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MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH
Media 'getting it wrong'
on Terri Schiavo story

Press erroneously report she's 'comatose,' doctors also dispute vegetative-state ruling


Posted: October 25, 2003
6:36 p.m. Eastern


By Diana Lynne
© 2003 WorldNetDaily.com

Network news outlets across the board and national newspapers – from the New York Times and the Washington Post to the Miami Herald and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – are misreporting the medical facts of the Terri Schindler-Schiavo story, say her family, doctors and the pro-family organization Focus on the Family.

"The media's killing us, and they're killing her, frankly," said Terri's father, Robert Schindler, at a press conference yesterday. The family and about a dozen people, including doctors and Terri's caregivers, spent an hour trying to school reporters on the facts of the case.

Public opinion outside the courtroom matters in high-profile legal battles, as the 165,000 e-mails sent this week to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's office and the scores sent to state legislators exemplified. The community spoke and lawmakers heard them and responded with emergency legislation empowering Bush to defy Terri's judge-ordered starvation by ordering the reinsertion of the 39-year-old brain-disabled woman's feeding tube.

For the Schindlers, the first task at hand in setting the public record straight regards the erroneous use of the word "comatose" by newspapers and media outlets across the country in their coverage of the emotionally charged legal battle.

The Webster's New World College Dictionary defines comatose as someone who is in a deep or prolonged state of unconsciousness. It is undisputed that Terri does not meet this definition. Even her husband, Michael Schiavo, who sought the court order to end her life does not call her "comatose."

Yet, in a search of today's coverage of the case using the Lexis-Nexis media search engine, WorldNetDaily found that national network news outlets across the board – ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NPR – refer to Terri as being "in a coma" or "comatose." Prominent newspapers making the same error include the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Baltimore Sun, Cincinnati Enquirer, Salt Lake City's Deseret News, South Dakota's Aberdeen American and even one local paper, the Bradenton Herald.

At the press conference, Terri's family and several doctors also stressed it is debatable whether she is in a persistent vegetative state, or PVS, despite court rulings labeling her as such.


Terri responding to her mother in video clip available on terrisfight.org

"You have to get it through your heads. This girl is not PVS," Robert Schindler pleaded with reporters.

Dr. William Hammesfahr, a Clearwater, Fla., neurologist, told reporters Terri's eyes fixate on her family and she tries to follow simple commands, such as when doctors ask her to pull against their arm.

WorldNetDaily has reported Terri sustained brain damage when she mysteriously collapsed in 1990 at the age of 26 and oxygen was cut to her brain for several minutes. Terri breathes and maintains a heart beat and blood pressure on her own. She can see and move her limbs. But she needs a feeding tube to sustain her life.

Six years after being awarded $1.2 million in medical malpractice suits on the basis that he intended to seek long-term medical care and therapy for his wife, Michael Schiavo hired right-to-die attorney George Felos and launched a court battle to terminate his wife's life. Terri has no written directive on the matter.

At a press conference Thursday Felos insisted his client was acting out of love and respect for his wife's desire to "die with dignity."

"Who in God's name would subject themselves to what he has gone through for any other reason?" he said. "He always deeply loved her."

After hearing testimony from Michael Schiavo, his brother and sister-in-law that Terri had casually told them she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means, probate Judge George Greer ruled in 2000 and again in subsequent trials to remove the feeding tube.

Felos and Schiavo maintain Terri is PVS, which in Florida is defined by statute as a "permanent and irreversible condition of unconsciousness in which there is the absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of any kind [and] an inability to communicate or interact purposefully with the environment."

Last year, Greer reaffirmed his ruling in favor of Felos and Schiavo on the basis of testimony from two physicians solicited by them and a third appointed by him. The PVS diagnosis is required by law for the removal of the feeding tube.

The Schindlers, who have been fighting with their son-in-law for 10 years argue Terri is alert, responsive and vocalizes, and given appropriate therapy can improve. WorldNetDaily has reported their opinion is buttressed by that of nearly a dozen physicians who signed sworn affidavits that she is not PVS – affidavits Greer rejected as evidence. The physicians offered their opinions after viewing videotape of Terri taken during a court-ordered evaluation. Some doctors have offered pro-bono treatment for her, which her husband declines.

