Sunday, January 30, 2005


Musings on the Terri Schiavo case

As I read about the goings on in the case of Terri Schiavo, I find myself increasingly discouraged by this country's legal system. There is so much wrong with the case that it's hard to know where to begin, but I find myself perhaps most amazed at the media's willful blindness to some of the real issues of this case.

But shouldn't a husband's statement of his wife's wishes have significant weight?

Michael Schiavo lives in an openly-adulterous relationship with Jodi Centonze, by whom he has fathered at least two children. He has openly stated his desire and intention to marry Jodi as soon as his wife is dead. To suggest that a man who has openly stated his intentions to marry another woman should have any authority whatsoever over his wife is to make a mockery out of marriage.

Why should Michael have to stay married to some vegetable? Why shouldn't he be able to find happiness with another woman?

He is free to find happiness with another woman. All he has to do is divorce Terri. Or, if he were to release guardianship, a new guardian would seek divorce on Terri's behalf (and almost certainly receive it). Terri's supporters aren't complaining that Michael is starting a new family. What they're complaining about is that he has, to date, refused to release the old one.

Why are Terri's parents spreading rumors about Michael rather than presenting their issues in court?

Terri's parents don't have full legal standing in most court cases; they may petition as friends of the court, but their authority is limitted. In nearly all cases involving Terri, there are no principle parties who don't want Terri dead.

Terri's parents would have full legal standing in a case to challenge Michael's guardianship. They filed such a challenge in November of 2002--more than two years ago. Unfortunately, Judge George Greer has granted perpetual continuances to Michael Schiavo. Further, when Michael has refused to appear for required depositions, George Greer simply cancelled them without charging Michael with contempt or doing anything else of consequence.

If Michael would like to put the "rumors" about him to rest by actually appearing for a deposition, he is more than free to do so. Given that he refuses to do so, however, I see no reason why his behavior should be given a free pass.

But isn't Terri just a vegetable anyway?

It's unclear what Terri's exact condition is. Doctors who have been hired by Michael Schiavo or Judge George Greer seem to think she's in a persistent vegetative state, but other doctors who have examined her or seen videos of her state that there is no way she is in a persistent vegetative state; people in PVS don't act like Terri does on the videos.

As to those who would question whether videos are adequate for diagnosis, I would offer the following analogy: suppose someone showed you a somewhat fuzzy Polaroid of a painting that was supposedly by Rembrandt; the painting clearly depicts an IMac, complete with the Apple logo. Suppose further that a few experts hired by the painting's owner confirmed, after examining the painting, that it was a genuine Rembrandt, and a dozen experts who examined the blurry Polaroid declared it was a fake. Whose opinion would be more credible--the people who examined the actual picture, or the ones who merely examined the blurry Polaroid?

Further, it should be noted that until Michael Schiavo received a malpractice award (which gave $300,000 to him for loss of consortium and $750,000 to Terri for her continued care) he gave Terri treatment and therapy which appeared to have some degree of success; such treatments and therapy were stopped as soon as the malpractice award was issued. Any decline in Terri's condition since then is almost certainly a result of Michael's willful mistreatment of her.

Yes, but didn't Terri say she didn't want to be 'hooked up to tubes'?

According to Michael, Terri's remark was made after Terri watched a movie about Karen Ann Quinlan. At the time of the legal battle over her treatment, Ms. Quinlan was on a respirator. After a judge ordered that life support be discontinued, Karen An Quinlan started breathing on her own; she lived for years after that.

If anything, Terri's desire not to be hooked up to tubes would seem to be a desire to be weaned off them. Not by death, but by useful therapy. Unfortunately, for many years, Michael has forbidden anyone from making any effort to give Terri food or water by mouth, or from giving her any sort of therapy whatsoever. If Terri had been on a ventilator, rather than on a feeding tube, Michael's interpretation of her remarks would not be to remove the ventilator and see if she can start breathing on her own, but rather to remove the ventilator and smother her to ensure that she couldn't start breathing on her own.

Further, a feeding tube isn't something one is "hooked up to" in the same way one would be a ventilator, heart-lung machine, or other life support apparatus. A feeding tube is an implanted device that allows food to be put into the stomach without going through the esophagus. When one is fed (about 3 times/day), a container of food is attached for a few minutes. Otherwise, there's nothing external attached.

But haven't dozens of judges agreed with everything Michael has said?

There has only been one trial-court judge who has agreed with what Michael has been saying and doing: Judge George Greer. All of the other judges who have agreed with Michael have been appeals court judges. Although it is commonly perceived that appeals court judges are "more powerful" than trial court judges, this is often not the case. If a trial court judge fails to accept a piece of evidence that contradicts his findings, an appeals court can order him to consider it. If, however, the trial court judge claims that he looked at the piece of evidence but found it unconvincing, the appeals court can do nothing.

What right did Jeb Bush have to butt into things?

Jeb Bush saw that a woman was about to be killed by Michael Schiavo, George Felos, and George Greer in a manner contrary to the laws and constitution of the state of Florida. Jeb Bush's job (and sworn duty) is to uphold the constitution and laws. Whether or not he's the person who should have been responsible for protecting Terri, the task fell to him as a matter of default: somebody had to do it, and nobody else did.

So what happens now?

Who knows? Perhaps some officials can try to investigate what is really going on in this case. So many aspects of it stink that somebody should notice something.

[update: Edited date of parent's court filing to 2002--had erroneously said 2003]

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


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