New Hope in Terri Schiavo Case

Press Release
For Immediate Release  9/15/2004 3.00 PM (GMT-5)

New Hope in Terri Schiavo Case – Schiavo v. Gov. Bush will not end Terri’s fight for life.

Pinellas County, FL – In a dramatic new development, attorneys representing the parents of Terri Schindler-Schiavo have filed a memorandum of law establishing that depriving Terri of food and water would not only be against her wishes, but is also prohibited by the United States and Florida constitutions, as well as Florida statutory and common law.  The 28-page memorandum filed by Attorney Patricia Fields Anderson of St. Petersburg, Florida, along with new attorneys for the family, Deborah E. Berliner and Brett M. Wood of Washington, DC, cites a substantial change in circumstances that the court must consider in determining whether it should set aside an order it entered in February 2000 that Terri Schiavo’s life should be terminated by depriving her of food and water.

Terri has been cognitively disabled since 1990 and since then has received food and water through a gastronomy tube.  Her estranged husband, Michael Schiavo, with the support of so-called “right to die” advocates, has for years sought to end Terri’s life, claiming that her right to privacy will be violated unless she is starved to death.

In their memorandum, the attorneys representing Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, point to a substantial change in circumstances arising after the entry of the judgment commanding that Terri must die.  The new circumstances cited by the Schindlers directly involve Terri’s life-long religious beliefs as a faithful Roman Catholic and her fundamental right to freedom of religious belief and expression.  They explain that given a significant new development in the moral teaching of Holy Roman Catholic Church regarding the obligation to provide food and water to patients in a so-called “persistent vegetative state,” the Court’s decision in 2000 that Terri would, if she was able, choose to end her life can no longer stand.  In their memorandum, the Schindlers attorneys demonstrate that such a decision would defy Church teaching and be directly contrary to Terri’s life-long religious beliefs, which the Court is obligated, under federal and state law, to honor.

They quote a March 20, 2004 address by His Holiness Pope John Paul, II, head of the Roman Catholic Church, which states in part:

“I should like particularly to underline how the administration of food and water, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act.  Its use … should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory ….”

The memorandum goes on to explain that because the Pope “is the supreme and infallible head of the Church,” when he expounds on a doctrine of faith or morals – in this instance, the moral obligation to use ordinary means to preserve human life – all Catholics, including Terri, are obliged to adhere to the teaching.  The Schindlers lawyers note that, given the overwhelming evidence of Terri’s life-long faith and devotion to the Church – which she proclaimed only hours before her collapse – she would never willingly defy the Holy Father’s teaching by consenting to conduct that is now morally forbidden by the Church.

In a related development that is very significant to Terri’s case, the Florida Supreme Court on September 9, 2004 ruled in Warner v. City of Boca Raton that a religious belief is substantially burdened if the government either compels the religious adherent to engage in conduct that his or her religion forbids, or forbids a religious adherent from engaging in conduct that his or her religion requires.  Because the February 2000 ruling that Terri must die both compels Terri to engage in conduct forbidden by her religion and forbids her to act as required by her religion, it can no longer stand.

The Schindler family hopes that this nightmare will soon be over, and that they will at long last be left alone to nurture and care for their disabled daughter.

Related Documents:
(1) – Memorandum of Law

(2) – Supreme Court Opinion (Warner v. City of Boca Raton)