laughing. James Dobson’s conversation with Joni Eareckson Tada is available on the Internet at www.oneplace.com/Ministries/Focus_on_the_Family/. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan