Report on Terri Schiavo's needs faulted for key shortcomings

by Joni B. Hannigan, posted Tuesday, December 23, 2003 (15 years ago)

CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)--Pat Anderson makes this assessment: Though the court-appointed guardian ad litem for Terri Schiavo might be striving to serve as a mediator, and though his conclusions may sound profound, Jay Wolfson has failed to apply simple logic in a case that is not typical, but is instead full of unanswered questions and suspect motives.

Anderson, attorney for Bob and Mary Schindler, parents of Terri Schiavo, the brain damaged 40-year-old woman at the center of a national "right-to-die" debate, told the Florida Baptist Witness in an interview that she believes guardian ad litem Wolfson may have gone beyond his scope of responsibility in the case.

Wolfson released a 40-page report he prepared for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Dec. 2, calling for a "fresh, clean-hands start" for Schiavo, including swallowing tests to see if she can eat and drink on her own.

Wolfson, a University of South Florida professor, included in his report a "Platform of Understanding," citing "significant public policy issues involved."

The "platform" document, which never found consensus, had called for Gov. Bush, Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and Terri's husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, to agree for Terri to undergo swallowing tests, and it further required all parties to come to an agreement should Terri not pass the test.

Anderson said the Schindlers had agreed to Wolfson's terms, in part because there was a "ripcord" provision that said any party could terminate the agreement at any time. It was George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, Anderson said, who declined to agree to the terms, claiming Bush's intervention was inappropriate to begin with and so any capitulation on Michael Schiavo's part could be misconstrued.

The attempt by Wolfson to have all involved come to an agreement was not, Anderson believes, the intention of the court when they appointed Wolfson.

"It's not his job. He slipped in and out of the mediator role throughout this report," Anderson said. "He was asked to summarize the file and to advise the governor on the value and feasibility of swallowing evaluation and therapy."

Instead, Anderson said, Wolfson seemed intent on pushing the "Platform of Understanding" and ignored what appeared to be "practical" rather than "academic" questions about the suitability of Michael Schiavo to be involved in the decisions regarding Terri at all.

Describing the report as "overblown," Anderson said Wolfson was intent on "looking beyond Terri to all those other Terri's out there," in what Anderson called a very atypical and highly unusual case.

Instead of focusing on the irregular nature of Terri's situation, Anderson said Wolfson has ignored her allegations in previous filings and has appeared to use previous appellate court findings and testimony from Felos and Michael Schiavo.

"The fact is that her guardian treats her as if she is already dead," Anderson said, citing Terri's 40th birthday party in the hospice when family members were subject to strict rules enforced by a uniformed guard stationed in her room whenever she has visitors.

According to a separate report, family members told the media Dec. 4 that on Dec. 3 hospice workers removed birthday cards from well-wishers and children that Terri's mother had place on her walls.

"You would have thought they were holding members of Al Qaeda inside the hospice," Anderson said.

Terri Schiavo collapsed in 1990 due to unusual circumstances which caused her heart to stop beating and she is now in what some doctors term a "persistent vegetative state."

Michael Schiavo has been in a bitter dispute for nearly a decade with Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who believe she never received the therapy that would have allowed her to improve.

On Oct. 15, Michael Schiavo, with circuit court support, had Terri's feeding tube removed -- leaving her to die of starvation and dehydration. On Oct. 21, after both chambers of the Florida legislature acted promptly to provide a remedy, Gov. Jeb Bush signed the law ordering the reinsertion of a feeding tube. Michael Schiavo has challenged the constitutionality of the law, claiming it violated the state constitution's separation of powers.

In a flurry of court proceedings since that time, issues that have emerged are related to the suitability of Schiavo as guardian; the parents' standing in Schiavo's case against Bush; the alleged bias of at least one judge involved in the rulings; the viability of a jury trial versus a judge's ruling; whether the case against the governor was correctly filed; and the request of the governor's attorneys to depose seven witnesses, one of whom is presumed to be Michael Schiavo's longtime live-in girlfriend with whom he has fathered two children.

Gov. Bush, in a statement, thanked Wolfson for his efforts in preparing a "review of nearly 10 years of information in only 30 days" but said there are still "too many open questions" remaining. He cited potential "conflicts of interest" regarding Michael Schiavo and questioned whether there is "clear and convincing evidence" about Terri's wishes.

Bush said he is encouraged by Wolfson's recommendations for swallowing tests and therapy and said he hopes Michael Schiavo and his attorney will not continue to oppose the testing.

"I am also concerned we do not know the expertise of the individuals who provided the 'answers' to the questions that are addressed in the report," Bush said. "I am sure that Dr. Wolfson, who indicated his reliance on 'good science-based medicine,' understands the importance of knowing which good scientists and good doctors he relied on to reach certain conclusions.

"As I have said from the beginning, the state must protect every Floridian's right to life, and in so doing, err on the side of life. As Governor, I will continue to do just that," Bush continued. "Nothing in Dr. Wolfson's report leads me to believe the stay should be lifted at this time, or that Mrs. Schiavo should be deprived of her right to live."

Wolfson had said in his report that he believes the case needs further review.

"To benefit Theresa, and in the overall interests of justice, good science and public policy, there needs to be a fresh, clean-hands start," Wolfson wrote in his report.

Wolfson said he visited Terri Schiavo at the hospice where she lives in hopes of documenting whether she is aware of and can interact with her surroundings. He said at times Terri appeared to be responding to her mother, though he said her responses were not repetitive or consistent.

Wolfson did admit Terri had a "distinct presence," however.

"It would be easy to detach from her if she were comatose, asleep with her eyes closed and made no noises," Wolfson wrote. "This is the confusing thing for the lay person about persistent vegetative state."


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