The Terri Schiavo Case

Most of you will notice that this case is off the beaten path for me.  Depending on your stance on the case, you may or may not see this as a murder case. Whichever side you take, or took at the time, can also determine if you think a crime was even committed at all.  Then again there are people on both sides of this argument who will say a crime WAS committed... but they see them as different crimes.

So why am I posting in a true crime blog about this case?  For a few reasons actually.  For one as I stated above some do see a crime as being committed and while that crime does or does not have to be murder it could still be considered a crime. Secondly, this case created very heated legal debates and in the end made some rethink their thoughts on another crime.  Thirdly, I honestly believe that this case should be discussed because Jeb Bush is running for the Republican candidate for President currently.  During the Terri Schiavo case he was the governor of Florida and many, admittedly including myself as I give the first insight as to which side I lean on, believe that as governor he not only overstepped his bounds by the law but used the fact that his brother was the current President of the United States and also got him involved in a case in which most American's believe politics should not have been involved.  I think this is important for us to remember as he asks to be President of our country. And that is what he is doing.... he is asking Americans to make him President. I believe his past actions will tell us what the future could hold and this case is an example of what Jeb Bush does when he is in a powerful position, and who is more powerful than the United States President?  Enough of my political soapbox and on with the story.

On February 25, 1990 Michael Schiavo called 9-1-1 and reported that his twenty five year old wife, Terri, had collapsed in their St. Petersburg Florida apartment. When EMT's arrived they found she has suffered from a full cardiac arrest episode.  She was not breathing and had no pulse. She was revived but remained in a coma for the next two and a half months.  Doctors already knew there was significant brain damage due to the tests that were run.  They had also come to the conclusion of the cardiac arrest and there were no signs of any sort of blunt trauma to her body.  This latter point becomes very important at a later point.  She did suffer from something called hypokalemia.  This is where your potassium level is so dangerously low that it can cause irregular heart rhythms that can lead to cardiac arrest and death.  Now, this was basically what was found in her initial diagnoses when entering the hospital. I believe this to be important because what follows for the next fifteen years often becomes a battle of who said what, who believed what, and who could gain the most.

In the end, what basically happened was a family fight that was made extremely public and involved multiple organizations and court battles.  People around the world took sides.  You were either on the side of Terri's husband, Michael or you were on the side of her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler.  The one good thing that came out of this case, regardless which side you were on is people began talking and expressing and even putting in writing their expressed end of life wants so that their family would not turn their life into a case such as this.  

Presumably upon her arrival at the hospital, or just soon there after, a feeding tube was inserted into Terri to provide her body with nutrition.  By 1991 doctors had diagnosed her as being in what they called a persistent vegetative state 
(further referred to as PVS).  In essence what this meant was that there was significant and severe brain damage to the point that what is considered "true awareness" was not present and that the brain damage that occurred was irreversible.  From the time of the onset of her condition until at least mid-1993 things seemed to be going well between Michael and his in-laws.  He had even sued Terri's obstetrician for failing to get an accurate medical history from her and diagnosing an eating disorder as her cause of infertility.  He was awarded 2 million dollars (was appealed from 6.5 million and Terri was "assigned" partial blame) but after lawyer fees and expenses it came to approximately 1 million. Michael received $300,000 of this money while $750,000 was placed in a trust for Terri's care.  Michael claims that at some point, either just after the award was issued or possibly several years later things between his in laws began demanding some of the monies he was awarded and caused contention.  By all accounts during the first four years Terri was receiving therapy as well as some experimental treatments in attempts to reverse the damage done.  None were successful.  Michael had been appointed her court guardian in June of 1990. Most accounts say that the Schindler's were fine with this saying that Michael was a loving and caring husband who would do what was best for Terri.  Some later reports state however that the Schindler's were unaware of him being granted guardianship.  I am unsure if this truly matters because there was little evidence to say that there were problem between them at the time of the guardianship.  The changes seem to have began in 1993 when it seems that Michael had finally come to terms with the fact that therapies were not working and when Terri obtained a UTI he chose to not have it treated and had decided to have a DNR put into her file.  When the Schindler's learned of this they became angry.  Michael apparently revoked the DNR after the Schindler's disagreed but in 1994 he stopped all therapy as it did not seem to be making any difference.  Once again the Schindler's were upset over this decision. There of course too were issues with insurance and what they would and would not provide and presumably the monies in the trust would dwindle.  

