Media Ignore Fight for Woman's Life
An incapacitated Florida woman is scheduled to be deprived of food and water on October 15, despite being conscious and responsive, but unable to speak. Theresa Marie (Terri) Schindler Schiavo was 26 when she collapsed in 1990 from a possible potassium imbalance that cut off oxygen to her brain. The extent of her brain damage is the focus of considerable dispute.
Her husband Michael successfully sued for malpractice and was awarded a total of $1.3 million in November 1992 in punitive and compensatory damages. Although promising the jury that the monies would be used for his wife's care, Michael Schiavo refused to allow Terri rehabilitation therapy, including that which would promise to wean her from the feeding/hydration tubes that sustain her.
Within months of the original jury award, Michael Schiavo insisted that Terri not be resuscitated if the need arises. Fortunately for her, it has not.
Michael, his brother and his brother's wife had testified that Terri had confided that she would not want her life sustained using such methods upon which she now depends. This wish was not related to the original malpractice jury - they were told that Terri had a normal life expectancy and that funding was required for ongoing medical care.
Terri's parents thus became skeptical of Michael's motives and petitioned to have him removed as guardian in July 1993. The petition was denied. For his part, Michael has been litigating to stop feeding his wife since May 1998, spending an estimated $600,000 in legal fees to achieve his objective. Terri's parents have stretched their own personal finances to keep her alive and have set up a foundation seeking financial help: http://www.terrisfight.org/Framesets/DonationFrame.htm
The wire services have sporadically reported this ongoing story, but it is largely unknown outside of Florida because the major media outlets have virtually ignored it. Apparently there are some aspects that Big Media considers to be too inflammatory:
Michael has a fiancÚ, Jodi Centonze with whom he has been living for nearly seven years. They have produced one child together and another is on the way. Rather than seeking divorce [which would remove him as an heir], Michael plans to marry Centonze upon Teri's death.
Florida Circuit Court judge George Greer ruled that artificial feeding be halted in February 2000. He further ordered that part of the original malpractice award pay for security to protect Teri from being fed by her family [and for his own personal protection]. After more than a year of litigation, the feeding was discontinued in April 2001 and, after a series of hearings and motions, resumed after 60 hours of starvation/dehydration. The litigation continued.
Terri's parents insist that she is mentally impaired, but not a 'vegetable.' They have posted videos of her looking at and responding to people around her, but Michael's doctors insist her reactions are merely unconscious reflexes. Judge Greer would not allow Terri to be examined or treated by any doctors not approved or selected by Michael Schiavo or himself.
After receiving nearly 27,000 letters, Governor Jeb Bush's office filed an amicus curiae memorandum in federal court, requesting that Terri be allowed a sufficient period of rehabilitative therapy to facilitate self-feeding and hydration before the artificial methods are discontinued. On Oct. 10, U.S. District judge Richard Lazzara ruled against hearing the case, citing lack of jurisdiction. This ruling cannot be appealed. The tubes will be removed as ordered at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15.
William R Alford is a Government & International Politics/Electronic Journalism student at George Mason University in Fairfax VA