When she was a child, she was taught that if she did not brush her teeth, they would rot out. Now her teeth are rotting out, but no one speaks for her.
When she was a child, her parents took her to the doctor when she had an infection. Now, recurring infections and bedsores ravage her body, but no one speaks for her.
When she became disabled, her husband became her guardian and obtained more than $1.5 million from a malpractice case for her rehabilitation and health care. But her funds have been used to warehouse, not rehabilitate her, and to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers hired by her husband to let her die by starvation and dehydration, a slow, painful, inhumane method of death. But no one speaks for her.
If she were a stray dog or a cat, she would be protected by Florida law from inhumane treatment. Her death would be swift and painless. But as a disabled human being, her death sentence will not be so kind.
When she was a child, her parents instilled in her the need to commit to a relationship before she married. Now her husband lives with a woman and their two illegitimate children in a marriage-like relationship — and he continues to speak for Terri Schiavo.
If Terri Schiavo was your responsibility, adult protective services would take custody of her and charge you with felony abuse and neglect. And you would be convicted.
But no one will be charged or convicted for abusing or neglecting Terri Schiavo because her lack of care and the waste of her money have been the result of judicial orders issued by Judge George Greer, a publicly elected Florida Circuit Judge in the Tampa-Clearwater-St. Petersburg area.
After Terri Schiavo suffered still unexplained brain damage in 1990, her husband, Michael, was appointed as her guardian because he had priority under Florida law. A guardian is a fiduciary created by law for people who don’t have written financial and health care powers of attorney. Because the legislature of Florida created guardianships to be administered by the courts, judges are mandated to strictly comply with the dictates of the law. But Judge Greer hasn’t.
Even though the law clearly requires guardians of disabled persons to file comprehensive annual reports and care plans, and even though the law clearly requires guardians to not deviate from those plans, Judge Greer has virtually excused Terri’s adulterous husband from filing these plans and reports, a clear violation of Terri’s rights and the law, especially in light of notes in Terri’s records over the years that she has not been properly cared for.
Yet, even without guidelines for her guardian-husband to follow, Judge Greer has authorized payment of expenses to warehouse Terri, but not for one penny’s worth of the rehabilitation that was promised by Michael Schiavo when he sought – and received – large malpractice settlements that were deposited for Terri and controlled under the auspices of Judge Greer.
Rather than pay for swallowing therapy that may have allowed her feeding tube to be removed, Judge Greer authorized payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Terri’s rehabilitation money to lawyers hired by her husband to help her die by removing that same feeding tube.
And, of late, at Michael Schiavo’s request, despite the fiduciary obligation of the guardian to grow the account for Terri’s care, Judge Greer has ordered that Terri’s investments be liquidated, that the annual return be slashed, and that her money set aside to pay still more attorney’s fees in order that Terri’s care would be paid for by Medicaid – that’s right, so that you and I can pay for her care while her money is used to put her to death.
Guardian Michael has conflicts of interest and should not be serving as a fiduciary for his wife, not only because he stands to gain financially at her death, but also because he is living in a relationship that is tantamount to marriage with his paramour and their two children.
When Michael’s conflicts were raised by a lawyer then acting as Terri’s guardian ad litem, he was promptly removed, and Judge Greer has chosen not to replace him. Think about it: Terri Schiavo has had no independent representation during proceedings in which her money is being used to pay lawyers hired by her husband to carry out a sentence of death by starvation and dehydration.
Based on recent case filings, Michael Schiavo, as his wife’s fiduciary, is accused of withholding evidence of a bone scan done on Terri in 1991 that substantiates fractures at or about the time of her brain damage. Yet, not surprisingly, Judge Greer has ignored this relevant evidence, even though it touches on yet another facet of Michael Schiavo’s conflict of interest.
Think about it: If Judge Greer has not required the filing of mandated plans and reports, how could Michael Schiavo have acted legally as Terri’s guardian when, by law, the guardian must act within the guidelines of the filed plans? If there were no plans and all of Michael’s acts were unauthorized, how could Judge Greer approve payments for Terri’s care?
While most of us think of the courts as the safest place to preserve the rights of disabled persons, Judge Greer has set new standards for judicial undersight. Judge George Greer may well be an aberration, a deviation from the norm, but what he has done to – and not done for – Terri Schiavo shocks the conscience of a civilized society.
Face it: Judge Greer will never be a posterboy for appropriate judicial conduct, but if he and others like him are not dealt with swiftly and appropriately, you and I may someday find ourselves in a position like Terri Schiavo — with no one to speak for us.
Jan Warner, a matrimonial and elder law attorney, and Jan Collins, an editor and writer, co-author NextSteps®, a weekly newspaper column about matters affecting the elderly and disabled (www.nextsteps.net)