That being said the real fight began in May of 1998 when Michael petitioned the court to have the feeding tube removed.  The Schindler's disagreed with that decision and fought Michael.  Over the course of the next several years the real issue became what Terri would have wanted. Michael contended that he and Terri had discussed this issue prior and that she stated that she did not want to be kept alive with artificial matters including a feeding tube.  The Schindler's stated that Terri was a devote Catholic and would never choose to stop nutrition. One of the big questions is if you believe that a 25 year old woman, with no known serious medical issues would have had this conversation, even with her husband.  In my opinion, I seriously do not find it likely that she would have, however, that does not mean that I believe she should have been allowed to linger the way that she did.  The court appointed a second guardian ad litem who, while agreeing with the doctors that there was no reasonable belief of improvement the new guardian recommended that the tube not be removed because the money that was in the trust could have been a motivation for both sides. For the next few years there were several motions filed.  The Schindler's wanted the right to attempt to feed and hydrate Terri orally but that was denied by the judge saying that tests had been performed and that they determined that Terri would not have the ability to swallow and in essence could endanger her life.  The inability to swallow not only opens up the possibility of choking but can also cause improperly digested food and liquid particles to settle in the lungs which can cause a multitude of other issues. By 2000 the Schindler were continuing to challenge Michael's guardianship claiming that his recent move to have Terri moved to a Hospice Center was a waste of assets and also stated that although he was still married to Terri he had entered into a new relationship and had in fact had a child.  Michael countered that by claiming first that at the time he and the Schindlers had been getting along they had encouraged him to move forward in his life and were now encouraging that he divorce Terri.  He claimed that he would not do so as he felt it was his duty as Terri's husband to fulfill her dying wish.  Finally the judge ruled that they felt Michael had proven it would not be Terri's wish to remain in that state and ordered that the feeding tube be removed on April 24, 2001.  This would be the first time it was removed. It remained out for a total of two days because the Schindler's filed a civil suit against Michael alleging perjury of some sort and part of the suit ordered the tube to reinserted while the case was settled.  Michael appealed this decision and it was reversed but by then the tube was already back in.

In August of 2001 everyone was back in court again as the Schindler's filed a motion claiming that there were new medical treatments that were available that could "restore significant cognitive ability and allow Terri to decide for herself if she wanted to continue measure."  This motion also once again asked that Michael be removed as guardian but it also asked that the judge, Judge Greer who had ordered the removal the first time and was the judge on the case, remove himself from the case. Not surprisingly Judge Greer denied their filing, the appeals court upheld the ruling, however they did send it back to the lower court for a hearing to hear any new evidence.  They also ordered that five board certified neurologists testified.  The Schindler's were allowed to find two doctors, Michael Schiavo was allowed to find two doctors and the court was to find a doctor.  A new independent evaluation was to be made of Terri's condition and reported to the court.  Those independent tests showed that there was obviously severe, irreversible brain damage and an EEG showed no measurable brain activity.  The Schindler's also made a video tape that was shown to the court.  Not surprisingly, when it came for the time for the doctors to give their opinions the ones employed from each side (Schindler and Schiavo) leaned towards their clients.  Michael's doctors claimed Terri did have PVS while the Schindler's doctors claimed she had what was called "minimally conscious state" which in essence was just barely short of PVS but enough to give the Schindler's hope.  However, the doctor employed by the court also ruled that she suffered from PVS.  After all of the evidence was gathered Judge Greer ruled that Terri did in fact suffer from PVS and that any form of recovery was beyond hope. He was also very critical in his findings against one of the doctors that the Schindler's had employed as he unequivocally claimed positive results from a form of therapy that medical literature claimed was unsupported. Of course once again the Schindler's appealed this ruling but it was upheld.

By the beginning of 2003 if things were not heated enough, they were about to get hotter.  The Schindler's had garnered enough support they now had a new pro-life activist on their team acting as spokesperson.   In September they petitioned again to stall the removal and once again Greer denied their petition with a scathing review calling it an attempt "to re-litigate the entire case. It is not even a veiled or disguised attempt."     

On October 15, 2003 the feeding tube was removed for a second time.  This time however within a week the Schindler's had new backing in the form of Governor Jeb Bush, brother of sitting President George W. Bush.  State Representatives in Florida  got involved and passed what they called "Terri's Law" giving Jeb Bush the right to intervene to which he of course signed and ordered the feeding tube replaced.  Bush also ordered another new guardian ad litem to oversee the case and to report directly to him. At this point the ACLU stepped in to support Michael and this quickly seemed to become a case in which the government was overstepping bounds and it did not look like either side was going to back down.  It was later discovered that the new guardian ad litem had reported to Jeb Bush that he had spoken to all parties involved and that the Schindler's had admitted that even if they knew for a fact that Terri would want the tube removed they would not have complied.  For the next several months the legality behind Terri's Law was fought and in May of 2004 it was found to be unconstitutional, but of course the state appealed that verdict. Either way at this point it did not matter because once again the tube had been replaced.  

