CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)–Mary Schindler says it has been a mother’s intuition that has kept her off the rollercoaster of emotions surrounding her disabled daughter’s case.
“I knew Judge Greer was going to turn the motions down,” Schindler told the Florida Baptist Witness March 11. “He’s never done anything to help us before.”
Schindler and her husband, Bob, are the parents of Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old brain-damaged woman at the center of a debate over what some say is the most definitive case yet for legalized euthanasia in the United States.
Terri’s problems began in 1990, when she suffered brain damage after her heart stopped. Since then, some doctors have said she is in a persistent vegetative state, but her parents and supporters contend she is in a minimally conscious state. She could improve were she provided rehabilitation services, they say, but Michael Schiavo, her legal husband, has refused to do so in recent years and has worked to have her feeding tube pulled.
Although Michael Schiavo says his wife would want to die, no written request from Terri exists and only he and his relatives have testified saying she would not wish to live. Michael has lived with his girlfriend, with whom he has fathered two children, for 10 years.
Florida Judge George W. Greer ruled Feb. 25 that Terri’s nutrition and hydration be discontinued March 18, and in a flurry of decisions since that time he also has ruled that Terri cannot undergo more medical testing and cannot be fed by mouth. Greer also rebuffed a request by Florida’s Department of Children and Families for a 60-day delay in the pulling of Schiavo’s tube, so that the department could investigate allegations that Michael Schiavo has abused and neglected Terri.
Greer also refused to move forward a motion challenging his ruling that a witness who testified about Terri’s end-of-life wishes was not credible.
Barbara Weller, an attorney with the Gibbs’ Law Firm which represents the Schindlers, told the Florida Baptist Witness March 11 she understands the Schindler’s disillusionment with Greer. Weller said she was disappointed that Greer didn’t take the motions more “seriously.”
Weller said none of the 33 doctors who have said Terri should be medically reevaluated have been paid, and that all of them initiated contact with the firm.
“Any other judge in the nation would have ruled for us,” Weller said. “So, from the legal side, we were very surprised [with Greer’s decisions].”
Weller said the firm will wait until next week to see what needs to happen next. The Second District Court of Appeals is set to issue a ruling by Thursday on issuing a stay and hearing an appeal connected with a motion Greer has denied. The appeal argues Terri has not received her constitutional right to due process.
Pending the resolution of that appeal, either the 2nd DCA may order a stay in the case or the firm might quickly file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on an appeal related to her right to religious freedom.
“We are pretty much ready for any direction,” Weller said. “Our decisions on what we will do will be based on how these things move along.”
Weller said she is confident that the American people are outraged and confused about what she said are Greer’s actions in the case, but she also said people may be ambivalent about taking a stand because of personal decisions they may have had to make about a loved one’s end-of-life choices. But Terri Schiavo, Weller said, is not hooked up to breathing or heart machines, instead depending on nutrition and hydration through a tube — and at one point was fed Jell-O and pudding until her husband stopped all efforts at rehabilitating her.
“This case is so far out of the ballpark of anything that has happened in America,” Weller said. “We need to make sure we don’t do these kinds of things in America, where a judge would starve a perfectly healthy woman to death because her husband wants her dead.”
Bob Schindler said that in a letter he told Michael as early as 1993 — three years after Terri’s collapse — that he and his wife Mary would understand if Michael gave Terri’s care back to them. Michael and Terri had been married about five years at the time of her collapse. She was 26.
“We understood that he was a young man and he had his whole life ahead of him,” Bob Schindler told the Florida Baptist Witness. “We gave him permission to move on so that if he had any thought that he was compelled to stay, that he would know how we felt.”
Over growing concerns that Terri was not getting the care she needed — and an inkling that Michael was either pursuing or wished to pursue other romantic interests outside of his marriage — Schindler said he had hoped to free Michael from any kind of perceived commitment on his part that he was obligated to stay with Terri.
“This was sad,” Schindler recalled thinking over a decade ago. “We said we want to free you to move in on your life. For him to do with his life as he pleased — that was the general idea.
“You can lead your life and we can take care of Terri,” Schindler said the family told Michael. Terri’s younger siblings, Bobby, Jr. and Suzanne, also agreed that taking care of Terri would be a family matter, Bob said. Although it is unclear whether Michael Schiavo stands to gain financially by his wife’s death, the Schindler family has said publicly they would waive any and all rights to any financial benefits related to the case.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Witness March 11 he believes Terri Schiavo “is the human face of the life-and-death struggle between those who believe in the sanctity of all human life … and the culture of death.
“It is a disgrace to our culture and to our legal system that a husband who has abandoned his wife to cohabitate with another woman whom he has introduced as his fiancée and fathered two children with should be able to retain guardianship over against Terri’s parents, who have loved her and been dedicated to her from before birth until this very moment,” Land said. “How a court system can be so blind as to allow this pathetic excuse for a husband to retain guardianship instead of transferring it to her loving and dedicated parents is symbolic of how our legal culture’s moral compass has been grievously demagnetized.”
On Feb. 23, in front of the Clearwater Courthouse, George Felos, Michael Schiavo’s attorney, told the Witness his client “cares deeply” about Terri and wants to keep his “promise” to her to make sure she does not continue to live in her present physical state. Comparing Michael’s living with another woman with what might happen if someone has Alzheimer’s or is in a catastrophic accident, Felos said that to question Michael Schiavo’s fidelity to his wife and their marriage vows is “cruel-hearted” and that to think that way is to make a “moral judgment.”
Mary Schindler told the Witness that the family has believed Michael’s judgment related to Terri’s care has been clouded by his extra-marital relationship, but that so far not many in the legal system are listening.
“We have been screaming it from the mountaintops,” Mary Schindler said. “Nobody cares. I guess the morals of the country have fallen to the wayside.”
Sharing her disillusionment with the court proceedings in the case, Mary Schindler said in order to get through each day she prays earnestly, seeking God’s intervention.
“I say [to God], ‘I know You are going to help me, but I wish You wouldn’t wait until the very last minute.’ He usually comes through, but sometimes He waits,” she said with hope.
Mary credits the prayers of Christians with sustaining hope that Terri will survive this next round of uncertainty in the battle to save her life.
“Right now, that’s the only thing we have left at the moment, and that’s very powerful,” Mary said.
Both Bob and Mary Schindler will be present at a vigil and press conference in front of the Woodside Hospice where Terri resides in Pinellas Park Saturday, March 12 and at a “Rose Rally” at 3 p.m. Eastern at the state capitol in Tallahassee Sunday March 13.
Meanwhile at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., said March 10 a new bill to aid Schiavo is on an expedited route. The bill, the Incapacitated Persons Legal Protection Act, would give Schiavo and other incapacitated people the legal protections often associated with death row inmates. The measure is based on the “writ of habeas corpus,” which provides the effected person the opportunity for a court review to determine if his/her due process rights have been protected.
The bill is S. 539 in the Senate and H.R. 1151 in the House. Sen. Mel Martinez, R.-Fla., and Rep. Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., are the lead sponsors.
State legislators in Florida also are considering a bill that could aid Schiavo. That bill would prevent similar people in Schiavo’s condition from having their feeding tube removed, unless they had stated their wishes beforehand in writing.
Florida’s lawmakers can be reached via the Internet at www.flsenate.gov or www.house.gov, respectively.
U.S. senators and representatives can be reached via the Internet at www.senate.gov or www.house.gov, respectively, or through the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.