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Congressional Subpoenas Issued to Protect Terri Schiavo

Jeff Johnson | Senior Staff Writer | Friday, March 18, 2005

Congressional Subpoenas Issued to Protect Terri Schiavo

(CNSNews.com) - The only thing left between Terri Schindler Schiavo and what some medical experts describe as a slow, excruciating death by dehydration and starvation is now a congressional subpoena.

The House Government Reform Committee issued subpoenas for Terri, her husband Michael Schiavo, her parents Bob and Mary Schindler and the administrator of the hospice where Terri is being housed to appear before the committee during hearings on the Incapacitated Persons Protection Act (S. 539).

That legislation would extend the habeas corpus protections of the U.S. Constitution, "in circumstances in which there is a contested judicial proceeding because of a dispute about the expressed previous wishes or best interests of a person presently incapable of making known a choice concerning treatment, food, and fluids the denial of which will result in death." The House and Senate passed differing versions of the legislation Thursday, but lawmakers left town for the Easter recess without resolving the differences.

Copies of the subpoenas obtained by Fox News Channel contain language specifically forbidding the scheduled removal of Terri's gastrostomy tube scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time Friday.

"None of those things reflecting data, information or records called for by this request shall be destroyed, modified, transferred, disconnected, discontinued or otherwise made inaccessible to the committee," the subpoenas warn. "This request is continuing in nature and applies to any newly deployed things required for the continued hydration and nutrition of Theresa Schiavo."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) described the purpose of the subpoenas in a written statement early Friday morning.

"Later this morning, we will issue a subpoena, which will require hospice administrators and attending physicians to preserve nutrition and hydration for Terri Schiavo to allow Congress to fully understand the procedures and practices that are currently keeping her alive," the statement explained. "The subpoena will be joined by a Senate investigation as well."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the congressional action is necessary in order to resolve the unanswered questions in Terri's case.

"If you're going to put somebody to death, allow them to die, starve them to death, I would think that you would want a complete neurological exam in reaching that conclusion," Frist said. "The fact is that, and this is what I'm told, that she hasn't had an MRI or PEP scan, which would suggest that she has not had a full neurological exam."

In a habeas corpus petition filed with the U.S. District Court in Tampa Florida, Schindler family attorney David Gibbs III, put forth a similar argument.

"Terri has not had a swallowing test since 1992, and has never been examined with state-of-the-art medical diagnostic equipment," Gibbs wrote. "She has had no diagnostic testing since 2002 to determine her current condition."

Speaking outside Terri's hospice Friday morning, Gibbs said society has grown accustomed to the concept of disposability.

"Life was never that," Gibbs insisted. "Life was always viewed as a sacred trust, a gift and something to be legally protected."

Howard Simon, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Florida office, told the Associated Press that the subpoenas are "clearly an effort to circumvent a lawful court order by a state judge.

"I am not sure how a subpoena, which is ordinarily done to produce records or somebody to testify, can essentially have the effect of an injunction overriding the orders of a court," Simon said, adding that lawyers for the Florida ACLU are working with Schiavo attorney George Felos to determine whether the subpoenas prevent Schiavo from denying food and fluids to his wife.

A representative of the House Government Reform Committee was en route to Florida from Washington, D.C., late Friday morning to deliver the subpoenas. The U.S. Marshal's Service has the legal authority to enforce the subpoenas and to arrest any person who attempts to interfere with their execution or to harm or kill a subpoenaed witness or, in any other way, prevent Congress from taking their testimony.

Felos has refused to respond to Cybercast News Service's inquiries about the case since mid-September of 2003.

Terri Schindler Schiavo suffered brain damage due to oxygen depravation under questionable circumstances on Feb. 25, 1990. Schiavo provided Terri with rehabilitation and therapy until he received a $1 million settlement and judgment in 1993 from a lawsuit claiming that Terri's condition was caused by a potassium imbalance that caused a heart attack. As Cybercast News Service has previously reported, famed New York forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden doubts that diagnosis.

"It's extremely rare for a 20-year-old to have a cardiac arrest from low potassium who has no other diseases," Baden said in 2003 on Fox News Channel's "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren," restating that such an occurrence would be "extremely unusual unless she had certain kind of diseases, which she doesn't have.

"She was in her 20s. The reason that she's in the state she's in is because there was a period of time, maybe five minutes or eight minutes, when not enough oxygen was going to her brain," Baden explained. "That can happen because the heart stops for five or eight minutes, but she had a healthy heart from what we can see."

Baden has a different theory about what caused Terri's brain injury, based on a 1991 bone-scan report that only became available to the Schindlers in 1998.

"That bone scan describes her as having a head injury. That's why she's there. That's why she's getting a bone scan," Baden explained, "and a head injury can cause, lead to the 'vegetative state' that Ms. Schiavo is [allegedly] in now."

Schiavo has repeatedly denied claims by Terri's biological relatives that he assaulted her. Police conducted only a cursory investigation of the incident and no charges were filed. Terri's family contends that since receiving the money, Schiavo has denied all meaningful medical treatment to Terri unless it was ordered by the courts.

To view the archive of the Cybercast News Service's coverage on Terri Schindler Schiavo, click here.

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