- In 1998, Terri Schiavo's first guardian ad litem filed
a report on her case. It makes for interesting reading today.
- The Terri Schiavo case continues to take dramatic twists
and turns. Even as Michael Schiavo attempts to have Terri's Law declared
unconstitutional, pursuant to the law's requirements, a judge has appointed
a guardian ad litem--Professor Jay Wolfson, of the College of Public Health
at the University of South Florida in Tampa--to represent Terri's interests.
- There has been some confusion as to whether Wolfson replaces
Terri's quasi-estranged husband Michael Schiavo as guardian of Terri's
person. (I use the term "quasi-estranged" because Schiavo effectively
shattered the sanctity their marriage years ago by entering a committed
relationship with another woman and starting a family with her.) He does
not. Wolfson's sole responsibilities are to determine whether Terri should
be allowed a swallow test, whether she should be provided rehabilitation,
and to write a report with his recommendations about these matters--all
within 30 days. In the meantime, Schiavo remains fully in control over
Terri' life and care (or the lack thereof)--with the exception that he
cannot, for now, remove her tube-supplied food and water.
- A little known but interesting facet of this case is
that Wolfson is not the first guardian ad litem appointed to represent
Terri's interests. When Schiavo first petitioned the court for permission
to dehydrate his wife in 1998, he properly admitted that he had two significant
conflicts of interest: He was likely to want to remarry and if Terri died,
he would inherit the more than $700,000 then on deposit in her trust account.
(For those who have not followed this case, Terri received the money in
a medical malpractice lawsuit.)
- Because of these conflicts of interest, the Probate Court
appointed Richard L. Pearse Jr. of Clearwater, Florida, as Terri's guardian
ad litem and instructed him to investigate the matter and report back with
a recommendation. Pearse filed his report with the court on December 28,
1998 urging that the court deny the petition to remove Terri's food and
- Considering that the Pearse's report was written long
before the Schiavo case became an international cause celebre, it makes
interesting reading. The guardian ad litem supported Schiavo's position
on some points and the Schindlers on others. The following are its pertinent
- *Pearse unambiguously accepted the diagnosis that Terri
is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) based on the opinions of two
doctors, one who treated her and one who consulted on the case. This diagnoses
was--and remains-- disputed by Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.
Indeed, subsequent to Pearse's report, the Schindlers energetically attempted
to garner evidence that she is conscious. To some degree, they have succeeded:
Four board certified neurologists, two board certified internists, one
neuro-psychologist, and two speech pathologists have testified in person
or by affidavit that Terri is not PVS. These opinions were reinforced by
the affidavits of three nurses who cared for Terri in the mid-1990s and
who claim to have observed her being interactive. Moreover, millions have
viewed videos of Terri and been shocked by the extent to which she appears
to aware and awake. (The courts have ruled consistently that Terri is PVS.)
- *Pearse claimed that Terri has muscle contractures despite
receiving "regular physical therapy." He may have assumed that
she received such care--it is routine for bedridden patients, after all.
Yet, according to Patricia Anderson, the Schindler's attorney, there are
no entries indicating that PT was ever performed in Terri's chart after
1992. Indeed, in 1998, when a new doctor urged Schiavo to approve an evaluation
of Terri so that a plan of physical therapy could be developed, he refused
to permit it.
- *Pearse confirmed the charge by the Schindlers that once
the medical malpractice money was in the bank, Schiavo began to refuse
medical treatment for Terri, writing:
- After February 1993, Mr. Schiavo's attitude concerning
treatment for the ward apparently changed. Early in 1994, for example,
he refused to consent to treat an infection from which the ward was then
suffering and ordered that she not be resuscitated in the event of cardiac
arrest. The nursing home where she resided at that time sought to intervene,
which ultimately led the ward's husband to reverse his decision and authorize
- Perhaps because of the intervention by the home, Schiavo
soon moved Terri to a different nursing facility.
- *Schiavo admitted to the guardian ad litem that he had
at least "two romantic involvements" after Terri's collapse.
"It is apparent to me," Pearse wrote the court, "that he
has reached a point that he has no hope of the ward's recovery and wants
to get on with his own life." (To say the least. At the time of Pearse's
investigation, Schiavo was already living with the woman who would become
the mother of his children.)
- *Contrary to Schiavo's allegation on Larry King last
week that the Schindlers "really basically didn't have any care with
Terri," Pearse painted a vivid picture of parents worried deeply about
the quality of care their daughter was receiving and profoundly committed
to remaining involved in her life:
- From the time of the ward's accident, the ward's parents
have been vitally interested in her welfare . . . After the falling out
between the ward's parents and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler pursued
removal litigation in an effort to have Mr. Schiavo removed as their daughter's
guardian and to have themselves appointed guardians of her person . . .
They have also pursued litigation against him to gain access to medical
and financial information concerning the ward which was withheld by the
ward's husband, with only partial success. They express extreme frustration
with the current situation in which they have virtually no input into the
decision making process concerning their own daughter. The ward's parents
visit her regularly but at times when they won't have to confront Mr. Schiavo.
- Moreover, rather than the Schindlers not being interested
in seeing Terri, as was asserted on Larry King, Pearse noted that it was
Schiavo who "has isolated the ward from her parents."
- *As of April 4, 1998, Terri's trust fund held $713,828.85.
"Thus," wrote Pearse, "Mr. Schiavo will realize a substantial
and fairly immediate financial gain if his application for withdrawal of
life support [tube-supplied food and water] is granted." (Schiavo
now claims that there is only $50,000 left in the account, the bulk of
the money having gone to pay his attorneys.)
- *At the time of the report, only Schiavo claimed that
Terri would not wish to be kept alive if severely incapacitated. "However,"
Pearse opined, "his credibility is necessarily adversely affected
by the obvious financial benefit to him of being the ward's sole heir at
law in the event of her death while still married to him. Her death also
permits him to get on with his own life." (Subsequent to the filing
of the report, and perhaps in response to it, Schiavo's brother and sister-in-law
came forward to claim Terri made similar statements in their presence.
In this regard it is worth noting that no member of Terri's family, or
any of her friends, recall her ever making any such statements to them.)
- *Pearse concluded, "Given the inherent problems
already mentioned, together with the fact that the ward has been maintained
the life support measures sought to be withdrawn for the past 8 years,
it is the recommendation of the guardian ad litem that the petition for
removal be denied."
- UNFORTUNATELY, Pearse's opinion held scant sway with
the court. After filing his report, he requested further court instructions
to authorize him to continue to represent Terri as guardian ad litem. Schiavo's
attorney, George Felos objected, and attempted to have Pearse removed for
bias. This attempt failed but after his report was received, Pearse was
discharged from participating any further in the case. And despite Schiavo's
continuing conflicts of interest--which only deepened on the personal level
as he sired children--no other guardian ad litem was ever appointed to
represent Terri during the years of litigation, proceedings that culminated
in an October 15, 2003 court order requiring Terri Schiavo to be deprived
of all water and food toward the end that she dehydrate to death.
- - Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery
Institute and an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia
and Assisted Suicide. His current book is the updated and revised "Forced
Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder."
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All Rights Reserved.