Terri's Fate Remains Unclear

By Dave Andrusko

As NRL News goes to press, there remains much uncertainty whether Terri Schindler-Schiavo will continue to be fed. Yet the fact that this brave 39-year-old brain-injured woman is still alive is nothing short of a miracle.

As NRL News went to press last month, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had just filed a brief with the U.S. District Court asking the court "to give careful consideration" to the distinction between removing life support "and the deliberate killing of a human being by starvation and dehydration."

However, on October 20, the tube through which Terri was fed was removed, at the request of her husband. For six days Terri went without nourishment. Just when it seemed all hope was gone, on October 21 the Florida legislature passed a bill empowering the governor to restore her feeding.

"Terri's Law" was immediately challenged by attorneys for the husband and another phase in the more than five-year-old court battle began. Meanwhile, Florida legislators are discussing the possibility of a more complete law reforming Florida's statutes to protect Terri and others like her.

In the last several weeks, there have been a number of important developments. Here are some of the most significant. {Please go to NRLC's web site at www.nrlc.org and to "Today's News & Views" for more up-to-date news.}

* On November 10, Gov. Bush continued to press his contention that the suit filed by Terri's husband against Terri's Law ought to be thrown out of court. The husband had "filed his lawsuit against Bush and Attorney General Charlie Crist on Oct. 21, the same day the Legislature enacted a measure dubbed 'Terri's Law' which gave Bush the power to reinsert Terri's feeding tube, the Tampa Tribune reported. Mr. Bush argued that "the suit should have been filed in Tallahassee and that the governor had not been properly served with the court papers," according to the Miami Herald. Gov. Bush lost that appeal with Pinellas County Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird on November 8. Two days later, Bush took his argument to the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

The Tribune reported that Bush's special counsel told the court that Bush will not file a response to the husband's "constitutional challenge to Terri's Law until the case is put on a proper footing with proper notice in the proper venue."

* Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have sought for years to remove the husband as Terri's legal guardian. On November 5, in a surprise development, Circuit Judge George W. Greer refused the husband's request to dismiss the latest effort by the Schindlers to remove him.

Attorneys for the husband "now have to respond in court to charges in the petition that he withheld proper care and therapy from his wife, Terri Schiavo, and that he has a conflict of interest because he's in a romantic relationship with another woman," according to the Associated Press (AP). Greer's decision came as a surprise, as the AP indicated: "In the past, Greer has repeatedly affirmed Michael Schiavo's legal right to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube and allow her to die, as he says she would have wished."

* A provision in "Terri's Law" calls for a court-appointed guardian ad litem to make recommendations. University of South Florida Professor Jay Wolfson was chosen.

On November 6, Gov. Bush sent Wolfson a letter asking to meet him "to express his concerns in person and assist the medical expert in 'determining the scope' of his review of the brain-damaged woman's case," the Herald reported.

In an interview with the Herald, Bush said "his request to speak with Wolfson before Wolfson issues his recommendations to the governor and the court was not inappropriate and would not interfere with Wolfson's investigation."

At press time, Wolfson had not yet said whether he would accept the governor's invitation.

 

BACKGROUND

The Schindlers and Terri's husband have been at loggerheads over Terri's condition and treatment for years. Last November five doctors who had examined Terri testified in court. (Two of the physicians were chosen by the Schindlers, two by the husband, and one by Greer.)

Greer went with the testimony of three doctors who said Terri was in a so-called "persistent vegetative state," over the two who said Terri showed awareness and could improve with therapy.

When Terri's tube was removed, her death by starvation was predicted to occur within two weeks.

Then, as the St. Petersburg Times put it, "the Schindlers posted six segments of the videotaped exams, totaling 4 minutes and 20 seconds, at www.terrisfight.org. The clips were seen by thousands of people, including members of Florida's Legislature. With two days of debate, the Legislature passed 'Terri's Law' and Gov. Jeb Bush ordered her feeding tube reinserted. She had lived six days without nourishment."