Disabled Woman's Family, Former Nurses Seek Inquiry

Jeff Johnson
Disabled Woman's Family, Former Nurses Seek Inquiry
Sun Oct 19 01:59:10 2003

Disabled Woman's Family, Former Nurses Seek Inquiry
By Jeff Johnson
CNSNews.com Congressional Bureau Chief
September 10, 2003

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Supporters of a disabled Florida woman embroiled in a euthanasia battle with her husband called Wednesday for a criminal investigation into the husband's alleged abuse of his incapacitated wife.

The request comes just days after three of Terri Schindler Schiavo's former caregivers submitted sworn affidavits detailing a years-long history of denied medical care, altered or destroyed medical records, and alleged attempts by Michael Schiavo to kill his wife.

Schiavo has repeatedly denied the allegations, as has his attorney, George Felos.

Felos was quoted in the Tampa Tribune as saying that claims of abuse by the former caregivers are "a bunch of garbage." Although he did acknowledge that Schiavo was often overbearing with Terri's nurses, he claimed the behavior was an attempt to obtain "the best care for her."

Felos also disputed claims that Terri had communicated with her nurses. "It didn't happen," Felos told the newspaper. "It's a fabrication."

But the denials haven't stopped efforts to dig deeper into the case. "A group of concerned citizens have put together a formal request to the state's attorney, Bernie McCabe, asking him to investigate allegations of abuse upon Terri Schindler Schiavo by her husband, Michael Schiavo," said Pamela Hennessy, spokeswoman for the Schindler family.

Based on affidavits included with a federal lawsuit filed by the Schindlers on Aug. 30, Schiavo has allegedly forbidden medical professionals to provide his wife with any therapy or rehabilitation and has allegedly even attempted to cause her death.

As the result of a brain injury she suffered in 1990 under questionable circumstances, complicated by a lack of therapy for more than a decade, Terri has required nutrition and hydration through a gastrostomy or "feeding tube."

The woman has not had a guardian ad-litem for most of the time she has been disabled because the judge with jurisdiction over probate matters in her county ruled that Terri's sole legal guardian, her husband, is qualified to determine what is in her best interest.

But Schiavo began withholding nutrition and hydration shortly after winning $1.2 million on her behalf in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Since receiving the money, Schiavo has provided only subsistence care for his wife.

Terri's parents have been trying to obtain guardianship and provide their daughter with rehabilitative therapy that medical professionals have said will allow her to "improve significantly."

Allegations prompt call for criminal probe into suspected abuse

One particular allegation that was "very disturbing" to Hennessy and prompted the request for a criminal investigation was lodged by Carla Sauer Iyer, a registered nurse who cared for Terri from about April of 1995 until August of 1996.

Iyer alleged that Terri's blood sugar levels were normally "very stable due to the uniformity of her diet." While she suspects Schiavo of injecting Terri with regular insulin to drive her into hypoglycemic shock, she acknowledged that she has no proof.

"She noted at least five times when Michael Schiavo would come to visit Terri, close the door to her room and then emerge sometime later and leave," Hennessy related. "On those occasions, Iyer had tested Terri's blood sugar, and the level was so low it wasn't even registering, she would administer dextrose to get Terri...out of danger."

Iyer's affidavit detailed the alleged incidents.

"Terri would be trembling, crying hysterically and would be very pale and have cold sweats. It looked to me like Terri was having a hypoglycemic reaction, so I'd check her blood sugar," Iyer recalled. "The glucometer reading would be so low that it was below the range where it would register an actual number reading."

Iyer and the other caregivers recalled numerous occasions when they would record information in Terri's medical charts or patient logs indicating that she was alert and responsive, speaking to them, laughing at jokes or funny stories, and complying with simple instructions.

Those records, they allege, were deleted from the files and, in some cases, were later seen in trashcans at nursing stations.

Hennessy said the letter requesting the investigation was delivered to McCabe Tuesday. An unidentified McCabe staff member told CNSNews.com late Wednesday that "I have been advised that we did not receive anything."

Motion to disqualify alleges judge talked to reporters, others about case

Terri's parents also want Pinellas-Pasco Florida Circuit Judge George Greer removed from their daughter's case. Attorneys for Robert and Mary Schindler filed a motion to disqualify Greer for alleged violations of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. Greer has reportedly denied that motion, but his decision is expected to be appealed.

"There is a motion to disqualify, based on evidence that Judge Greer is discussing this case with his colleagues and also the media," Hennessy said. "He is not to do that without litigating attorneys present."

The Schindlers' lead attorney, Pat Anderson, claims Greer talked to reporters about the case after a teleconference between the judge and attorneys for both parties ended on Tuesday, Aug. 26.

"On Wednesday or Thursday, I learned from a local reporter that, in fact, the reporters stayed in Judge Greer's chambers after the conclusion of the telephonic hearing for some period of time, asking him questions and recording his responses," Anderson charged. "It is my firm conviction that Judge Greer, in effect, held an impromptu press conference about the merits of the case pending before him without counsel for the parties being present."

Anderson referenced testimony from other individuals, corroborating her accusation that Greer had discussed the case with reporters, colleagues and elected officials outside his office, in alleged violation of the Florida Canons of Judicial Conduct.

"It is my belief that Judge Greer is no longer possessed of the cold, impartial neutrality that the Canons require of any judge," Anderson wrote in her affidavit supporting the motion.

Hennessy said she had received word Wednesday that Greer had rejected the motion to disqualify himself from the case. But that is not the end of the request.

"There are gatekeepers in place," Hennessy said. "I'm not certain how the attorneys would need to proceed in order to do that."

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

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mailto: shogenson@cnsnews.com  

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