Les Femmes Déjà vu: Hugh Finn & Terri Schiavo

By: Mary Ann Kreitzer

In October, 1998 Prince William, Virginia Judge Frank Hoss ordered the feeding tube removed from former Louisville anchorman Hugh Finn. Hugh wasn’t comatose or attached to any life support. Witnesses testified he could follow commands, track with his eyes, even occasionally speak. But Hugh was a burden to his wife, Michele. When it became clear he would never fully recover from injuries sustained in an auto accident, she denied him treatment, visited infrequently from her home in Kentucky, and finally had him dehydrated to death. Complicit in the act were the Supreme Court of Virginia and two bishops, Thomas Kelly of Louisville and Walter Sullivan of Richmond. Hugh’s blood family who visited daily, and Michele’s own mother and sister opposed her, but with deadly determination and the mantra of “comatose vegetable” Michele and the courts won. Annaburg Manor Nursing Home had killed others before Hugh; they presented no barrier to her plan. [See Story]

The grim reaper is on call again. The victim this time is 39-year-old Terri Schindler Schiavo of Florida who, like Hugh, is awake except during normal sleep cycles, follows commands, tracks objects, laughs, cries, expresses discomfort, smiles at family members, and tries to articulate. She requires no medical assistance except a simple feeding tube for nourishment. Nonetheless her legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, wants her dead. Still technically married to Terri, Michael lives with his paramour of many years who has borne him two out-of-wedlock children. Except for the determination of her parents and siblings who began vigorously opposing Michael’s deliberate neglect in the early 1990s, Terri would already be dead.

The facts of the story are troubling. According to Michael, Terri collapsed for unknown reasons in 1990 and he called 911. Despite being a nurse, he failed to administer CPR, and Terri suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen. Terri was admitted to the emergency room with a rigid neck consistent with strangulation. A bone scan done about a year after the incident indicated head trauma and multiple fractures including a broken femur. The radiologist reviewing her X-rays stated that someone had "worked her over good.” But Terri’s parents never saw the medical records until recent court hearings. They believed Michael was sincere when he promised to honor his marriage vows and stand by Terri for the rest of her natural life.

Michael’s promises were short-lived, however. In 1992 just weeks after $700,000 in malpractice money earmarked for Terri’s rehabilitation was deposited in her account, Michael had a “do not resuscitate order” put on her chart. He denied antibiotics for a serious infection, and refused Terri the simplest therapy including rolled up washcloths placed in her hands to prevent her fingers turning in on her palms. In a sworn affidavit nurse Carla Sauer Iyer, who cared for Terri from April 1995 until August of 1996, told how Michael would visit closing and locking Terri’s door. Later, after he left, “Terri would be trembling, crying hysterically and would be very pale and have cold sweats,” symptoms of dangerously low blood sugar. “The glucometer reading would be so low that it was below the range where it would register an actual number reading,” Iyer wrote. Though she can’t prove it, she believes Michael was injecting Terri with regular insulin. As a nurse he would have easy access to such medications. Her affidavit and those of two nursing aides describe how medical notes saying Terri was aware and responding “disappeared.” All three tell of Michael’s statements wishing Terri dead, including “when is that b**** going to die?” Iyer was fired in 1996 after notifying police of her concerns.

Because Michael refused to use the settlement money to help Terri, relations with her family deteriorated. The Schindlers wanted rehabilitation. Michael refused to spend a dime except for minimal maintenance care. In ten years he wouldn’t allow Terri to have her teeth cleaned or a pap smear or mammogram. He denied the Schindlers access to Terri’s medical records and, on a number of occasions after disagreements, barred family members from visiting. In 1998 Michael hired right-to-die lawyer George Felos, a New Ager who told a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times (May 25, 2001) that he chants to himself, “I am that I am.” After Felos entered the case, Michael “remembered” that Terri said she would never want to be connected to tubes and he began pursuing court-ordered dehydration/star-vation. Despite the fact Terri wasn’t dying or terminally ill, in 2000 Michael transferred her to the Woodside Hospice where Felos was Chairman of the Board and he had more control over her treatment.

Arguments and counter-arguments followed before state judge George Greer, who like Frank Hoss in the Finn case showed bias and hostility to Terri’s blood relatives from the outset. Michael’s doctor-witnesses, two of whom are vocal right-to-die advocates, claimed Terri was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). The Schindlers’ doctors vigorously disagreed, saying she would benefit from treatment. (This is an important point because a PVS diagnosis allows starvation and dehydration under Florida law.) Supporting the doctors’ contention that Terri would benefit from therapy, a speech pathologist who examined her videotapes said Terri was trying to speak and was better than many patients she helps.

