Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Played for a fool?

It's hard not to feel that way.

I remember the first time I read about Terri Schiavo. I'm notoriously bad with names but "Michael and Terri" stuck in my mind because I had known another couple with those names. Plus, their story was so compelling and so heart-wrenching. It was in a pro-life piece about severely disabled people, over a decade ago, that I was introduced to their hope in the face of tragedy.

What a story it was. Here was this wonderful young couple in love, the wife beautiful and vibrant up until the moment when her devoted husband found her collapsed in their home. I don't remember much in the way of detail about what happened. What I do remember is the devotion of the loving husband and parents. Although Terri was in a persistant vegetative state, and doctor after doctor said there was no hope for any improvement, Terri's loved ones refused to give up. Instead, Michael and the Schindlers were actively seeking the best in care for Terri, including agressive rehabilitation, therapy, even promising experimental procedures.

Even then, the Schindlers were far more comfortable than Michael in the media limelight. They were eager to describe what a wonderful husband he was, how he was like a son to them, how their hope was to bring Terri home---to the home they already shared with Michael.

When I next became aware of Terri Schiavo's case, it was again in some pro-life publication. Years had passed. Perhaps, I thought, there was some bizarre coincidence, and this was a different Michael and Terri. This Michael was not loved like a son by his in-laws. Not at all. Nor was he described as a loving husband. We all know the rest.

Who to believe?

For a while, I bought the new version of the story, but I couldn't shake my memory of the long ago one, the touching love story. What had changed? If the current accusations of the Schindlers are true, why would they allow the daughter they claim to love to live in a completely helpless condition under the same roof as the man they now claim is an abuser? If family members and friends really "warned Terri not to go home that night", if Michael really "fit the profile of an abuser", if he was so controlling, if they suspected he had attacked Terri, why did they invite him to live with them---and then bring Terri into their shared home? Why did they present such a "united loving family" image to the public? Why did they only remember all these "danger signs" and "controlling behavior", and Terri's plans for divorce, years after the fact?

As I've followed this story and read numerous conflicting reports, several obvious things have become clear to me.

The Schindlers are becoming increasingly savvy at using the news media to their advantage. In fact, some have described them as "media darlings". One cannot go through a day without hearing quotes from the Schinders, in the papers, online, on TV, and on the radio.

Michael Schiavo avoids the media spotlight. He's definitely not the media-savvy player that his in-laws are.

The Schindlers have an impressive array of supporters, not just powerful and prominent individuals, but most of the pro-life organizations.

Michael has...his lawyer.

The Schinders have a growing number of "spokespersons", ranging from Randall Terry to Pat Mahoney to a host of others.

Michael has...his lawyer.

The Schindlers have the public perception that they are warm, fuzzy, loving, caring, etc.

Michael is demonized and presented as some sort of murderous monster.

The Schindlers have, at their disposal, vast fundraising efforts on their behalf by a number of powerful pro-life and conservative groups. Trust me---I'm on enough mailing lists to have received numerous pleas for money, complete with "Schindler-speak" that Terri supposedly "talks", "sings", and "jokes". (In "Schindler-speak", what others would call a "moan" is "talking".)

Michael one.

I'm not the only one who is becoming suspcious of the "party line", especially after reading more of the legal issues involved, as well as reading what has been written by more neutral parties, as opposed to what has been reported to the press by the Schindlers. I would encourage everyone to read this political analysis blog especially scrolling down to the "diary" section. Here is another person who was once willing to believe that Michael was as evil as the Schindlers claim but has now changed his mind. Links are provided to compelling evidence.

I know there are those who think I am beyond cruel to say anything less than kind about the Schindlers or to do anything less than demonizing Michael Schiavo. In other online forums, people said they are "grieved that a sister in Christ would find herself on the other side of the issue." If the other side means no longer being willing to believe only the Schindler's portrayal of the truth, what can I say? And if wanting to examine all sides, not believing that non-physicians know more than neurologists, not believing that medical diagnoses can be made from watching carefully edited videotapes, and not believing that people should be force-fed against their will or that the federal government should make our medical decisions for us---well, if that makes me "on the other side", so be it. If admitting that I don't know who or what to believe about the whole Schindler/Schiavo feud makes me on the "other side", I suppose I will be there until Jesus calls me home.

