Friday, March 25, 2005

In The End,
It's All About The Money
After All

I usually paste 4 paragraphs from news articles (per fair use restrictions) and a link to the rest of the story.

However, this Miami Herald background story on the Schiavo/Schindler split, which should have been published weeks ago, is worth a slap on the blogging wrist!


Husband, in-laws once were united in caring for Terri

Before the fighting, Michael Schiavo and his in-laws cared for Terri Schiavo together. The Schindlers urged him to date, and later agreed on the extent of her damage.


PINELLAS PARK - For years, even after suspicion drove them apart and pitted them in a fierce legal fight, Michael Schiavo and his in-laws seemed to agree on one thing: that Terri, his wife and their daughter, was in a persistent vegetative state.

During a January 2000 court battle in which Bob and Mary Schindler sought to wrest Terri's guardianship from Michael Schiavo, the Schindlers repeatedly conceded that their daughter's brain damage was extreme.

''We do not doubt that she's in a persistent vegetative state,'' Pam Campbell, then the Schindlers' lawyer, told the court. Later, Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, asked Mary Schindler, ''Is Terri in a vegetative condition now?'' to which she replied, ``Yes. That is what they call it.''

Whether or not Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state has become a hotly contested flash point in the raging debate surrounding the severely brain-damaged Florida woman, whose feeding tube was removed last week.

Many of the Schindlers' supporters insist Terri is very much alert. Michael Schiavo has also been cast by detractors as an adulterous, heartless husband who wanted to remove Terri's feeding tube in order to access her trust fund.

But testimony from court files documenting the 12-year struggle over Terri Schiavo's fate tells a far more complex story.

Beyond accepting that their daughter was in a vegetative state, the Schindlers had, years earlier, encouraged Michael to date. When the Schindlers later accused Michael of greed, he offered to donate Terri's entire trust fund to charity.

Up until a bitter falling out in 1993, Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers were united in efforts to rehabilitate Terri.

They moved in together after Terri's collapse in February 1990, and Michael called the Schindlers ''Mom and Dad.'' A year later, the Schindlers encouraged their son-in-law to get on with his life and date. They even met some of the women he saw.

''I looked at that as maybe he was starting to take a step in the right direction and get his life back together,'' Bob Schindler said in a 1993 deposition. ``He's still a young man. He still has a life ahead of him.''


The Schindlers later said that they urged Michael to see other women because they ultimately hoped to gain guardianship of their daughter. But they still worked feverishly with Michael to ensure Terri had the best possible care.

To raise funds for medical costs, they sold hot dogs and pretzels on the beach, threw a Valentine's Day dance and made appeals on local news stations. In 1991, the city of St. Petersburg Beach declared Feb. 17 ``Terri Schiavo Day.''

Terri was frequently moved between hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. Each rehabilitation facility treated her with aggressive physical, recreational, speech and language therapy, moving her arms and legs, trying to rouse her with scents.

But according to court filings, Terri was not responsive to neurological or swallowing tests. Mary Schindler testified that a neurologist told her, ``This might be where she's going to be for the rest of her life.''

Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers brought Terri home briefly in the fall of 1990, but were overwhelmed. Then they sent her to California to have experimental platinum electrodes implanted to stimulate her brain. Michael slept by her bedside for five weeks. Terri sat up and her eyes burned brightly when the implants were turned up high, Michael testified, but the doctor told him the reactions were mere motor responses.

Meanwhile, Michael filed a malpractice suit against two of Terri's doctors, unwittingly setting into motion events that tore him and the Schindlers apart.

Michael initially expected a multimillion-dollar award, and the Schindlers said he promised them a share, which would enable them to care for Terri at home.

By then, the Schindlers were almost broke. After selling his share of a successful industrial equipment company, Bob Schindler lost his savings in a Florida business venture that went sour. The couple declared bankruptcy in 1989, Bob Schindler testified. He told a court that Michael Schiavo promised to help.

But Michael said he never committed to sharing any award money with the Schindlers, especially when the award ended up being far smaller than hoped. Roughly $700,000 was earmarked for a trust fund for Terri, and $300,000 for Michael.

The Schindlers still expected part of Michael's share to help care for Terri. On Valentine's Day 1993, they confronted Michael in Terri's hospital room. The discussion quickly turned ugly. Michael said the Schindlers demanded the money, so he lied and said he did not have it. Disgusted, the Schindlers left, their trust in Michael irrevocably breached.

''The fact that he was going back on his word upset me,'' Bob Schindler testified in 1993. ``I was devastated.''

Michael soon began believing doctors who told him that Terri had effectively died in 1990. In a 1993 deposition, he testified that Terri had said she would never want to live by artificial means. He imposed a ''do not resuscitate'' order. Hospice staff challenged the order's legality, so he reversed it.

Horrified, the Schindlers launched the first of many exhaustive battles to become Terri's legal guardians. They accused Schiavo of being abusive, citing his admitted belligerence to hospice staff. They also said he wanted to kill Terri for her money.

But in 1998, when one of Terri's court-appointed guardians noted this conflict of interest, Michael offered to donate Terri's estate to charity, as long as the Schindlers stopped fighting his decision to remove Terri's feeding tube. The Schindlers rejected this proposal. All but $50,000 of the award has since gone to Terri's care and court costs.


By the mid-1990s, Terri's physical therapy had been stopped, enraging her parents.

Court guardians concluded that Terri was cared for extremely well, but her condition still led to numerous complications and hospitalizations. She suffered from bile stones and kidney stones, according to court papers, and had to have her gallbladder removed. She has ''drop foot,'' where her foot twists downward, and the ensuing pressure resulted in the amputation of her left little toe. She frequently developed urinary tract infections, diarrhea and vaginitis. Several cysts were removed from her neck. Several times, her feeding tube got infected.

In 2000, despite conceding their daughter's persistent vegetative state, the Schindlers said they still believed she knew when they were there. When Felos, Michael Schiavo's lawyer, asked Bob Schindler if he thought Terri would be tormented by her current state, he replied ''Yes,'' but added, ``she's not that cognizant to be aware of it.''

Several years ago, a few doctors said Terri was, in fact, responsive, evidently causing her parents to believe that the Terri they knew could at least partially be brought back. But judges repeatedly sided with the medical opinion that their daughter's chances for improvement were nil.

The Schindlers never stopped believing. Mary decorated Terri's room during holidays and saw light in Terri's eyes when she softly sang, ``Terri, it's Mommy.''

''I think she understands. I think she knows I'm there,'' Mary Schindler told the court in 2000. ``She just . . . I just want her to live." LINK

Heavy sigh.


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