Compressing the ten-year legal battle into a few paragraphs isn’t easy. The bulk of the court proceedings occurred before Judge Greer who ordered Terri’s feeding tube pulled twice and refused to allow a period of therapy for her to learn to take food by mouth before the October 15, 2003 starvation date. As happened in the Finn case, the state Supreme Court refused to intervene. A federal judge also let the deadly decision stand. It’s important to note that no criminal investigation was ever conducted in the case. Questions raised about conflicts of interest, possible spousal abuse, and criminal activity on Michael’s part were brushed aside by Greer who refused to change guardianship. Yet he treats as gospel a casual statement supposedly made by Terri who had no advanced medical directive.

The intervention of Governor Bush and the Florida legislature saved Terri’s life. On the sixth day of her dehydration, with a round-the-clock prayer vigil taking place outside hospice; and after over 80,000 e-mails and countless telephone calls and faxes to the Governor, Jeb Bush, with emergency authorization from the Florida legislature, signed an executive order requiring that the tube be reinserted. Michael tried to thwart the Governor’s order threatening medical personnel and others with lawsuits. Felos petitioned two judges for emergency stays to prevent Terri’s reprieve. But the forces of good prevailed, Terri was re-hydrated, and the feeding tube reinserted.

Terri’s rescue is directly due to prayer and the intervention of tens of thousands of concerned citizens who responded to pleas for help. The Catholic Media Coalition (CMC), a group of Catholic print and e-mail newsletters around the country, including Les Femmes, went into high gear with press releases and e-mail alerts calling for action. World Net Daily, LifeNews, and several talk-show radio hosts broadcast the truth and rallied support. The Catholic Medical Association, Priests for Life, and advocate groups for those with disabilities including Not Dead Yet and the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities passionately defended Terri’s right to be fed. Updates on Terri’s condition and videos showing her awake and aware were posted at the family’s website: www.terrisfight.org.

Notably missing from the battle for Terri’s life are her own bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, and the Catholic bishops of Florida. Terri’s family, CMC, and others begged for help from Bishop Lynch. In his original statement issued over a year ago, he refused to take sides, treating deliberate starvation as a permissible option despite the fact that Church teaching unequivocally forbids it. “[D]irect euthanasia…is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission (our emphasis) which of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder….Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate…ordinary care owed to the sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2277-2279) Food and water, even medically assisted, are ordinary means and may never be removed unless the person is imminently dying (within hours or a few days) or cannot benefit from them (i.e., the body cannot absorb food). Clearly these circumstances do not exist in Terri’s case, so deliberate dehydration/starvation is murder. After organized pressure from the CMC the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops released a flawed statement urging the benefit of the doubt for Terri. It wasn’t promulgated widely and reporters at the prayer vigil knew nothing about it and stated that the Catholic Church wasn’t involved. What a scandal!

According to reliable sources in the diocese of St. Petersburg, Bishop Lynch ordered his priests to stay away from the prayer vigil outside the hospice where Terri was starving. He told his pro-life office not to get involved. The day the tube was pulled, a Wednesday, chancery telephones were on answering machines. Later in the week callers were told the bishop was out of town. (Readers may recall that Bishop Lynch banned exposition of the Blessed Sacrament a few years ago and settled out of court for $100,000 a sexual harassment suit brought by a former top aide.) When Msgr. Thaddeus Malanowski, an 80 year old retired Brigadier General who visited Terri weekly for the past three years, tried to give her Viaticum, Communion for the dying, he was threatened with arrest. A CMC representative, Anne Esposito, spoke to Bishop Galeone, pro-life head of the Florida Conference, and begged for his intervention. Although he deplored what was happening, he told her it wasn’t his diocese and he couldn’t do anything.

With the realization that Terri’s case may be the Roe v. Wade of euthanasia thus precipitating mass murder of the helpless, CMC contacted every bishop in the country and the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) in September begging them to defend her. Standing with Terri is to stand with every autistic child, every brain-damaged accident victim, every severely retarded person. Sadly, only a handful of bishops replied. Bishop Raymond Burke of LaCrosse sent a clear statement, which we posted on the CMC website (www.catholicmediacoalition.org). The others quoted the flawed Florida Conference document or refused to take a position at all. Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington didn’t give CMC the courtesy of a response, but did make an earlier statement in an August letter to the American Life League, which CMC posted. Reporting in diocesan papers around the country has been sketchy. As of press time, The Arlington Catholic Herald had not run one word on the case, despite numerous press releases. Ironically, many bishops in the country don’t hesitate to protest the execution of criminals on death row, no matter whose diocese is involved, but few will speak for Terri.

