Theresa Marie Schiavo, 41, is no longer able to present her own defense, but is not in a medical coma, which has been at the heart of court battles to determine who should be her legal guardian, and whether; she should die, at her husband Michael's request, or be kept alive with medical treatment, at the parent's request. Six in 10 voters said Schiavo should not have the feeding tube re-installed, following a Florida judge's ruling to remove the tube on 18 March 2005.
Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 after her heart stopped briefly due to a potassium imbalance doctors say was a result of anorexia nervosa. While the woman is able to breathe on her own, she has not had the full ability to feed herself. In 1992, Michael and Theresa won a combined $2.2 million in three malpractice lawsuits for medical misdiagnosis of the eating disorder. (August 1992 $250,000 in malpractice settlement; November 1992 $1.4 million in malpractice trial; November 1992 $600,000 in malpractice trial, according to terrisfight.org.) Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler of St. Petersburg, Florida, sued for legal guardianship in 1993 of Theresa after they learned their son-in-law had an extramarital affair. The feuding families have been in and out of court for more than 12 years.
The Schindler's claim that their daughter will recover from an incapacitated state, and have agreed to fully care for Theresa for as long as she can live with her current or improved medical intervention. But the family also faces an investigation in Florida for collecting cash donations without filing paperwork necessary as a not-for-profit collector of funds. As of 8 February 2005, the Schindlers were fined $1,000 for failing to register their collection of funds intended to help the family with legal costs against Michael. According to the family's website, donations are not tax deductible and they have not filed as a tax-exempt public charity.
"It is wise to always err on the side of life," President Bush said, following his signing of an emergency legislative measure designed to save Schiavo's life. Florida governor, and Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, signed into law Terri's Law in October 2003 following a judge's order to remove the woman's feeding tube. Using President Bush's measure of 21 March 2005, the Schindler's sought federal court to have the feeding tube replaced, but a federal judge refused on 22 March. The parents filed an appeal.
Doctors have remained quiet in public, while Michael and the Schindler family have hit television and radio talk shows to sway public opinion in their opposing favor.
Michael's attorney, George Felos, said about reinserting the feeding tube, "That would be a horrific intrusion upon Mrs. Schiavo's personal liberty, and the status quo should therefore be maintained until this court issues its final ruling." Schiavo however has not ingested food or water for four days as of this publication date. Lack of water alone can cause an electrolyte imbalance, which would cause a heart attack at some point in-between one and three weeks. Considering the poor health of Schiavo, her body may give out earlier.
What federal and state courts have done, according to American Civil Liberties Union director Howard Simon is, "protect the freedom of people to make their own end-of-life decisions without the intrusion of politicians." Theresa's brother, Bobby Schindler, told audiences of ABC's Good Morning America, "To have to see my parents go through this is absolutely barbaric."
"I'd love for these judges to sit in a room and see this happening as well," Bobby said.
Schiavo did not have a living will, which would have cleared up any right-to-die case prior to court battles. Michael says his wife's wishes were to die, and legally, as her husband, he is the guardian, although that too has been fought in court by the Schindlers. Schiavo resides in hospice care, and neither nurses nor doctors will comment on the case. But court-appointed doctors confirm that Schiavo is in a vegetative condition without any evidence for recovery.
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