On Jan. 24, there was a terrible setback for right-to-life and disability advocates. The United States Supreme Court rejected Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s appeal in a case that pitted him against Michael Schiavo. Assisted by his attorney and well-known euthanasia advocate George Felos, Michael is seeking to withdraw the feeding tube currently needed by his wife, Terri Schindler-Schiavo.
The case received international attention in 2003, when Michael withdrew the feeding tube that provided Terri nutrition. Yet, she was saved a week later, when the Florida state legislature intervened. The legislature passed “Terri’s Law” – an emergency piece of legislation permitting the Florida governor to intervene. Bush immediately ordered the feeding tube restored.
Miraculously, Terri suffered no long-term damage during the week-long denial of nourishment and hydration.
Schiavo and Felos immediately challenged the constitutionality of Terri’s Law. This past fall, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional. Bush appealed to the United States Supreme Court for a judicial review. The Supreme Court has now rejected the appeal.
The rejection follows another disappointing ruling from a lower court, in which Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri’s parents, argued that the removal of their daughter’s feeding tube would violate her religious freedom. “Terri is a devout Catholic who practised her faith regularly until this accident,” Bob Schindler shared with The Interim in an interview. “So we are pretty frustrated with these latest decisions coming down from the courts. But we are not giving up. Like every parent, Mary and I just want to see our daughter safe and getting the medical care she needs.”
The Schindlers were joined by Monsignor Malanowski, a close friend of the family who has risked arrest on more than one occasion to ensure Terri received proper pastoral care. “I don’t know what happened,” the retired army chaplain told The Interim. “The Supreme Court was very brief in its reasoning for turning down the appeal. The governor felt he had not received a fair hearing in the state Supreme Court. For example, he was not allowed to call Michael Schiavo before the stand.”
“I was disappointed,” the monsignor continued. “Because of the gravity of the case, I thought the Supreme Court would at least allow a hearing, allow the governor to defend his position and more importantly, to defend one of his constituents. Governor Bush knows the life of an innocent woman is at stake. He also knows this could become a precedent for those in similar situations.” He added, “This could endanger any person with Down Syndrome, MS or any other special medical condition that requires ongoing attention. The secular world denies that these people possess any quality of life. We, including the governor, believe it is the sacredness of life that matters.”
Malanowski reported that Governor Bush called Bob and Mary Schindler upon receiving news of the Supreme Court decision. “He was terribly disappointed,” the priest shared. “But the governor is ready to continue the fight. ‘We are not giving up,’ he told us.”
The Schindlers and Malanowski are working with their lawyers to plan the next step. The court has not yet declared a definite date for the removal of the feeding tube. Nevertheless, Felos is stating to the press that the tube can be removed on Feb. 22. The simple answer would be for Michael to walk away, divorce Terri and allow Bob and Mary to assume Terri’s care. But, he refuses. “Along with Felos, Michael will not allow this to end, except with a precedent that gives victory to the culture of death,” said Malanowski. “This is why the Hemlock Society and the ACLU have rallied behind Michael.”
Nevertheless, Terri’s friends and family are heartened by the support they continue to receive from the right-to-life movement, advocates for people with special needs and people of deep faith. Some of this support has come in the form of legal assistance, in that Terri’s family is being represented by pro-life attorney David Gibbs.
“Like the governor, we are not giving up,” the monsignor shared. “David is using every legal avenue to save Terri, even if it means appealing again. David is fighting not just for Terri, but for all people with special needs. His deep faith as a Baptist informs his practice of the law and he trusts God to see us through this. Before we went into our first court hearing together, he turned to me and said: ‘Father, please start us off with a prayer.’ David understands that in the culture war, prayer is power.”