Communications Department

Florida Appeals Court Upholds Order to Remove Schindler-Schiavo Feeding Tube

Jun 13, 2003 | 2003 Press Releases

A Florida state appeals court ruled June 6 that Terri Schindler-Schiavo’ s husband, Michael, can order the removal of the feeding tube that sustains her life. According to a story in New York Newsday, “Although she can breathe unaided, move her head, change her expressions and vocalize and appears to react to people, the appellate court determined Terri has no cognitive abilities and that her condition is permanent.”

Terri Schindler-Schiavo’ s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, filed the appeal after Circuit Judge George Greer ruled last November that Schindler-Schiavo, who has been disabled since suffering brain damage in 1990, has no chance of recovery, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Schindler-Schiavo sustained brain damage when she collapsed in her home on February 25, 1990, after an apparent heart attack deprived her brain of oxygen for several minutes. Today, Schindler-Schiavo can breathe, swallow, and maintain a heartbeat and blood pressure on her own.

Michael Schiavo, Schindler-Schiavo’ s husband, first requested the removal of Schindler-Schiavo’ s feeding tube in 1998, according to the Associated Press. He has said that his wife would not want to be kept alive through artificial means. Schindler-Schiavo’ s family disputes the claim and has been fighting a long court battle to block his efforts.

Greer, of the First Judicial Court in Clearwater, Florida, first authorized Schindler-Schiavo’ s death in February 2001, and she was without food and fluids for 60 hours beginning April 24th, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Her parents obtained a stay of the order and she was fed pending an appeal to the appellate court. On that appeal, the appellate court sent the case back to Judge Greer for a further hearing. Following that hearing in October, Judge Greer again ordered her feeding tube to be removed.

At the October hearing, five doctors testified about Schindler-Schiavo’ s prognosis. Michael Schiavo selected two of the doctors, the Schindlers selected two, and the court appointed the fifth. Both of the doctors testifying for the Schindlers said that Schindler-Schiavo could benefit from vasodilation and hyperbaric therapy, but Greer based his decision on the testimony of the doctors selected by Schiavo and the court, who said that Schindler-Schiavo would never get better.

The judges on the appeals court said they empathized with the Schindlers, but that “in the end, this case is not about the aspirations that loving parents have for their children.” Instead, the focus is Schindler-Schiavo’ s right to make her own decision, and for judges to decide when families can’ t agree, reported the Associated Press.

According to New York Newsday, “No date has been set to stop the feeding and won’ t be for at least 15 days. Without her liquid diet, Schiavo would likely die within a few weeks.” The attorney for the Schiavos, Patricia Anderson, will seek a re-hearing before all 13 judges of the appellate court or a hearing by the Florida Supreme Court.

“Outrageously, it is all to common for courts, like many doctors and hospital ethics committees, to assume that it is better to die than to live with significant disabilities,” said Burke Balch, J.D., Director of the Department of Medical Ethics for the National Right to Life Committee.  “Therefore, it is critically important that we ensure every one of our friends and family members fill out a ‘Will to Live’ .” The Will to Live is a legal document, varying in its form from state to state, that makes clear a person’s wishes concerning treatment if no longer able to make health care decisions. It provides for designation of who the person wants to speak on his or her behalf in such circumstances.

State-specific copies may be downloaded here.