MICHAEL SCHIAVO, Terri Schiavo's husband, finally went on national television last night to tell the world his side of the story. Appearing on "Larry King Live," he strived mightily to play the loving husband. Until more than half way through the interview, when King got around to tentatively asking Schiavo whether or not it is true that he has a girlfriend. (King, who must have known the answer, somehow failed to mention that Schiavo has already sired two children with this woman, who he calls his fiancé.)
The loving husband answered, "I'm lucky. I have two great women to love." He then paused to take a swipe at Terri's mom, "My girlfriend has done more for Terri than her own mother." Asked what that might be, Schiavo answered, "She washed her clothes."
THAT EXCHANGE should have opened the door to some very interesting conversation. King could have asked Schiavo if he is raising children with another woman--a matter finally brought up by a caller near the end of the show--why he should continue to have any say over Terri's care, given that the sanctity of the marriage vows he took are no longer operable. King didn't, of course, which is precisely the reason why people in the center of heated public controversies like to go on his show.
There are a number of questions King should have asked Schiavo:
(1) Why did Schiavo tell a medical malpractice jury in 1992 that Terri would live a normal life span? After Terri's collapse, Schiavo sued for medical malpractice. Under civil law, the longer Terri was expected to live, the larger the verdict would probably be. This fact of legal life could explain why Michael presented evidence to the malpractice jury not only that Terri would likely live a normal life span but also that he intended to be a good and loyal husband and care for her for the rest of his life.
(2) Why did Schiavo have a rehabilitation expert testify in front of the malpractice jury to present a detailed plan of therapy for Terri? Schiavo and his lawyer claimed that Terri is incapable of improving physically, but during the 1992 trial, a rehabilitation plan and its anticipated undertaking provided one of the underpinnings for the jury's $1.3 million award. Of that money, Schiavo received $300,000, lawyers' fees were paid, and about $750,000 was put in trust to pay for Terri's rehabilitation.
(3) Given that the jury awarded $750,000 to be used in part for Terri's therapy, why hasn't Schiavo provided any rehabilitation for her since 1991? When asked by King about the issue of rehab, Schiavo described some early efforts to help Terri, such as an experimental surgery in 1990. But he never identified when this rehab took place.
Which is an important point. The only efforts ever undertaken to improve Terri's condition took place in 1990 and 1991. They had ceased by the time of the malpractice trial in 1992 because her insurance coverage had run out. Indeed, the pressing need to restart therapy was an urgent part of the malpractice case. It could have--and should have--paid to restart the rehabilitation that had been abandoned due to lack of funds.
Once Terri's $750,000 was in the bank, however, Schiavo would not approve a single cent of it to be spent on rehabilitation. Not only that, but once the money was in the bank, Schiavo ordered a "do not resuscitate" order placed on Terri's chart so that if she had a cardiac event, the doctors would not attempt to save her. And within a few months of the money being deposited, Schiavo also refused to permit curative treatments, such as antibiotics for infections. If Terri had died during the early or mid-1990s, as Schiavo's orders were designed, he would have inherited somewhere around $700,000.
The issue of Terri's money did come up several times during last night's interview. Schiavo assured King he isn't in it for the money because there is only about $50,000 left in Terri's estate.
(4) Is it true that Terri's money has paid for attorneys to make her dead, instead of therapists to make her better? The answer is, unquestionably, yes. According to court records, George Felos, the dutiful "right to die" attorney who sat at Schiavo's side on King's show, has been paid over $350,000 from Terri's trust fund. Another of Schiavo's attorneys, Debra Bushnell, has received about $90,000. These two lawyers alone have received more than half of Terri's entire trust.
According to court records, when Schiavo began his quest to pull Terri's feeding tube in 1998, she had more than $700,000 in the bank. This was primarily because Schiavo generally refused to authorize payments for any nursing home services on Terri's behalf beyond the basics of room and board. Thus, only about $50,000 was paid on her behalf in the five years following the jury verdict. Since 1998, about $650,000 (not taking into account any earnings from the fund) has gone out--not for therapy, but primarily for lawyers.
And yet on "Larry King" Schiavo went so far as to suggest that Bob Schindler, Terri's father, is fighting to save Terri's life because he wants her money.
(5) So how could Terri's father make any money off the case? Schiavo's story is that once Schindler became Terri's guardian, he would get her a divorce, and then he would stop her food and fluids. The alleged point of such a scheme being that as next of kin, the Schindlers would inherit their daughter's money.
This sounds like a mighty stretch, particularly given that Bob Schindler has spent every nickel he has--including his entire retirement fund--desperately trying to save his daughter's life. If Bob Schindler is a venal man, he has a funny way of showing it.
Schiavo told King that his falling out with his father-in-law occurred in February 1993, when Schindler demanded a share of the proceeds in Terri's trust fund. But Schindler and his wife Mary tell a different story. They claim that the argument was over their insistence that the long-suspended rehabilitation recommence, since there was finally money available to pay for it. They contend that the breach of relationship occurred because Schiavo refused. The behavior of both parties since seems much more consistent with this story than with Schiavo's version of events.
Too bad Larry King didn't ask.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and an attorney and consultant for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. He is the author of Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder."
© 2003 The Weekly Standard.