Wesley Smith: The Assault on Terri Schiavo Continues

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 29, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Wesley Smith: The Assault on Terri Schiavo Continues

by Wesley J. Smith

LifeNews.com Note: Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a leading monitor of bioethics issues such as assisted suicide, euthanasia and human cloning.

What little Terri Schiavo has left in this life, is being cruelly stripped away. Not only has a judge ordered her to die slowly by dehydration via having her tube-supplied food and water removed, but now, her (estranged) husband and legal guardian Michael Schiavo has completely isolated her from her family. Ever since mysterious "puncture wounds" were supposedly detected on Terri’s arm, he has refused to allow Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri’s parents, to visit her.

For those who may not recall the controversy, Terri is the profoundly cognitively disabled woman who is the subject of a bitter right-to-live case in Clearwater, Florida. Michael remains in dictatorial charge of her care, even though he long ago abandoned his marriage by living with another woman and siring two children by her. He wants Terri dead (he says that is what she would want), while her parents only want to care for her properly for the rest of their lives.

Michael’s behavior toward Terri has been utterly despicable for the last decade. After she collapsed in 1990, he sued for medical malpractice on her behalf. During the trial, he presented himself to the jury as a dedicated and loving husband–even though he had been romancing other women since shortly after the time of Terri’s collapse and brain injury. He told the jury he would care for Terri for the rest of her life, which an expert testified would be a normal life span, and that as part of this loving devotion, he would provide her with regular medical tests and appropriate rehabilitation with the money the jury awarded.

Terri received about $750,000 in early 1993, and Michael about $300,000 for loss of her companionship. As soon as Terri’s money was safely in the bank, Michael put her two cats to sleep. He then melted down her wedding and engagement rings to make a ring for himself. Medical records indicate that Terri went for years without having her teeth cleaned, as an apparent consequence of which, she recently had five teeth extracted.

And, he wanted his wife dead. Within a year of the verdict, he refused to allow doctors to treat her with antibiotics to treat a serious infection, claiming that Terri would not want to live in her disabled condition–a point he somehow forgot to mention to the malpractice jury. Not coincidentally, had she died, he would have inherited her $700,000. Terri’s parents sued to mandate care, and their relationship with Michael was forever poisoned.

Thereafter, medical records indicate, Terri had none of the medical testing Michael told the malpractice jury he would provide her, and apparently she received no rehabilitation. Indeed, nurses who cared for her in the mid-1990s filed sworn affidavits claiming that Michael repeatedly refused doctor recommendations that Terri be provided therapy.

As bad as Michael has been, in many ways, the performance of Judge George W. Greer of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, the jurist who oversees Terri’s case, has been even worse. Over the years Greer has repeatedly allowed Michael to shirk his legal mandate as guardian to file annual prospective "guardianship plans," specifying his proposal for providing for Terri’s medical and social needs for the coming year.

The Florida legislature considered annual court approval of the guardianship plan so crucial to the proper protection of the incapacitated, that the law explicitly states that the "court must review" a new plan each year to ensure that it "meets the needs of the ward." Moreover–and this is key–the law states, "the [court] approved report constitutes authority for the guardian to act in the forthcoming year. The powers of the guardian are limited by the terms of the report." [emphasis added] In other words, without an approved plan, the guardian is without legal power to act on behalf of the ward.

Yet there has been no court-approved plan for Terri’s care in effect since July 1, 2001. Under the law, Greer should have hauled Michael into court to explain why he has failed to file a plan for court approval. Instead, Greer granted each of Michael’s repeated (and often tardy) requests for extra time to file his plans. Meaning Judge Greer has permitted Michael to act as guardian of Terri for nearly three years without a guardianship plan in effect, even though under Florida law, this means that Michael has no legal authority over her.

The Schindler’s attorney, Pat Anderson, frustrated by the many legal irregularities in the case, has now filed a crucial motion challenging Michael’s authority to isolate Terri from her parents, based on his lack of legal authority in light of the absence of a court approved guardianship plan. This should be a slam-dunk. Unfortunately, Greer–the very judge who has repeatedly permitted Michael to shirk his legal duty–will decide the matter. It is hard to believe he will sanction Michael for failing to take legally mandatory actions that he gave permission to skip.

Judge Greer’s performance has been so deficient that he should be removed from the case forthwith, if not impeached. Michael Schiavo should be given a size-14 boot out as Terri’s legal guardian. And, since no one has any current legal authority to make decisions for Terri under Florida law, Governor Jeb Bush should direct Florida’s protective services to step in, take custody, and sort the entire mess out.

This entire travesty must come to an end. Not only is the life of a helpless human being at stake, but so too are the rule of law and the application of ordered justice.