Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2002 / 6 Teves, 5763

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Consumer Reports

Living a worthless life

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo could be dead in a month.

Give or take a few days. Starvation isn’t finite. Terri Schindler Schiavo is a 38-yearold woman in Florida who became severely brain-damaged after a Feb. 25, 1990, heart attack that deprived her brain of oxygen. She was 26.

Today, Terri can breath and swallow. Her heart beats unaided. She sees and moves her limbs.

But, like the rest of us, Terri needs nourishment to live. In her case, it comes through a feeding tube.

Which her husband, Michael Schiavo, wants removed, and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, want maintained.

On Nov. 22, Terri’s husband won when Judge George Greer of the 6 th Judicial Circuit Court in Clearwater, Fla., ruled in favor of Schiavo’s medical experts, who testified that Terri remains in a persistent vegetative state — which can support legally removing the tube — and won’t benefit from treatment.

So, unless the Schindlers’ appeals force a reversal, Terri’s tube will be removed Jan. 3, and she will die, slowly, of starvation and dehydration.

Greer’s ruling is the latest in a battle that dates to May 1998, when Schiavo first requested to remove Terri’s feeding tube. In 2000, Greer ruled in Schiavo’s favor, and the tube was removed for three days in April 2001 before appeals stayed the order. As chronicled at WorldNet-Daily, an appellate court initially affirmed Greer’s ruling before reversing and remanding the case back to trial. It was that second trial from which the latest ruling to remove the tube came.

Schiavo says Terri casually told him before her collapse that she didn’t want artificial means keeping her alive, although a written directive to that effect doesn’t exist, and Schiavo’s former girlfriend testified that he said Terri never spoke about her wishes.

The Schindlers say Schiavo wants Terri’s malpractice money, which came from a suit filed against Terri’s doctors for failing to detect low potassium levels that supposedly caused her heart attack. Schiavo received $300,000 for loss of consortium, and Terri received about $1 million for her care. About $110,000 of her fund remains — much has been used for Schiavo’s legal expenses — which he gets if Terri dies. She has no will.

Although the Schindlers will care for their daughter and have encouraged Schiavo to divorce Terri — he lives with the girlfriend with whom he has a child — he hasn’t done so. The Schindlers claim Schiavo has refused Terri rehabilitative therapy; not ordered preventive care; not reported results of recent swallow tests, which could indicate she could be spoon-fed; relocated Terri twice after discharge from a rehabilitation facility whose nurses say Terri had progressed to the point of saying "no"; moved her to a hospice in 2000, which is designed only for terminally ill patients; tried to prohibit or restrict family visits; attempted to deny medication during infections; and refused any doctor not chosen by him to examine Terri.

And there’s something else. While low potassium is said to have caused Terri’s heart attack, a neurologist petitioned by Schindler attorney Pat Anderson recently testified that Terri suffered a neck injury. He said he’d only seen these particular injuries — rigid neck and cardiac arrest — with attempted strangulation.

The doctor’s testimony, WND reports, led Anderson to re-examine Terri’s medical records, which uncovered a total-body scan done 13 months after her collapse. The report notes a" presumably traumatic" compression fracture of her thigh. Other "hot spots" include fractures in her ribs, several vertebrae, both sacroiliac joints, and both knees and ankles. The 1991 report states Terri "has a history of trauma," and unnamed doctors who recently reviewed the report concluded she sustained severe abuse.

Indeed, during the 2000 trial, Terri’s friend and coworker testified that Terri discussed divorce and that the Schiavos had a violent argument on the day of Terri’s collapse. The friend urged Terri not to stay home that night.

Schiavo’s lawyer says the body scan reveals degenerative disease, and Terri suffers from osteoporosis.

In rendering his ruling to starve Terri, Judge Greer denied the Schindlers’ request to hold his decision until the new medical evidence is reviewed. Greer has decided Terri doesn’t demonstrate consistent cognitive function — even though she responds to family and follows commands — and wouldn’t benefit from therapy he finds experimental. Further, Greer doesn’t believe trauma sustained by Terri 12 years ago has any bearing on the Terri of today.

Terri is not on life support. Certain doctors say she’s in a persistent vegetative state, which is often misdiagnosed. She hasn’t had therapy that could improve her condition since 1993. And she may not even need a feeding tube.

But instead of investigating what could be horrific abuse or insisting that therapy take place to see if Terri improves or allowing the Schindlers to assume guardianship, Greer has ordered Terri killed.

She will die in a way that, in any other case, would be criminal. If Terri were a helpless child or dependent senior — or even an animal — starved at the hands of a guardian, cries of outrage would ring. How, the cries would exclaim, can we allow this? Where, they would demand, is The System?

Few cries resonate for Terri, except for parents desperate to save their child, while The System allows Terri — dependent but not lifeless — to gradually die.

It’s all legal. And so very cold.

Where’s that outrage?

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Northwest Arkansas Times