St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Judge: Schiavo can't recover

The brain-damaged woman's feeding tube will be removed Jan. 3, the ruling states. Her parents vow to appeal the decision.

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2002

The brain-damaged woman's feeding tube will be removed Jan. 3, the ruling states. Her parents vow to appeal the decision.

Terri Schiavo cannot be healed by modern medicine and should be allowed to die, a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge ruled Friday.

He ordered that the feeding tube be removed from the brain-damaged woman's stomach on Jan. 3 at 3 p.m. She then would expire from dehydration within two weeks.

The ruling by Judge George Greer was not unexpected, nor was the reaction: Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who have battled in every court possible to keep their 38-year-old daughter alive, vowed to ask an appellate court to overturn Greer's decision.

"To me, they're going to murder this girl," Bob Schindler said. "I think she's gotten railroaded by this kangaroo court."

The Schindlers have been locked in a bitter and expensive fight over their daughter with their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo, who contends that his wife did not want to be kept on life support.

The Schindlers and Schiavo have accused each other of trying to control her fate to get $700,000 she received in 1993 from a malpractice suit -- although their ongoing legal battle has largely depleted that fund.

Schiavo could not be reached for comment Friday. In an interview on Bay News 9, he said he understands why the Schindlers might be upset about losing their daughter, but that the case is not about what they want.

"This is about Terri's wishes," he said. He said his wife would be upset about her parents' efforts to save her. "Their daughter would be extremely angry with them right now."

He also vehemently denied the Schindlers' suggestion, made in court papers last week, that he caused his wife's condition by beating her up. Doctors have repeatedly attributed her persistent vegetative state to a heart attack she suffered in 1990, which temporarily cut off the flow of blood to her brain.

Mrs. Schiavo resides at a Pinellas Park hospice facility, where she is kept alive by feedings of a vitamin-enriched beverage and water at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

She is not in a coma. Her eyes are open during the day and she sleeps at night. She smiles, laughs, cries and moans. But her doctors say those are involuntary reflexes, not signs of emotional or intellectual activity, as the Schindlers contend.

This marks the second time in two years that Greer has agreed with Michael Schiavo that the feeding tube should be removed. The first time, in February 2000, the Schindlers took their objections to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to intervene.

But the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland decided last year that Greer had not heard enough medical testimony and sent it back to him.

The appeals court said Greer should order Mrs. Schiavo examined by five doctors -- two picked by the Schindlers, two by Schiavo and one chosen by the judge. They should then testify about whether there is any medical treatment that could revive her.

In a hearing last month, three doctors testified Mrs. Schiavo is beyond help. They were the two chosen by Schiavo and the one picked by Greer.

The two chosen by the Schindlers, however, said they believed there are untried therapies that could bring her back to life. One, Clearwater neurologist Dr. William Hammesfahr, even predicted a treatment he developed for stroke patients could restore her ability to speak.

Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, raised questions about Hammesfahr's credibility by pointing out the state board of medicine had accused him of falsely advertising his treatment.

This week, though, an administrative judge rejected the board's accusations and, based on testimony from several satisfied customers, called Hammesfahr "the first physician to treat patients successfully to restore deficits caused by stroke."

In Greer's order, the Pinellas probate judge labeled Hammesfahr a "self-promoter," who testified that he had treated patients worse off than Mrs. Schiavo yet "offered no names, no case studies, no videos and no test results to support his claim."

In short, the judge wrote in the nine-page order, he needed "something more than a belief" that some new treatment could restore Mrs. Schiavo's faculties "so as to significantly improve her quality of life. There is no such testimony, much less a preponderance of evidence to that effect."

Without that evidence, he wrote, he must order the withdrawal of the feeding tube. In a brief interview Friday, Greer said he picked 3 p.m. for the scheduled removal of the tube because "high noon seemed a bit dramatic."

Drama has not been in short supply throughout the case, which has attracted nationwide media attention. Earlier this month Schiavo appeared on Connie Chung's CNN program, where he mentioned his girlfriend recently had a baby -- a revelation that infuriated the Schindlers.