For those who want more food for thought, here are some more links:

Conflicting Memories About Terri's Wishes

Commentary and interviews

The war on Michael Schiavo and the war over life

Rober Schindler pulls plug on his mother

Bad call for Schindlers but Michael is on the mark

I found this online, a quote from the Miami Herald:

Beyond accepting that their daughter was in a vegetative state, the Schindlers had, years earlier, encouraged Michael to date. When the Schindlers later accused Michael of greed, he offered to donate Terri's entire trust fund to charity.

Up until a bitter falling out in 1993, Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers were united in efforts to rehabilitate Terri.

They moved in together after Terri's collapse in February 1990, and Michael called the Schindlers ''Mom and Dad.'' A year later, the Schindlers encouraged their son-in-law to get on with his life and date. They even met some of the women he saw.

''I looked at that as maybe he was starting to take a step in the right direction and get his life back together,'' Bob Schindler said in a 1993 deposition. ''He's still a young man. He still has a life ahead of him.''


The Schindlers later said that they urged Michael to see other women because they ultimately hoped to gain guardianship of their daughter. But they still worked feverishly with Michael to ensure Terri had the best possible care.

To raise funds for medical costs, they sold hot dogs and pretzels on the beach, threw a Valentine's Day dance and made appeals on local news stations. In 1991, the city of St. Petersburg Beach declared Feb. 17 ''Terri Schiavo Day.''

Terri was frequently moved between hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. Each rehabilitation facility treated her with aggressive physical, recreational, speech and language therapy, moving her arms and legs, trying to rouse her with scents.

But according to court filings, Terri was not responsive to neurological or swallowing tests. Mary Schindler testified that a neurologist told her, ''This might be where she's going to be for the rest of her life.''

Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers brought Terri home briefly in the fall of 1990, but were overwhelmed. Then they sent her to California to have experimental platinum electrodes implanted to stimulate her brain. Michael slept by her bedside for five weeks. Terri sat up and her eyes burned brightly when the implants were turned up high, Michael testified, but the doctor told him the reactions were mere motor responses.

Meanwhile, Michael filed a malpractice suit against two of Terri's doctors, unwittingly setting into motion events that tore him and the Schindlers apart.

Michael initially expected a multimillion-dollar award, and the Schindlers said he promised them a share, which would enable them to care for Terri at home.

By then, the Schindlers were almost broke. After selling his share of a successful industrial equipment company, Bob Schindler lost his savings in a Florida business venture that went sour. The couple declared bankruptcy in 1989, Bob Schindler testified. He told a court that Michael Schiavo promised to help.

But Michael said he never committed to sharing any award money with the Schindlers, especially when the award ended up being far smaller than hoped. Roughly $700,000 was earmarked for a trust fund for Terri, and $300,000 for Michael.

The Schindlers still expected part of Michael's share to help care for Terri. On Valentine's Day 1993, they confronted Michael in Terri's hospital room. The discussion quickly turned ugly. Michael said the Schindlers demanded the money, so he lied and said he did not have it. Disgusted, the Schindlers left, their trust in Michael irrevocably breached.

''The fact that he was going back on his word upset me,'' Bob Schindler testified in 1993. ``I was devastated.''

Michael soon began believing doctors who told him that Terri had effectively died in 1990. In a 1993 deposition, he testified that Terri had said she would never want to live by artificial means. He imposed a ''do not resuscitate'' order. Hospice staff challenged the order's legality, so he reversed it.

Horrified, the Schindlers launched the first of many exhaustive battles to become Terri's legal guardians. They accused Schiavo of being abusive, citing his admitted belligerence to hospice staff. They also said he wanted to kill Terri for her money.

But in 1998, when one of Terri's court-appointed guardians noted this conflict of interest, Michael offered to donate Terri's estate to charity, as long as the Schindlers stopped fighting his decision to remove Terri's feeding tube. The Schindlers rejected this proposal. All but $50,000 of the award has since gone to Terri's care and court costs.


  1. Thanks. This entry took courage. Even if we think Terri should live doesn't mean we should shade the truth or bear false witness against her husband.

    Thank you for speaking up.

  2. You gotta love those comments that engage the issue with such intellectual rigor.

    Is "RUBBISH" in response to the previous comment? In response to the blog entry? And, if so, which statements were found to be "rubbish"?

    We'll never know.

    But in response to anon's post, I reply, "GARBAGE".

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I do not know what Terri wanted, but a judge, I believe, did his best to sort it out. I am not inclined to question it any further or insist on a different outcome. This case highlights well the fallibilty of the law and legal systems. Our theology allows for that, indeed, anticipates it.