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February 23, 2005


Topics: Terri Schiavo's Life Counts

(Important commentary below)

The Associated Press, February 23, 2005, 5:47 PM EST - via email from Schindler's press office 

A judge today extended a stay keeping brain-damaged Terri Schiavo's feeding tube in place, saying he needed time to decide whether her husband, who wants to let her die, is fit to be her guardian.

Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer extended until Friday an emergency stay that was to expire this afternoon. He said he also needs more time to determine whether Terri Schiavo needs more medical tests to determine if she has greater mental capabilities than previously thought.

Terri Schiavo's parents have been in a long, bitter struggle with her husband, Michael Schiavo, to keep her alive. She collapsed 15 years ago Friday, when a chemical imbalance possibly triggered by an eating disorder caused her heart to stop beating and cut off oxygen to her brain.

The Florida Department of Children & Families moved to intervene in the case today, hours after Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters he again was seeking a way to keep Terri Schiavo alive. Details of DCF's involvement in the case were not immediately available and both the governor's office and the agency declined to comment. Greer denied a DCF attorney an opportunity to speak at the afternoon hearing.

"We are really elated," said Robert Schindler, Terri Schiavo's father. "Forty-eight hours to us right now seems like six years. We pray to God and we thank God that we have some time and are very, very thankful that DCF has picked this up."

George Felos, who represents Michael Schiavo, criticized the DCF move, saying it "reeks of the intervention of politics into the case and is an affront to the court."

A court filing by the agency remained sealed, but both Felos and David Gibbs, a lawyer for Terri Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, said it was related to allegations Michael Schiavo abused his wife.

Those allegations -- partly based on bone scans shows Terri Schiavo suffered fractures and statements she made to family and friends that she was unhappy in her marriage -- have been raised before. Felos said DCF had investigated the allegations and ruled them unfounded.

Michael Schiavo has emphatically denied harming his wife.

Some doctors have testified that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for recovery, but the Schindlers have countered with other medical opinions that she might improve with rehabilitation. The 41-year-old woman appears to cry, laugh and react to her family.

Bush said today he is exploring options to block the removal of the tube but added that there was only so much he could do.

"I can assure you, I will do whatever I can within the means, within the laws, of our state to protect this woman's life," Bush said, adding that he has received thousands of e-mails and telephone calls from the Schindlers' supporters.

"People with deep faith and big hearts are concerned, as I am about the circumstance that Ms. Schiavo is in," the governor said. "I want them to know I will do what I can, but there are limits to what any particular person -- irrespective of the title they currently hold -- can do."

In October 2003, Schiavo went without food or water for six days before Bush pushed through a law letting him order reinsertion of the tube. The Florida Supreme Court later struck down his action as unconstitutional. The tube was also removed for two days in 2001.

Michael Schiavo said his wife never wanted to be kept alive artificially, but she left no written directive.

The Schindlers dispute their daughter had such wishes and say their son-in-law stands to gain from his wife's death, both financially and personally. They have offered to take care of her if Michael Schiavo, who has a new family with another woman, would divorce her.

Michael Schiavo once stood to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars from a medical trust fund if his wife died, but most of that money has been spent on attorney's fees. He also has since started a family with another woman.

With the Schindlers' previous legal appeals exhausted, Michael Schiavo had planned to remove his wife's feeding tube on Monday.

Greer blocked Michael Schiavo from acting until he heard arguments from her parents' attorneys that Terri Schiavo should undergo further medical tests given new studies indicated some severely brain damaged people might have great mental abilities than previously thought.

Gibbs told Greer there should be no rush to disconnect the tube if there is a chance the new tests would show she might have some mental abilities.

"Just suppose we are wrong?" he told Greer. "At the end of the day all we did was make sure."

But Felos said the people in a recent Cornell University study were minimally conscious and had some interaction with their environment.

Felos said doctors who have examined Terri Schiavo had ruled she only is capable of primitive reflexes and that the areas of her brain controlling interaction with her environment or others were destroyed.  - End item

However, Mr Felos' contention that doctors examined Terri had ruled anything is laughable.

In a previous post I addressed this issue and Felos' argument won't hold up.

.... even though PVS requires considerable skill to diagnose, requiring assessment over a period of time; diagnosis cannot be made, even by the most experienced clinician, from a bedside assessment. Accurate diagnosis is possible but requires the skills of a multidisciplinary team experienced in the management of people with complex disabilities. Recognition of awareness is essential if an optimal quality of life is to be achieved and to avoid inappropriate approaches to the courts for a declaration for withdrawal of tube feeding.

Of course none of this has ever been done for Terri Schiavo, yet....

• Out of 40 patients diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, 17 (43%) were later found to be alert, aware, and often able to express a simple wish. The study is one of the largest, most sustained analyses of severely disabled people presumed to be incapable of conscious thinking, communication, or awareness of their surroundings. The author, London neurologist Dr. Keith Andrews, said, "It is disturbing to think that some patients who were aware had for several years been treated as being vegetative.

• Studies show PVS patients feel pain -- indeed, a Univ. of Mich. neurologist, in one of the most complete studies, concluded that, when food and fluids are withdrawn [to impose death], the patient should be sedated. 

• A study of 84 patients with a "firm diagnosis" of PVS found that 41% regained consciousness by six months, 52% by three years. These statistics certainly discredit the terms "persistent" and "permanent".

Some patients are not actually in PVS, but are "locked-in." They may be mute and immobile but mentally alert and able to communicate by blinking or through aids such as computers -- if someone gives them that opportunity. Others are severely physically disabled, which greatly impairs their ability to communicate. Of course in Terri's case, all of this has been denied for her by her husband who lives with another women and has two children by her.


Posted by Hyscience at February 23, 2005 7:39 PM

Finally after years of waiting the government finally gets embarrassed enough to do their jobs when it comes to abusing the rights of the disabled.

Posted by: Alnot at February 23, 2005 10:05 PM

Yanno I just read that and meant to say that they should prosecute and prevent further abuse. The laws are already on the books and enforcement has been too lax.

Posted by: Alnot at February 23, 2005 10:08 PM

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