News of the Day ... in Perspective3/23/2005
Terri Schiavo dying; 11th Circuit rejects appeal
Although Congress passed an emergency law to give Terri Schiavo’s parents a cause of action in federal court, District Court Judge James D. Whittemore refused to intervene in the ongoing process of killing Mrs. Schiavo by dehydration. In a 2:1 decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.
Judge Whittemore decided that in a full trial de novo about issues already decided in Florida state courts, the Schindlers do not have “a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”
The state courts decided to believe Michael Schiavo’s assertions about what his wife would have wanted, and some medical expert witnesses’ assertion that she is in a “persistent vegetative state,” and to disregard contrary evidence.
In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Court Judge Wilson wrote: “[T]he denial of Plaintiffs’ request for an injunction frustrates Congress’s intent, which is to maintain the status quo by keeping Theresa Schiavo alive until the federal courts have a new and adequate opportunity to consider the constitutional issues raised by Plaintiffs.” He added: “Congress intended for this case to be reviewed with a fresh set of eyes.”
The Court also ruled en banc against the Schindlers, who plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Weighing in on the issue on March 22 was the New England Journal of Medicine with a commentary by Timothy Quill, M.D., director of the Center for Palliative Care and Clinical Ethics at the University of Rochester (see www.nejm.org). Quill authored the controversial article about “Diane,” confessing that he had knowingly prescribed a lethal dose of barbiturates for her (N Engl J Med 1991;324:691-694). He was investigated but not indicted.
Two Florida physicians have stated that patients in a situation similar to or worse than that of Terri Schiavo improved with hyperbaric oxygenation therapy, which she has not been allowed to receive, despite offers of pro bono treatment. Quill denies the existence of “objective evidence” to support this possibility. He has “no doubt” that she is in a persistent vegetative state, although he has not examined her and advanced imaging has not been performed.
Both President Bush and Governor Bush have so far rejected pleas to take the patient into protective custody to prevent her death before pending issues can be investigated.