PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (BP)–A brilliant orange sunset stood in stark contrast to a gray day for Terri Schiavo supporters Wednesday in front of the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., where they have kept up a 24-hour vigil since Mar. 18.
Secluded inside the private hospice, Schiavo, a 41-year-old disabled woman at the center of a euthanasia debate that has grabbed the world’s attention, lay dying while, outside, right-to-life and pro-family supporters occasionally sparred with euthanasia advocates — both sides penned in by plastic orange fencing and monitored by law enforcement officers.
Ten were arrested throughout the day for trying to deliver water to Terri Schiavo, whose nutrition and hydration was withheld beginning March 18 on the order of Florida Judge George Greer. Greer also denied an appeal by Terri’s parents that she be allowed to be fed orally, were she able to consume liquid or sustenance.
Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler have been in a long-contested court battle against their son-in-law Michael Schiavo, Terri’s legal guardian. Her parents contend — and some doctors have concurred — that she is not in a persistent vegetative state, as Greer had ruled in the past. They say Terri should be been given the benefit of rehabilitation, which Michael Schiavo has argued is unnecessary since he believes there is no chance for improvement or recovery.
The Schindlers repeatedly have tried to remove Michael as Terri’s guardian, citing a conflict of interest in the case since they allege the various testimonies he has given about Terri’s wishes differ — and because he has had extra-marital relationships since Terri’s collapse in 1990. For the past decade has lived with a woman, by whom he has fathered two children.
On Wednesday the Schindlers were mostly unavailable to reporters in a small store across the street from the hospice. There are unconfirmed reports that Michael Schiavo is in residence at the hospice.
Supporters earlier hooked up a radio to a handheld loudspeaker lying on a table to allow an estimated 250 supporters to listen to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at a news conference in Tallahassee. Bush pledged his support for the Schindlers and said in his opinion the Florida Department of Children and Families could act and take Terri into protective custody, based on the findings of an investigation they had completed.
Emerging briefly to make a comment to supporters, Bob Schindler said he was gratified by Bush’s support, but appeared baffled by the turbulent rulings in a day that ultimately ended with no help in sight for Terri.
“We’ve been saying for the past, God knows how many years, that Terri is not in a PVS state,” Schindler said. “We’ve been preaching that and preaching that and no one would listen to us.
“You can’t kill somebody here if they are not in a PVS,” he continued.
Later Bob and Mary Schindler spoke with FOX News’ Sean Hannity outside the hospice for the news program “Hannity & Colmes.”
Hannity summarized the day’s defeats, calling it a “critical time” for Terri and the Schindlers.
Bob said it appears Greer is “bound and determined” to cause Terri’s death, accusing the judge of being in contempt of Congress.
“They’re starving her to death,” Mary told Hannity.
Bob was a little more adamant.
“They’re murdering her,” he said, referencing an earlier development where DCF appointed a neurologist, William Cheshire, who concluded after visiting Terri that she was not in PVS.
“Everyone believes Michael,” Mary said.
Hustled to and from the hospice and to interviews by police, both Mary and Bob appeared weakened by the almost week-long ordeal of knowing their daughter will die unless she is nourished — and the constant crush of reporters seeking information about the dozens of twists and turns in the case.
Thaddeus Malanowski, the family’s priest, told the Florida Baptist Witness the family was barred from seeing Terri for nearly four hours Wednesday for unknown reasons. Police guarding the entrance to the hospice property eventually let family members and Malanowski into the hospice after dark.
“[Terri] looks pretty good considering what she’s gone through,” Malanowski said. “She’s wide awake and alert.”
Malanowski said Terri, whose face appeared “thinner” than before on Wednesday, has been communicating to her parents by a series of “grunts.” He said Mary sometimes gets emotional and cries while visiting her daughter and watching the changes develop as a result of her being dehydrated and starved.
Malanowski said when he was in the room with Terri, he reminded her Easter Sunday is approaching and told her to remember the good times when as a child she would get dressed up and go to church with her family.
“She was listening, listening,” Malanowski told the Witness. “She looked right at me and appeared to be interested in what I was saying.”
Court-appointed doctors determined in 2000 that Terri could not have any meaningful, purposeful interaction and that her responses are merely reflexes.
Outside the hospice with her mother, Ruby, Theresa de Vera said she empathizes with Terri, who shares the same legal name, Theresa.
From Los Angeles, Calif., Theresa, then a student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, suffered a severe asthma attack when she was 20 and lay in a coma for six weeks depending on a respirator and a feeding tube.
One week into her daughter’s coma, Ruby said doctors told her there was no hope for the young student and that they should harvest her organs before they deteriorated and pull life support from her.
“I said, ‘No way. She’s very young and she has every chance to live,'” Ruby recounted telling doctors.
“Sometimes the medical profession is so much into pulling plugs and harvesting organs, they don’t realize it’s a chance to live if they wait just a little bit,” Ruby told the Witness.
Theresa, now 29, went on to earn a degree in political science this past May, and has enrolled in classes leading to a master’s degree in pastoral theology. The young woman, who is now in a wheelchair and speaks haltingly, serves in a ministry which reaches out to parents whose children are on life support.
“There’s a higher power than medical knowledge,” Theresa said.
“We give parents another view, a living testimony of life,” Ruby said. “Don’t give up too soon.”
Pushing a wheelchair with 14-year-old Thomas while 15-year-old Paul lagged behind, Nancy Walter, a member of an orthodox Lutheran church in Vero Beach said she was pleasantly surprised to see so many turn out in support of Terri and her parents.
“I was so afraid that we would drop the ball,” Walter said. “Christians need to get involved.” Both Thomas and Paul have Down syndrome — and Thomas is in the wheelchair so that Walter can control the boys’ behavior when she is by herself, she said.
Originally from Corning, N.Y., Ken Blake, Mary Schindler’s first cousin who now lives in Oviedo, Fla., said many of their large German-Italian family have rallied around the Schindlers.
Blake, a member of Northland Community Church in Oviedo, said there are over 200 members of Mary’s extended family that have been watching and praying.
“Our family love is unwavering,” Blake said. “We draw our strength from a greater place than Washington; we draw it from above.”
Blake said it is in times like this that families draw close, especially when their faith is grounded in Christ.
“If you didn’t have someone to give it up to, like Jesus Christ, you would probably go crazy,” he said.
Chris Nestor, participating in a worship service with Malanowski outside of the hospice, said she believes strongly in the family — and in teaching her children about real life matters. Nestor said she has been outside the hospice with her family since Feb. 23, the day Judge Greer indicated he would order Terri’s feeding tube to be removed. Like the Schindlers and many of those outside the hospice, Nestor is a devout Catholic.
“This is where I teach my children what’s important about life,” Nestor said. “If I don’t teach them about the sacred and how we share our faith and live our faith, then I haven’t taught my children properly.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.