In February of 2005 the Schindler's were once again filing to have new things tried before removing the tube and of course also asking to have Michael removed as guardian, and once again Judge Greer denied their motion and ordered the removal of the feeding tube for the third time to take place on March 18, 2005.  But of course that did not end things as the Schindler's once again filed to be able to attempt to feed Terri orally.  With the new order to remove the feeding tube the Republicans in the U.S. Congress decided that they would subpoena both Michael and Terri Schiavo to testify in front of them on a date past the removal date. When Greer squashed that subpoena and the tube was removed the Republican's seemed to scramble. On March 20, 2005 they passed a version of a bill that ended up being called Palm Sunday Compromise that transferred Terri's case from state courts to federal court.  President George W. Bush even flew into Washington from vacation and signed the bill at one in the morning. 

Over the next several days even the federal courts were denying relief and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a review.  Just after all of this a memo surfaced from a Republican senator from Florida talking about how the Schiavo case was a great political issue for them and by taking a stance with the Schindler's they could easily defeat the Democrats.  As relief was continuing to be denied to the Schindler's Republican Bill Frist gave a speech on the Senate floor challenging doctors to watch the videos,  claiming that there was hope for Terri and that she did not suffer from PVS.  He was later chastised because while he was apparently a doctor he was not a neurologist for one and for two he had never seen Terri to make a diagnosis. There is also no way of knowing just how much or what video he was shown.  Throughout all of this video had been released to the media and shown on television through the Schindler's attorneys and those speaking for the family.  Several hours of video were taken but they were chopped up into very short videos to appear that Terri was alert and aware of her surroundings.  These were parts of the video that the court was shown back in 2003.  It was later claimed that these portions of video were given and shown to garner support in any way possible.

So, between the Schindler's... the government... the public and what not you would have thought the tube was removed and it was over.  Not so fast.  On March 24, 2005 (6 days after the tube removal) DCF (Department of Children and Family) and filed a motion to have the tube reinserted and they be placed as in charge of the case.  Judge Greer denied this but DCF already knew he would.  The plan was for them to appeal that ruling and with that came and automatic stay in which would force the tube to be re-inserted.  The plan was to wisp the police into the hospice center and have Terri taken to a facility to have the tube inserted.  However, Judge Greer was none too stupid and he squashed the stay almost immediately.  Many expected Jeb Bush to once again step in but he too stepped down.  Reality is that the hospice center had already become a circus. Local law enforcement were already in place there because of protesters on both sides.  For the most part there was little violence from the protesters but there were a few arrested for crossing police lines attempting to take water in the facility.  Had Jeb Bush stepped in at this point it would have been State law enforcement (meaning the possibility of the National Guard) against local enforcement on an issue that despite which side of the fence you stood a majority of people were against government intrusion, not to mention it had not worked out for them up to this point.

Finally on March 31, 2005 Terri Schiavo passed away.

So now we're done with the fighting... right???  Yeah... no.  An autopsy was performed on April 1st and the results were released in July of 2005.  In the mean time the Schindler's, who were always ready to get in front of the cameras and chastise their son in law were claiming they were not informed that Michael had Terri cremated and had not been informed of any service for her remains. Initially it was reported that she would be buried in Pennsylvania where the two families were from but she was eventually given a burial in Florida.  In the end the Schindler's were even more angry that Michael had placed on her stone the words "I kept my promise."

This past March was the ten year anniversary of Terri's passing so there was an abundance of information flowing once again on the issue at hand. During and immediately after her passing there was a huge surge in people creating living wills and making sure their end of life wishes were known.  No-one it seems no matter what your position was about this case wanted this to be their family. After Terri the government seemed to back down on Right to Die issues.  Prior to Terri's case we only knew of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the fact that in 1997 Oregon had passed what they called their Die with Dignity law giving people a choice to take their life.  During Terri's situation Congress was fighting that law in Oregon and authorities had done everything they could get criminally charge Kevorkian. Many saw Terri's case as being what happens when you are not allowed to or verbally make that choice before the time comes in which you cannot make it. Right to Die organizations had been stationed in Washington but after Terri's passing they were not needed there anymore.  They realized that the federal government was going to make it a state issue and so the states were where they were needed.  

