The US Congress is getting involved in this case:
For those of you not following this, Terri Schiavo is a Florida woman who suffered a respitory collapse (likely as the result of a chemical imbalance brought on by an eating disorder) 15 years ago in 1990, at the age of 26. She suffered a loss of oxygen to the brain which caused severe brain damage including loss of nearly all of her cerebral cortex. Her brain stem was largely undamaged and she is not brain dead: she continues to breath and her hearts continues to beat, without outside intervention. However, she has no ability to walk, sit, speak, chew, swallow, relieve herself, clean herself or care for herself in anyway. She is in a “persistent vegegative state” and has been unchanged in that state for 15 years. She does occasionally make a noise or move her hands but has not been observed to communicate or perform any coordinated activity in 15 years. She is currently kept alive by means of a feeding tube inserted down into her stomach: without it she will starve to death.
In the early 90s, her husband Michael sued the hospital where she was treated and after a lengthy court case and trial eventually settled for around $300K for himself and another $800K for Terri’s medical expenses. Terri was in hospice care for most of the 90s, except for a period in the early 90s when Mr. Schiavo took her to CA for therapy in the hopes of improving her condition, unfortunately without success.
In 1998 after a brain scan showed that Terri’s cerebral cortex had atrophied and that a significant chunk of her brain area was a void filled with cerebro spinal fluid, Mr. Schiavo gave up hope and filed a petition to ask a Florida court to determine what her wishes would be. Mr. Schiavo and Terri’s adult friends all testified that her wishes would have not to be kept alive in these circumstances. Mr. Schiavo requested a ruling that Terri’s feeding tube be removed and she be allowed to die. Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, adamantly opposed this view and testified that Terri as a Catholic would have wanted to be kept alive at all costs. The matter went to a court trial under Florida law and the Judge applied the Florida law which had been drafted a few years previously in response to another big right to die controversy years earlier. This law included a presumption in favor of life and required a that finding in favor of removing the feeding tube be made with “clear and convincing evidence” which is a much higher standard under Florida law than the normal “preponderance of evidence” (which is just the usual 51% probability). After the trial the Judge found that the multiple statements of Terri’s husband and adult friends constituted sufficient evidence to order the removal of the feeding tube. Judge Greer felt that the testimony of Terri’s parents reflected her childhood views, and he ruled that as an adult Terri would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially. (Terri had left her home state of PA (IIRC?) and moved to Florida a few years earlier and although she had not cut off relations with her parents, she didn’t interact with them frequently, just at holidays and vacation visits).
The Schindlers appealed that ruling to the Florida appellate court, who reviewed the entire case and agreed with Judge Greer. The Schindlers again appealed, to the Florida Supreme Court, who stood by the appellate decision. The Schindlers then appealed again to the US Supremes who said this was not a federal matter and turned them down. At that point an order to remove the feeding tube issued and the tube was removed. The Schindlers filed a large batch of new motions and appeals, contending amongst other arguments, that new medical therapies were availalable that would allow Terri to recover. Since her condition was not hopeless, they argued, she would want to live.
Judge Greer granted the Schindlers a second trial and 5 medical experts were selected to evaluate Terri, 2 picked by Mr. Schiavo, 2 by the Schindlers and 1 by the court. The 2 doctors for Mr. Schiavo and the court appointed doctor all said that Terri’s condition was not going to change: she didn’t have a cerebral cortex and there is no way to regrow that kind or amount of brain tissue. The 2 doctors for the Schindlers both acknowledged the severe brain damage but both said the therapies they offer would help her, although they could not make any specific promises. One of the therapies offered was physical therapy and one was hyperbaric (immersion in high oxygen environment). Neither doctor was able to explain how those therapies would regrow Terri’s cerebral cortex.
