Death fuels family feud
Schindlers urge 'forgiveness' amid clash over burial, funeral plans
WorldNetDaily | April 1, 2005
While her body undergoes an autopsy by a Pinellas County medical examiner, the bitter family dispute over the death of brain-injured Terri Schiavo continues to play out through the media.
The latest conflict surrounds estranged husband Michael Schiavo's plans to cremate her body and not tell her parents and siblings where her ashes are buried. The Schindlers waged a seven-year court battle to block Michael Schiavo's efforts to have his 41-year-old wife's gastric feeding tube pulled.
The battle ended yesterday morning when Terri succumbed to her court-ordered death by starvation and dehydration 14 days after the removal of her feeding tube and the court order banning any nourishment.
"If Mike knew they would come in peace, he would have no problem with it," Scott Schiavo, Michael Schiavo's brother, told MSNBC during an interview at his home in Pennsylvania. He said the ashes would be buried in a plot left by an aunt and uncle in an undisclosed location in his home state, where Terri and Michael grew up.
This morning, Schiavo attorney George Felos denied the Schindlers would be kept in the dark.
"The parents will be notified of the location of the interment," he stated emphatically to Fox News.
When asked about reports the Schindlers would also be barred from the funeral service, Felos was more vague.
"I don't know ... what, if any, service Mr. Schiavo is planning at this time. He was literally taking this one day at a time at the hospice over this two week period."
WorldNetDaily reported Michael Schiavo petitioned the court back in November 2002 to have his wife cremated, anticipating a favorable ruling from 6th Judicial Circuit Court Judge George Greer on his motion to remove the feeding tube. In the motion, he sought to have the cost of the cremation and burial paid out of the trust funded by $700,000 awarded in a medical-malpractice lawsuit and established to cover Terri Schiavo's rehabilitative therapy and other medical expenses.
Greer ruled in February 2000 that Terri would not want to live by artificial means and that she remains in a persistent vegetative state, two conditions necessary under Florida law to withhold life-prolonging medical procedures from incapacitated patients. The Schindlers dispute both findings and their appeals to courts all the way up the legal chain to the U.S. Supreme Court delayed Greer's court-ordered tube removal until March 18.
The argument over the cremation played out in court motions and counter motions prior to Terri Schiavo's death, with the Schindlers arguing their devout Roman Catholic daughter would object to being cremated.
WND has reported Terri Schiavo collapsed in February 1990. She suffered severe brain damage when oxygen was cut off to her brain for several minutes. The cause of the collapse is disputed. Michael Schiavo won a malpractice lawsuit against Terri's physicians on the basis that they should have detected a potassium imbalance associated with bulimia that triggered a heart attack. Based on a suspicious full-body bone scan done of Terri Schiavo 13 months after her collapse, the Schindlers suspect Michael Schiavo had physically abused her and attempted to strangle her.
The rancor between the family members escalated amid word of Terri's death yesterday morning, when her siblings were ordered out of her room at Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., during her final moments.
Fr. Frank Pavone, a family spiritual adviser, told reporters he was in Terri's room with them when hospice staff instructed them to leave at the behest of Michael Schiavo.
"His heartless cruelty continues until this very last moment," Pavone said of Michael Schiavo, who has lived with another woman with whom he fathered two children for nearly a decade.
In an interview on Fox News, Felos detailed the clash.
"The hospice nurses came in to do an assessment of Terri and asked the brother and sister to leave and the brother apparently resisted and got into a dispute with the law enforcement officer. At this time, the hospice administrator came down the hall and said to Michael, 'Michael there's only a few moments left. If you want to see Terri before she dies, you have to come now. And by the way the brother wants to be there and suggests that the police be in the room to prevent any disputes.' And at that time Michael said, 'No, ask him to leave," Felos described.
"Terri had a right to die with dignity in an atmosphere of calm and peace and love and it was just not right for her to have a police officer standing at the head of her bed when she died," he added.
Later in the interview, Felos said another reason for Michael Schiavo's barring the siblings from his wife's bedside at the end was due to hurt feelings.
"This case for him has always been about carrying out Terri's wishes," he said. "Unfortunately, because the parents could not win in a court of law what was waged against Mr. Schiavo was a smear campaign and a campaign of misinformation and hate. And that was very, very hurtful. And I think that, unfortunately, it was one of the reasons why we were unable to have some sort of healing by the family at the end."
Two divergent characterizations remain of Terri's death. One put forth by "right-to-die" advocate Felos, and the other by the Schindlers and their supporters.
At a press conference yesterday, Felos spoke repeatedly of Terri Schiavo's "death process" by starvation and dehydration, describing it as "calm, peaceful and gentle." Today, he specified Terri Schiavo died with Michael Schiavo "cradling her head."
On Saturday, he described her as looking "beautiful" as she lay dying.
In contrast, Pavone said she "was obviously in deep distress and suffering."
Virtually all other eyewitnesses described Terri Schiavo as "gaunt," "drawn," "struggling" and "fighting like hell" for life.
Bobby Schindler, Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo, Bob Schindler and Mary Schindler hold press conference on March 25, 2005 (Photo Courtesy: David Nee)
"After these recent years of neglect at the hands of those who were supposed to protect and care for her, [Terri] is finally at peace with God for eternity," the Schindlers stated at a press conference yesterday afternoon.
In their statement on behalf of the whole Schindler family, the Suzanne Vitadamo, Terri's sister, and Bobby Schindler, her brother, urged forgiveness.
"Throughout this ordeal, we are reminded of the words of Jesus on the cross: 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do.' Our family seeks forgiveness for anything that we have done in standing for Terri's life that has not demonstrated the love and compassion required of us by our faith," Bobby Schindler said.
The pair admonished supporters who may channel their grief over Terri's death toward anger at Michael Schiavo.
"Threatening words dishonor our faith, our family, and our sister, Terri. We would ask that all those who support our family be completely kind in their words and deeds toward others," they said.
Terri Schiavo Archive