In excerpts of the video shown in court, Terri smiles, laughs,vocalizes and tracks a balloon from one side of the room to the other. The Schindlers posted three audio clips and a series of videos clips of Terri on their website.

"You can see on the tapes how she has a big smile on her face as soon as she sees her mother, like she's opening up a Christmas present," her father remarked to WorldNetDaily. "That's what's so heartbreaking."

Felos and two neurologists – one of them a right-to-die advocate – maintain Terri's vocalizing and apparent expressions of happiness at seeing her mother or her tracking a balloon with her eyes are merely "involuntary reflexes" by a woman in a persistent vegetative state, whose cerebral cortex has been so irreparably damaged her condition cannot be improved by therapy or treatment.

"There is no cognition, no consciousness," Felos told the Tampa Tribune.

WorldNetDaily has reported that in the first couple of years after her collapse Terri received rehabilitative therapy and progressed to the point of saying "no," according to nurses' notes. She would also say, "yes" and "stop that," according to her parents. But in 1993, following the malpractice-suit awards, the therapy was discontinued and Terri was relocated by her husband to one nursing home and then another before ultimately being moved to a hospice in 2000 where she remains.

During a covert therapy session, Robert Schindler reports his daughter sat bolt upright and tried to get our of her chair when told by a therapist over the telephone she was sentenced to die.

"My daughter is not in a persistent vegetative state. She is not a 'plastic plant' as Mr. Felos says she is. She is extremely brain-damaged, and she's a human being," Mary Schindler, Terri's mother said at yesterday's press conference. "She responds to me every time I go in there."

"This is a case about a judicial system making an error," Hammesfahr said.

Focus on the Family believes the liberal-biased mainstream media is promoting and facilitating the judicial error by misreporting the medical facts of the case. The conservative, pro-family organization issued a fact sheet prepared by physician Walt Larimore and bioethics analyst Carrie Gordon Earll, to assist the family in correcting the misinformation, or disinformation.

Among the points the fact sheet makes is that Terri "is not comatose," "is not dependent on life support," and was not dying by natural causes prior to the removal of her feeding tube.

"Focus on the Family believes that there is a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2), and therefore there are situations when medical interventions should cease and a natural death be allowed. The question is not whether Terri should be allowed to die, however. The question is whether she has been given the opportunity to live," reads the fact sheet.

"The sad case of Terri Schiavo is a poignant sign of the advance of the Culture of Death and the impact of its logic on the nation's conscience," concurs R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in commentary posted on Crosswalk.com. "The liberal elites have embraced the euthanasia movement and are ready to define life in terms of its perceived 'meaningfulness.'"

 

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OCTOBER 21, 2003 may have been the most important day in 39-year-old Terri Schiavo's life. She had been without any food or water for six days, per the order of Judge George Greer of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Clearwater, Florida. Terri's family believed she was holding up well. But her body could surely not take much more of being deprived of all fluids.

In Tallahassee, a furious political debate was raging. The previous night, Governor Jeb Bush and speaker of the Florida House Johnnie Byrd had pushed "Terri's Bill" successfully through the House in an emergency session. The bill was now in the Florida Senate. If it passed, Bush, as governor, would be authorized to immediately issue an executive order restoring Terri's tube-supplied food and water.

But although the bill was moving through the Senate at the political speed of light, for supporters of Terri's life, it seemed a glacial pace. Every minute was one more minute Terri was drying out.

AS I LISTENED to the debate over the Internet, I could see the tug of war. On one side were many bioethicists, members of the medical intelligentsia, "right to die" advocates, Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, and his attorney, George Felos. On the other were disability rights advocates, right to lifers, Governor Jeb Bush, Terri's parents and their stalwart lawyer, Patricia Anderson, and the tens of thousands of people from all over the country and the world whose months of insistent emails and telephone calls had resulted in such overwhelming political pressure that Florida's government had felt compelled to act.