In court papers filed last week, they accused him of making a mockery of his marriage and cited that as one reason he should be removed as his wife's legal guardian.

"Schiavo is Terri's husband in name only, and it is upon that legal relationship that his right to be her legal guardian is based," wrote the Schindlers' attorney, Patricia Fields Anderson.

Although the Schindlers contend their daughter responds to the things they tell her during visits to her hospice bedside, they have not mentioned her husband's child or the court case that may end her life, her father said.

"We've sheltered her from what's going on around her," Schindler said. "Every time we see her, we talk about the more pleasant side of life."

Schiavo timeline

FEB. 25, 1990: Terri Schiavo has heart attack, temporarily cutting off oxygen to her brain.

FEB. 14, 1993: Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael, and her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, have falling out.

JULY 29, 1993: Schindlers file petition to have Michael Schiavo removed as guardian; case is later dismissed.

MAY 1998: Michael Schiavo files petition to remove wife's feeding tube.

JAN. 24, 2000: Trial begins.

FEB. 11, 2000: Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer rules feeding tube can be removed.

JAN. 24, 2001: 2nd District Court of Appeal upholds judge's decision to discontinue life support.

MARCH 29, 2001: Greer rules Michael Schiavo can remove feeding tube at 1 p.m. April 20.

APRIL 18, 2001: Florida Supreme Court declines to intervene.

APRIL 20, 2001: Federal judge grants Schindlers until April 23 to exhaust appeals.

APRIL 23, 2001: U.S. Supreme Court refuses to intervene. Attorney for Schindlers says this was their final appeal.

APRIL 26, 2001: Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada orders doctors to resume feeding Mrs. Schiavo while her parents pursue lawsuit against Michael Schiavo. Suit accuses him of committing perjury by saying his wife did not want to be kept on life support.

APRIL 30, 2001: Lawyers for Michael Schiavo file an emergency motion with an appeals court, asking for court to order another end to the feeding of Schiavo's wife.

MAY 2, 2001: 2nd District Court of Appeal defers a ruling, which allowed Schiavo's feeding to resume.

JUNE 25, 2001: 2nd District Court of Appeal hears arguments.

JULY 11, 2001: Appeals court sends case back to Judge Greer, ruling that Mrs. Schiavo cannot be taken off life support until after July 23.

JULY 18, 2001: Schindlers ask Greer to let their doctors evaluate her before deciding whether her feeding tube should be withdrawn.

AUG. 7, 2001: Attorneys receive Greer's order that the feeding tube be removed Aug. 28.

AUG. 8, 2001: Schindlers again ask Greer to allow doctors to evaluate their daughter before tube is removed.

AUG. 10, 2001: Greer denies Schindlers' request and their request to have Michael Schiavo removed as his wife's guardian.

SEPT. 26, 2001: In arguments before 2nd District Court of Appeal, Schindlers' attorneys cite testimony from seven doctors who say Mrs. Schiavo's idle cells might "wake up" with the right treatment. Michael Schiavo calls claims ridiculous.

OCT. 3, 2001: Appeals court delays removal of feeding tube indefinitely.

OCT. 17, 2001: Appeals court rules that five doctors can examine Schiavo to determine whether she can ever recover: two from each side and one picked by the court.

FEB. 13, 2002: Attempts at mediation fail. Schiavo seeks again to remove his wife's feeding tube.

OCT. 12, 2002: Weeklong hearing begins. Three of the five doctors testify Mrs. Schiavo cannot recover. Two picked by the Schindlers say she can be revived.

NOV. 12, 2002: Schindlers' attorney says medical records suggest Mrs. Schiavo's vegetative state may have been caused by a beating, seeks time to get more evidence.

NOV. 22, 2002: Greer turns down request for more time. He rules no current medicine can revive Mrs. Schiavo and orders feeding tube removed Jan. 3.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.