Judge Ready To Rule On "Terri's Law"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 23, 2003
TAMPA, FLORIDA--Pinellas Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird said Tuesday that he is ready to rule on whether the law keeping Terri Schiavo alive is unconstitutional.
Baird did not say which way he would rule on the constitutionality of "Terri's Law", but indicated that he had enough facts to do so without a trial. Governor Jeb Bush and the parents of Terri Schiavo had hoped for a jury to hear the case.
The judge will have to wait, however, until appeals filed by Bush are settled before he can issue his ruling. One of those appeals centers around whether Michael Schiavo should have challenged the new law in Pinellas County, where Terri lives in a hospice, or in Tallahassee, the state capital.
If the 2nd District Court of Appeal rules in favor of Bush, Baird's decision -- whichever way he may rule -- could have little consequence.
Terri collapsed in February 1990 at the age of 26 from what doctors have said was a heart attack. Her brain was without oxygen for several minutes. She came out of a coma a short time later but has been in what some doctors consider a "persistent vegetative state" from which they say she will not recover. She breathes on her own and regulates her own blood pressure, but currently relies on a gastronomy tube installed through the wall of her stomach to provide food and water.
Her husband, who is also her guardian, claims that Terri told him she would not want to live "by artificial means". He was given permission by the court on October 15 to have the feeding tube removed.
Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have fought Michael Schiavo in court to keep their daughter alive. They believe that Terri is alert, that she responds to them and tries to communicate. They have affidavits from a number of medical professionals who agree and say that Terri would benefit from rehabilitative therapies which Michael has refused.
Disability rights and right to life advocates put pressure on Governor Bush to intervene in the case this fall, including flooding his office with tens of thousands of messages. Bush then pushed the Florida Legislature to pass the law which gave him authority to have Terri's feeding tube reinserted six days after it had been removed.
Michael Schiavo sued the governor arguing that "Terri's Law" violated her right to privacy and the state constitution's separation of powers.
Attorneys for the governor said Tuesday that they expect Baird to rule against Bush -- because of previous comments he made -- and that they plan to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court if necessary.
On Friday, Bush learned that a judge had dismissed the temporary guardian appointed through Terri's Law to represent her interests. Chief Circuit Judge David A Demers in St. Petersburg had discharged Jay Wolfson on December 17.
Wolfson, a lawyer and University of South Florida professor, had been selected by the court in late October to investigate Terri's situation and report back to the court and the governor with his findings. Wolfson reported earlier this month that, while there was no medical evidence Terri would fully recover from her disability, tests should be done to determine if she learn to swallow and eat on her own.
Demers said in his order that Wolfson had completed the task assigned to him and was no longer needed.
"The governor is disappointed," said Bush spokesperson Jacob DiPietre, who added that the governor's lawyers were working on a request to reinstate Wolfson.
Terri's parents have wanted an independent guardian appointed to oversee her medical care. They believe that Michael Schiavo's role presents a conflict of interest because he stands to gain what's left of an insurance settlement once Terri dies, he is engaged to a women with whom he has fathered two children, and he may have brought about Terri's injury in the first place. They have pushed for an investigation into their claims that Michael Schiavo has abused his wife and exploited her resources -- resources which he was supposed to have used for her care and treatment.
Terri's case has been of interest to disability rights advocates for a number of years. Many believe that allowing Terri to die of starvation would send a message to others that it is acceptable to kill people with certain disabilities who cannot speak for themselves.
Judge ready to rule in Schiavo case; Bush lawyers predict defeat (Associated Press via Bradenton Herald)
"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (IDE Archives)
Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation