- Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo's husband, finally went
on national television last night to tell the world his side of the story.
Appearing on "Larry King Live," he strived mightily to play the
loving husband. Until more than half way through the interview, when King
got around to tentatively asking Schiavo whether or not it is true that
he has a girlfriend. (King, who must have known the answer, somehow failed
to mention that Schiavo has already sired two children with this woman,
who he calls his fiancÈ.)
- The loving husband answered, "I'm lucky. I have
two great women to love." He then paused to take a swipe at Terri's
mom, "My girlfriend has done more for Terri than her own mother."
Asked what that might be, Schiavo answered, "She washed her clothes."
- THAT EXCHANGE should have opened the door to some very
interesting conversation. King could have asked Schiavo if he is raising
children with another woman--a matter finally brought up by a caller near
the end of the show--why he should continue to have any say over Terri's
care, given that the sanctity of the marriage vows he took are no longer
operable. King didn't, of course, which is precisely the reason why people
in the center of heated public controversies like to go on his show.
- There are a number of questions King should have asked
- (1) Why did Schiavo tell a medical malpractice jury in
1992 that Terri would live a normal life span? After Terri's collapse,
Schiavo sued for medical malpractice. Under civil law, the longer Terri
was expected to live, the larger the verdict would probably be. This fact
of legal life could explain why Michael presented evidence to the malpractice
jury not only that Terri would likely live a normal life span but also
that he intended to be a good and loyal husband and care for her for the
rest of his life.
- (2) Why did Schiavo have a rehabilitation expert testify
in front of the malpractice jury to present a detailed plan of therapy
for Terri? Schiavo and his lawyer claimed that Terri is incapable of improving
physically, but during the 1992 trial, a rehabilitation plan and its anticipated
undertaking provided one of the underpinnings for the jury's $1.3 million
award. Of that money, Schiavo received $300,000, lawyers' fees were paid,
and about $750,000 was put in trust to pay for Terri's rehabilitation.
- (3) Given that the jury awarded $750,000 to be used in
part for Terri's therapy, why hasn't Schiavo provided any rehabilitation
for her since 1991? When asked by King about the issue of rehab, Schiavo
described some early efforts to help Terri, such as an experimental surgery
in 1990. But he never identified when this rehab took place.
- Which is an important point. The only efforts ever undertaken
to improve Terri's condition took place in 1990 and 1991. They had ceased
by the time of the malpractice trial in 1992 because her insurance coverage
had run out. Indeed, the pressing need to restart therapy was an urgent
part of the malpractice case. It could have--and should have--paid to restart
the rehabilitation that had been abandoned due to lack of funds.
- Once Terri's $750,000 was in the bank, however, Schiavo
would not approve a single cent of it to be spent on rehabilitation. Not
only that, but once the money was in the bank, Schiavo ordered a "do
not resuscitate" order placed on Terri's chart so that if she had
a cardiac event, the doctors would not attempt to save her. And within
a few months of the money being deposited, Schiavo also refused to permit
curative treatments, such as antibiotics for infections. If Terri had died
during the early or mid-1990s, as Schiavo's orders were designed, he would
have inherited somewhere around $700,000.
- The issue of Terri's money did come up several times
during last night's interview. Schiavo assured King he isn't in it for
the money because there is only about $50,000 left in Terri's estate.
- (4) Is it true that Terri's money has paid for attorneys
to make her dead, instead of therapists to make her better? The answer
is, unquestionably, yes. According to court records, George Felos, the
dutiful "right to die" attorney who sat at Schiavo's side on
King's show, has been paid over $350,000 from Terri's trust fund. Another
of Schiavo's attorneys, Debra Bushnell, has received about $90,000. These
two lawyers alone have received more than half of Terri's entire trust.
- According to court records, when Schiavo began his quest
to pull Terri's feeding tube in 1998, she had more than $700,000 in the
bank. This was primarily because Schiavo generally refused to authorize
payments for any nursing home services on Terri's behalf beyond the basics
of room and board. Thus, only about $50,000 was paid on her behalf in the
five years following the jury verdict. Since 1998, about $650,000 (not
taking into account any earnings from the fund) has gone out--not for therapy,
but primarily for lawyers.
- And yet on "Larry King" Schiavo went so far
as to suggest that Bob Schindler, Terri's father, is fighting to save Terri's
life because he wants her money.
- (5) So how could Terri's father make any money off the
case? Schiavo's story is that once Schindler became Terri's guardian, he
would get her a divorce, and then he would stop her food and fluids. The
alleged point of such a scheme being that as next of kin, the Schindlers
would inherit their daughter's money.
- This sounds like a mighty stretch, particularly given
that Bob Schindler has spent every nickel he has--including his entire
retirement fund--desperately trying to save his daughter's life. If Bob
Schindler is a venal man, he has a funny way of showing it.
- Schiavo told King that his falling out with his father-in-law
occurred in February 1993, when Schindler demanded a share of the proceeds
in Terri's trust fund. But Schindler and his wife Mary tell a different
story. They claim that the argument was over their insistence that the
long-suspended rehabilitation recommence, since there was finally money
available to pay for it. They contend that the breach of relationship occurred
because Schiavo refused. The behavior of both parties since seems much
more consistent with this story than with Schiavo's version of events.
- Too bad Larry King didn't ask.
- - Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery
Institute and an attorney and consultant for the International Task Force
on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. He is the author of Forced Exit: The
Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder."
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