Advocacy Groups Urge Public To Support Terri Schiavo's Right To
Agency Investigates Claims Of Husband's Abuse
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 27, 2003
TAMPA, FLORIDA--A coalition of 14 national and international disability rights groups issued a statement Monday, asking for the media and the public to consider the facts supporting Terri Schiavo's right to continue living.
"Terri Schindler-Schiavo is alive," the statement read. "She deserves nothing less than the full advantage of human and civil rights the rest of us are fortunate to enjoy as Americans."
"She has a severe brain injury, yet has not undergone the rehabilitation that is typically given to people with this type of disability," the statement continued. "People with severe cognitive disabilities are devalued as lives not worth living. In truth, the lives of all of us with severe disabilities are often considered expendable. This is why we are speaking out."
Among other things, the statement points out that the court decision to remove Terri's gastronomy tube on October 15 was made solely at the request of her husband and guardian. Michael Schiavo claims that his wife told him before her collapse that she would never want to live "by artificial means". Mr. Schiavo's request -- which has not been backed up by written documentation -- did not come until after he received a $1 million malpractice settlement and promised to take care of Terri for the rest of her life. Florida courts have consistently sided with Mr. Schiavo since he asked for Terri's feeding tube to be removed so she would starve to death.
At the prompting of tens of thousands of disability rights and right-to-life groups, Governor Jeb Bush backed the state legislature in passing "Terri's Law" last Tuesday, giving him the authority to order Terri's feeding tube reinstalled six days after it had been removed.
Bush's order also called for Terri's husband to be replaced with an independent guardian. A Pinellas County Circuit Court judge has recommended Jay Wofson, a public health professor at the University of South Florida, as guardian if Mr. Schiavo and his in-laws cannot agree on another guardian by November 5.
Some doctors have testified that Terri has been in a "persistent vegetative state" from which she will not recover, since she collapsed and was without oxygen for several minutes in February 1990. Mr. Schiavo has repeatedly refused to allow rehabilitative treatment for Terri. He has blocked family members and priests from visiting her. Several years ago he placed her in a hospice -- which is ordinarily reserved for patients in the last six months of terminal illnesses -- even though the most pessimistic of doctors have said the 39-year-old woman could live into her 50s.
Several medical professionals have argued that Terri is not in a coma, and that she might benefit from therapies, including speech and swallowing therapies. Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, claim that their daughter is alert, responsive, and that she tries to speak. They also suspect that Terri's original injuries may have been brought about by Mr. Schiavo whom several people have described as domineering, controlling and verbally abusive. Some close to Terri have said that she was planning a divorce before her injury.
A renown New York forensic pathologist backed up the Schindlers' suspicions over the weekend, claiming on national television that Terri Schiavo's initial collapse may have been caused by a head trauma instead of a chemical imbalance as had been previously thought.
Dr. Michael Baden, who has served as chief pathologist for the City of New York and as director of the Forensic Sciences Unit of the New York State Police, told the Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren that it is "extremely rare" for someone at Terri's age, then 26, to have a heart attack from low potassium.
Baden examined a 1991 bone-scan report which did not become available to the Schindlers until 1998.
"That bone scan describes her as having a head injury," Baden said. "That's why she's getting a bone scan. And a head injury can . . . lead to the vegetative state that Ms. Schiavo is in now, and it does show evidence that there are other injuries, other bone fractures."
Florida's Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities has launched an investigation into the Schindlers' claims that Michael has abused and neglected Terri since he became her guardian. The probe is expected to shed light on how he handled Terri's trust fund that his attorney says has dwindled from $700,000 to less than $65,000 over the past ten years. Family members suspect he has spent much of the money on legal fees battling his in-laws.
"They are referred to as the 'big sharks' in the disability field," said Patricia Anderson, attorney for the Schindlers, about the Advocacy Center. The agency is mandated by federal law, and has strong investigative powers, including the ability to examine medical and court-sealed guardian financial records. Its findings of abuse or neglect would be conclusive and would preempt any court or other agency determination, Anderson explained.
The chief judge in Pinellas County Circuit Court has set a November 5 hearing into Mr. Schiavo's claims that the legislature and governor violated the state constitution when it passed "Terri's Law" last week.
The American Civil Liberties Union announced Friday that it would support Mr. Schiavo's position. The ACLU explained that the governor and the legislature overstepped their bounds when they attempted to over-ride the courts.
Andrew Koppelman, a constitutional law expert at Northwestern University, told the Chicago Tribune that the courts might not be able to overturn the new law.
"The Legislature has to have power to legislate today about what we do tomorrow, and that power is not taken away by the fact that the judiciary said something else yesterday," he said.
According to a CNN story, Terri told a high school friend in 1981, "Where there's life, there's hope", as they discussed the case of Karen Ann Quinlan, who had been in a coma since collapsing six years earlier.
"Issues Surrounding Terri Schindler-Schiavo Are Disability Rights Issues, Say National Disability Organizations" (Ragged Edge Magazine)
"Before fight over death, Terri Schiavo had a life" (CNN.com)
"Interview with Dr. Michael Baden, a Forensic Pathologist from NY" (On the Record with Greta van Susteren via Terri's Fight)
"State to probe family's claim of spousal abuse" (Chicago Tribune - requires free registration)
"ACLU Joins Dispute Over Terri Schindler Schiavo" (Cybercast News Service)
Expanded Coverage: Terri Schiavo's Right To Live (Inclusion Daily Express)