Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Michael Schiavo’s legal fight to remove his brain-damaged wife’s feeding tube has raised suspicions about his motives from those seeking to continue the feeding to keep his wife alive.

Why, they ask, does this muscular, 6-foot-7 Florida prison nurse refuse to divorce his wife, Terri, even though he has been living with another woman for 10 years and fathered two children with her?

Mr. Schiavo, who mostly stayed quiet while coverage of the battle was restricted mainly to Florida and specialized pro-life outlets, has come out swinging in recent days, portraying himself as a loving husband seeking to do his wife’s bidding despite interfering politicians.

In interviews yesterday on CBS’ “Early Show” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Mr. Schiavo was asked about divorce and relinquishing his wife’s care to family members who are fighting to keep her alive.

“That [divorce] will never happen. I made a promise to Terri,” he said on CBS.

On ABC, Mr. Schiavo said, “I made a promise to Terri. I love her. … Terri is my family also. I’ll be with her every step of the way.”

Over the weekend, in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, he called out President Bush.

“Come down, President Bush,” he said. “Come talk to me. Meet my wife. Talk to my wife and see if you get an answer. Ask her to lift her arm to shake your hand. She won’t do it.”

Mrs. Schiavo was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state” after collapsing when her heart temporarily stopped beating in 1990. On CBS yesterday, Deborah Bushnell, an attorney for Mr. Schiavo, described Mrs. Schiavo’s mental state, saying, “There’s very little cerebral cortex. There’s just no thinking brain to respond.”

Mrs. Schiavo can breathe on her own, but she requires a feeding tube to stay alive because she cannot swallow.

Mr. Schiavo insists his wife told him before the 1990 fall that she did not wish to be kept alive by artificial means, but her family points out that Mr. Schiavo waited seven years before disclosing that information.

In an interview Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition,” Bobby Schindler, Mrs. Schiavo’s brother, said Mr. Schiavo “did not make Terri’s wishes known” until “after Michael announced his engagement to the woman he’s with now.”

In a court filing, Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, argue their son-in-law is trying to rush his wife’s death so he can inherit her estate or benefit from her insurance.

But George J. Felos, a Florida lawyer who represents Mr. Schiavo, told The Washington Times in January that “all the money is gone, and there is no insurance.”

On CNN Sunday, Bobby Schindler said his brother-in-law stood to gain about $1 million in damages from a malpractice lawsuit he filed and won in late 1992. A jury awarded more than $700,000 for Mrs. Schiavo’s care, and Mr. Schiavo received an additional $300,000.

“I don’t know the financial situation of Terri’s trust fund” today, Mr. Schindler said. He pointed out that Mr. Schiavo promised a jury 13 years ago that the money would be used for his wife’s “rehabilitation and therapy.”

“The money now has been used to pay Michael’s attorneys in an effort to kill her. These financial documents have been sealed by the court,” Mr. Schindler said.

In published reports, Mr. Schiavo’s brother, Brian, said Michael long believed his wife would eventually recover. He recalled how he flew her to California for treatment and that he slept on a cot beside her bed for a month.

Mr. Schiavo, 41, began studying nursing to take better care of his wife, his brother said.

Two years out of high school, in 1982, Mr. Schiavo met Terri Schindler at Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania. The couple married in 1984. In 1986, they moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., where he worked as a restaurant manager and she worked as an insurance clerk.

Today, Mr. Schiavo lives in Clearwater, Fla., and works as a nurse at the Pinellas County Jail. Mrs. Schiavo remains hospitalized in Pinellas Park, Fla.

Mr. Schiavo called House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, a “little slithering snake” and was just as dismissive of the other members of Congress who passed emergency legislation granting his wife access to federal courts.

“To make comments that Terri would want to live, how do they know?” he asked.

“Have they ever met her?” Mr. Schiavo asked. “What color are her eyes? What’s her middle name? What’s her favorite color? They don’t have any clue who Terri is. They should all be ashamed of themselves.”

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