As the debate raged, some senators opposed the bill, believing that a husband should be permitted to make this tragic decision. But didn't they know that this particular husband, Michael Schiavo, was engaged to be married and already had one child with his fiancé (with another on the way)? Didn't they know he had denied Terri rehabilitation after promising a medical malpractice jury he would provide her with just such care? Didn't they know he wouldn't even let the nursing home personnel clean her teeth?

No, of course they didn't. How could they? This terrible issue had been sprung on them unfairly on extremely short notice. But there had been no other way. Terri's life had literally hung in the balance.

Others worried that the "process" was being violated. The courts had spoken. No matter what we might think, the legislature should stay out of it, they intoned.

But legislative actions to circumvent unpopular court rulings are part of our system of checks and balances. Few complained, for example, when Congress recently passed legislation to override the federal courts after two judges refused to permit the national telemarketing "do not call" list to go into effect.

Finally, Terri's Bill passed by a huge margin in the Senate, and after a brief reconciliation with the House version, the bill became "Terri's Law." But if the supporters of Terri's life thought that this meant Terri was ipso facto saved, they were being naive. In the legal and political battles over the culture of death, nothing is easy. Rehydrating Terri would be no exception.

THE STRUGGLE then moved to the hospice in which Terri has been living for three years. The administration was served with Executive Order 03-201, signed by Governor Bush stating in part:

Effective immediately, all medical facilities and personnel providing medical care for Theresa Schiavo, and all those acting in concert or participation with them, are hereby directed to immediately provide nutrition and hydration to Theresa Schiavo by means of a gastronomy tube, or by any other method determined to be appropriate in the reasonable judgment of a licensed physician.

Was the order being followed? Had the hospice hooked up an IV to begin the rehydration process? No one knew. Michael Schiavo is in complete control of Terri's person and her parents are often kept in the dark about what is happening to her.

Late in the afternoon, members of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrived with an ambulance that whisked Terri away to a hospital, where it was expected, her feeding tube would be reimplanted. But then, the roller coaster that has been the Schiavo case took another sickening plunge. A court hearing had been scheduled. Michael's lawyers were requesting an immediate restraining order preventing Terri from being treated. Even though Terri's supporters had been told the rehydration had already begun, a doctor had actually refused the job. Despite Terri's Law, Terri remained untreated, slowly dehydrating to death.

AT 8:30 P.M., JUDGE DOUGLAS BAIRD of the Florida Sixth Judicial Circuit began a hearing that would determine the immediate fate of Terri's Law. Meanwhile, it became clear why doctors had refused to reconnect Terri's feeding tube or even begin an IV line to provide her with desperately needed fluid: Deborah Bushnell, one of Michael's lawyers, had faxed a letter to virtually every doctor in Pinellas County in which she threatened to sue any physician who reconnected Terri's feeding tube or otherwise treated her. The chilling intent behind the letter worked. Even though Terri's Law protected doctors from liability, the hospital felt compelled to seek legal advise.

Finally, at about 9:00 P.M., there came news: The doctors had inserted an IV. Terri was again receiving fluids. Moreover, Judge Baird had refused to issue an injunction. At least for now, Terri's Law was protecting Terri Schiavo's life.

IS THE TUG OF WAR OVER? Far from it. There will probably be many more days like this one, days in which Terri's life will hang in the balance. Michael remains Terri's legal guardian and he still seeks her death. True to form, Michael immediately ordered the hospital to refuse visitation rights to her parents and siblings. Appeals against Terri's Law are certain, the results unknowable. The bioethics movement is sure to howl in rage and mobilize to undo what Florida has done. But as an emotionally exhausted, yet elated Patricia Anderson told me, "Every day that Terri Schiavo is alive is a good day." For those who believe in the sanctity and equality of human life, October 21, 2003, was a very good day indeed.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. He is the author of "Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder."


Brain-damaged Florida woman receiving fluids

Gov. Bush orders effort to save her; judge declines injunction

Wednesday, October 22, 2003 Posted: 1:25 AM EDT (0525 GMT)

Terri Schiavo is shown in this undated photograph.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ordered a feeding tube reinserted into a brain-damaged woman Tuesday afternoon, less than two hours after the Legislature passed a bill allowing him to do so.