One bishop, to his credit, sent relief from the heartland. Fr. Rob Johansen from St. Joseph’s parish in St. Joseph, Michigan was following the case and “blogging” about it on the internet. Eager to support the Schindlers, he got permission from his bishop, James A. Murray of Kalamazoo, to go to Florida and help Fr. Malanowski indefinitely. Can anyone miss noticing the intercession of St. Joseph, guardian of the Holy Family, sending aid into the death struggle from a city named after him? The battle between good and evil has been obvious. The feeding tube was pulled on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila. Terri is blessed regularly with a relic of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. St. Therese of Lisieux has showered the vigil site with roses brought by non-Catholics who know nothing about the saint. St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein), who died at Auschwitz, is invoked to save Terri from a modern death camp staffed by so-called care-givers willing to kill. Miracles of grace occur outside the hospice with fallen-away Catholics returning to the faith and ecumenical fellowship between Catholics and protestants. The rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy are prayed continuously. While the Catholic shepherds are invisible, Catholic laity fight. Leadership, by default, has gone to nationally-known protestants like Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, Flip Benham of Operation Save America, and well-known disabled author Joni Eareckson Tada who all came to stand in the gap created by the missing Catholic bishops.

What will happen next? The ACLU has joined Michael’s team and the Governor’s action will be challenged in court. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) came in on Terri’s side to counter them. The media blitz is on with Michael and Felos acting like the two con men in the fairy tale weaving a fabric of lies to convince the American people not to trust their own eyes, but to see Terri as
comatose “vegetable” (sic), not a young woman desperately trying to communicate. The establishment media is providing cover for Michael omitting important elements of the story, particularly his adultery.

Those who love truth must shout from the rooftops, “The emperor has no clothes!” and demand a criminal investigation into Michael’s negligence and possible criminal abuse. Terri’s guardianship must be turned over to her parents, and the order for immediate cremation if she dies must be rescinded. We must spread widely the testimony of world-famous forensic scientist, Dr. Michael Baden, who says Terri’s condition would not occur from a potassium deficiency or heart attack as reported, but is more consistent with trauma from a beating. Above all, we must continue to pray without ceasing, for the fight is not only against earthly powers, but against principalities.

In closing I’ll share a personal experience. The day the hospice pulled Terri’s tube was very windy. My husband and I returned from morning Mass to see our flag and 20 foot metal flagpole lying on the ground. It had snapped clean off. Appropriate, I thought. We have no “republic for which it stands” any more, but an oligarchy ruled by tyrants in black robes who deny our rights at will, even our very right to live, legislating according to their own whim. They have made sacraments of abortion and sodomy, stripped historic monuments from their foundations because they allude to God, and now have the elderly and handicapped in the crosshairs of their sites. When I saw that flagpole I recalled a scene from Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons where Thomas More defends the rule of law to his future son-in-law, William Roper. “This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast…and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

We are reaping the whirlwind of a hedonistic culture that has replaced the Judeo-Christian rule of law with judicial anarchy. Hugh Finn was sacrificed on its bloody altar in 1998. We have only an inkling of the death toll around the country from nurses and other medical personnel who tell of quiet murders by neglect and narcotics overdoses with or without families’ consent. We have Holland’s horrendous example, but we follow in lockstep. Terri Schiavo and other helpless individuals, the little ones, may be the first to fall; but if history tells us anything, we know the death peddlers will not stop with them. And, yet, there is hope. In human terms Terri should have been dead years ago. Ron Panzer of the Hospice Patients Alliance, a watchdog group exposing abuses at hospices like Woodside and its parent group, Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, says Terri’s case is the first euthanasia death ever stopped.

No matter what happens next, Terri’s survival to date is a miracle of faith and trust – primarily that of her parents who spent their life savings fighting for a beloved daughter’s life. They continue to witness outside the hospice where they camp out in an RV, and graciously meet and thank supporters. Mary and Bob Schindler remind us that the nuclear family is the domestic church. Our shepherds may fail us, but we will continue to lead our families in faith. Historically, the laity always bring the Church back to her roots. Let us never weary of doing good, but atone by prayers and sacrifices for what Dietrich von Hildebrand called the “lethargy of the guardians.” Do it for Hugh Finn, for Terri, and for all the helpless threatened by the culture of death.

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