I came across an article written at the ten year anniversary by Terri's brother, known as Bobby through out her ordeal.  He continued to be very critical, not only of his now ex brother in law, but the government and really anyone who supports the Right to Die issue. Although he called the death of his sister a "killing" (I do not recall the word murder) he said a few things that not only I found questionable but also did not necessarily support his case. He states in the article that it was his family's belief that Michael Schiavo was after the funds in the trust and that it was close to $800,000.  Now, whether he was indicating that was the amount in 2005 when she died or in 1998 when he first filed to have the tube removed I find this unreasonable. The $750,000 that was put in the trust was put in approximately 1993 and there were reports that much of the therapy as well as other things were not being covered by any insurance so it does not seem right that this much would have anywhere been close to what remained.  He referred to Michael as Terri's "estranged husband" at the time of her death and continues to see Terri's saga simply as her becoming disabled. When discussing the Right to Die issue he had much to say.  He claims that the foundation that his parent created in Terri's name is contacted regularly by people in situations as they were in and became angry when saying that often in cases now doctors are given the right to decide these matters.  He chastised people in general for allowing it to come to a point in which a "stranger" (meaning the doctor) makes those choices. He also criticized the fact that feeding tubes are often considered to be medical treatment now.  He, and apparently his family, seem as if they had to do everything over again they would do it the exact same way and I find this utterly amazing.  

I remember when this case was going on.  The national news covered it often and were camped out with protesters basically on a death watch each time the tube was pulled. I was attending college at the time and working towards a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies on top of what I personally knew already from learning how to research on my own about the law I was technically learning it formally.  Like many American's I was angered that politicians got involved and began manipulating the justice system to fit their needs. One of the things that I always noticed was how Michael Shiavo was not in front of the cameras addressing them publicly very often.  He would answer or address things when he had to and would sometimes send out an attorney or spokesperson but for the most part he stayed out of the limelight while the Schindler's and those in their camp were more than willing to speak every time they were asked or walked out the door.  The Schindlers had tried (and successfully in some cases) convincing people that Michael's entire motive was money. They wanted people to believe that he had done nothing for Terri in the prior fifteen years.  This simply was not true.  At the time that this was going on I tried to muster the ability to give sympathy to the Schindlers.  Their daughter was not living.  Was she dying?  Not necessarily... but she was not living.  I understood they wanted to do all that they could in whatever way they thought they should for their daughter.  What I could not understand is how they allowed and turned this tragedy into a circus.  They did not just file things with the court and move on with their day, they filed things and then they stood out in front on media cameras or they manipulated things to appear differently than they were. 

There is one last thing I want to mention about this case before ending it.  I had decided that I was not going to mention it as when there is a case such as this it already has enough twists and turns but the more I think of it I think it should be mentioned.  At the time of her collapse in 1990 the hospital ran many tests and x-rays.  Sometime after 1998 (and to be truthful I do not recall what year, it could have been several later, but during the battle) the Schindler's claim that they were just made aware of some results from her entry into the hospital and that there was indication of what they implied to be prior injuries that they were sure were inflicted by Michael.  So at this point in one of their many attempts to have him removed as guardian they were accusing him of domestic violence.  At her autopsy in 2005 there was no indications of anything but then again it had been 15 years since she had collapsed. I felt then, and I feel now that was an attempt by the Schindler's to manipulate or flat out lie about things to get what they wanted. Because this was and is my belief I had not intended to include it here.  However, I realized that in the article by Terri's brother written on the 10 year anniversary, not once is this mentioned.  If this was legitimate why were they not standing from the rooftops? Why would they not mention it 10 ... 20...30 years later??

If this case taught us anything it taught us that we need to make sure that someone is fully aware of your final wishes and if that is not possible or you want something better put it in writing.  We all say "My family would not do that" and I am sure Terri would have said the same thing.  This case has also taught us what people will do when they have power.  Politicians were quick to jump into this when they thought they could benefit and quick to jump out when they found out it blew up in their face but it did not prevent them from trying and delaying things.  Think about this... The man who was Governor at the time is now running for President.  When he was Governor he thought it was proper to make laws in his state to prevent the right of a husband to make choices for his critically ill wife.  When that did not work, he called on his brother, who was the President, who signed a measure at 1 in the morning after flying in from his vacation spot to take the issue out of the state courts and into federal courts.  It was NOT a federal issue.  It should not have even been a state issue.

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