Florida lawmakers gave Bush the authority in an effort to keep Terri Schiavo alive nearly a week after the tube was removed at the request of her husband, Michael. The lawmakers' move effectively overturned a court ruling that she be allowed to die.

"Like the tens of thousands of Floridians who have raised their voices in support of Terri Schiavo's right to live, I have been deeply moved by these tragic circumstances," Bush said in a statement issued after he signed the bill. "My thoughts and prayers remain with Terri and those who love her."

Schiavo was being cared for at a hospice in Pinellas Park but was moved Tuesday evening to a hospital in Clearwater. An attorney for Schiavo's parents said lawyers at Morton Plant Hospital told them Schiavo was being rehydrated intravenously in preparation for reinsertion of her feeding tube, which will not happen immediately.

Late Tuesday, a Pinellas Circuit Court judge rejected a request from Michael Schiavo's lawyers for a temporary injunction against Bush's order. The judge gave the attorneys five days to file paperwork for a permanent injunction.

Schiavo's attorneys argue that the bill authorizing Bush to reinsert the tube was unconstitutional.

"It violates the separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches," attorney Debbie Bushnell said.

George Felos, another attorney for Michael Schiavo, called Tuesday's ruling "a horrible, horrible tragedy."

"She was literally removed with threat of force from her death bed, moved to the hospital to have a surgical procedure that she didn't want," Felos said.

Earlier Tuesday, a judge in Clearwater had refused to issue a temporary restraining order that Michael Schiavo's attorneys had sought, saying the filing was made in the wrong jurisdiction.

The state Senate voted 23-15 on Tuesday to approve a measure allowing Bush to issue the one-time order. The tube had been removed after a lengthy court battle between Terri Schiavo's husband and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.

The bill also allows a judge to appoint an independent guardian for Schiavo, taking away guardianship from her husband.

By a vote of 68-23, the GOP-controlled Florida House had approved the bill late Monday.

Outside the hospice, the crowd cheered and embraced after learning of Bush's signature.

"I don't know what to say," said Bob Schindler. "I thank the governor, I thank everybody in the Legislature. There's a lot of people up there who pulled together. It's just incredible, totally incredible.

"We've had a roller coaster ride. Hopefully, that's over now."

Schindler told CNN's Aaron Brown his daughter is not in a persistent vegetative state and said he has affidavits from doctors saying she can recover with therapy.

"We've been fighting for the right thing, which is to give her a chance," Schindler said. "She's never had a chance, and that's the most despicable part of this. She was literally shelved. She has not been out of this room over here in the hospice for three years."

Schindler said his daughter would need physical therapy, because she hasn't had any in 10 years.

"So we have to restore her physically first and then go after her brain damage," he said. "It's not as bad as what people think, or are saying that it is."

The Schindlers had been publicly pressing Bush to intervene. He had expressed sympathy for their position but said he did not have the authority to countermand court orders allowing the tube to be removed.

Terri Schiavo, 39, suffered heart failure in 1990. Doctors said she is responsive but shows no significant cognitive ability, and that she was left in that condition when her heart failure cut the flow of oxygen to her brain, leaving it damaged.

Schiavo is not terminally ill, but because of her condition, she cannot feed herself, so the feeding tube provides her with nutrition and water.

She left no written instructions about her wishes should she be incapacitated, but Michael Schiavo said she made it clear before her collapse that she did not want to be sustained with life support.

"Some people do not agree with the decision the court made to remove this feeding tube. I struggle to accept it myself," Schiavo said in a statement late Monday. "But I know in my heart that it is right, and it is what Terri wants. There is no longer any realistic hope of Terri's recovery."

Her parents dispute that contention, insisting that despite her medical condition, she still responds to them and could improve with rehabilitative care.

Michael Schiavo collected more than $1 million in malpractice settlements stemming from his wife's collapse, but only about $50,000 of that settlement remains. The money has been frozen by the court.

The hospice is caring for Schiavo free of charge.

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