After a lenghy trial, including testimony by the doctors, and many of the nurses and caregivers who had attended Terri for the 11 years since her accident, Judge Greer ruled that there was no medical hope. He did review the videotape that the Schindlers offered (thats the source of the images you often see which appear to show Terri reacting to her mother) but felt that it did not show actual response by Terri: just random motions that at times corresponded with her mothers attempts to elicit a reponse. (The video is 120 minutes and shows 82 attempts by Mrs. Schindler to elicit a response from Terri, and shows 16 movements or sounds by Terri - 2 of the movements or sounds corresponded in time to 2 of the 82 attempts, but the other 80 attempts elicited no response of any sort. Judge Greer ruled that the video showed merely random activity by Terri’s still functioning brainstem but no cognition or consciousness.)
Judge Greer again ruled in favor of removing the feeding tube. The Schindlers appealed again to the Florida appellate court who again reviewed the entire case (including the medical testimony and video) and again agreed with Judge Greer. The Schindlers again filed an appeal with the Florida Supremes which was again rejected. The Schindlers then again filed an appeal with the US Supremes which was, again, rejected.
A second order to remove the feeding tube issued. During the lengthy litigation the Schindlers had started to recieve legal assistance from various right to life groups, and also conservative political groups in Florida, including Operation Rescue. The struggle to keep Terri alive became a big phenomenom on talk radio and the blogosphere as she became a symbol of right to life and a focus of anti-euthanasia views. There was a great emotional outpouring by many who saw Terri as an innocent about to be executed. Also, Michael Schiavo began to be villainized for taking up with another woman - he was accused of many things including wife abuse, financial motives, etc (none of these were ever proved in any of the 3 trials that occurred in the case and Mr. Schiavo has never been convicted or indicted of any crime or wrongdoing. The appellate court opinions had made mention of the loving care and attention provided to Terri by both Mr. Schiavo and the Schindlers.)
As the feeding tube was removed a second time, the Schindlers and their political allies mounted a massive campaign to get the Florida legislature to intervene. After an intense but short political debate the Florida legislature passed a special law allowing Governor Jeb Bush to order a stay on the feeding tube - it was put back in and Terri remained alive. This special law was challenged as unconstitutional for several reasons and after hearings the law was thrown out on multiple grounds under the Florida Constitution. It was ruled as a violation of Terri’s due process, as a violation of separation of powers, as an invalid law of special application, and in general overreaching by the state legislature. The Schindlers appealed and lost in the appellate court, appealed and lost in the Florida Supreme Court and appealed and were denied by the US Supremes.
So now after another round of motions, appeals, new lawsuits, etc, a third order to remove the feeding tube has issued. It was scheduled to take effect today. All avenues within Florida have been fully exhausted. The Florida legislature again debated a new law which passed in the Florida House but failed in the Florida Senate.
But Congressional Republicans have now stepped in. The Senate has issued a subpeona commanding the appearance of Mr. Schiavo and Terri Schiavo before the Senate on the issue of right to live/right to die. The Schindlers believe this will stay the removal order and keep Terri alive.
I have tried to be as neutral as possible in my description. However, the facts of the case put me squarely in the right to die camp: I’m convinced that Ms. Schiavo has no higher brain functions and wouldn’t want to live unnaturally in those conditions, and that the attacks on Mr. Schiavo are baseless and grounded in emotion, religious believe, or political positions.
If you want a scrupulously neutral source, here is a Florida legal blog:
This is a legal blog run by an appellate lawyer who has followed the case and maintained a very neutral position (although like me he tends to think the law has been followed properly and the Schindlers are pushing beyond the bounds). He has a page with a full rundown of the history and links to the legal opinions:
There are a ton of “keep Terri alive” sites out on the web but in my view they all tend to be emotional, religious or political. I don’t consider them persuasive.
The reason I bring this up in P&R is that I think the most recent action by Congressional Republicans is a disaster. The Feds have no business in this case issuing subpeonas at this late date is just a blatant attempt to interfere in state business. Plus its a violation of separation of powers for the legislature to interfere with a court case. AND its a singling out of an individual for special treatment.
Also there is a sick and creepy element here. In the SF Gate article the Schindler’s attorney said
“The family is prayerfully excited about their daughter going before the United States Congress for the whole world to see how alive she is.”
Given the fact that Terri doesn’t have a cerebral cortex such a live appearance is likely to be a national disgrace. I think its deeply disrespectful to treat a person as badly injured as Terri is as a show pony.