Friday, November 07, 2003

Why Doesn't Michael Divorce Terri?

A frequent question brought up regarding Michael Schiavo's relentless pursuit of Terri's death is, "Why doesn't he just divorce her and walk away?" Bob & Mary Schindler have begged Michael to do just that, saying that they will be happy to care for her. He would then be free to "move on" with his own life; marry his live-in girlfriend, etc.

Michael's response to that question, put to him last week by Larry King, was just as unconvincing as his confabulated tale of Terri's supposed wish not to be kept alive. All he can say are things like: "This is between Terri and myself. I'm not asking anybody to be mad at me. I'm not asking anybody to agree with me."

I have been thinking a lot about that question for the last few days, and I think I have some possible answers to it. Obviously, what I offer here are speculations, but they're speculations that I think fit what we know of the case.

Firstly, Michael might have some difficulty obtaining a divorce from Terri in Florida. From what Terri's parents told me and what I have learned about Florida law, Michael might find it difficult or even impossible to divorce Terri because she is disabled and unable to respond to a petition for divorce. The laws in Florida, in all likelihood, are written as they are to prevent people from divorcing their disabled spouses and dumping their care on the state. Of course, that well-intended law now works to Terri's detriment.

So then what about the possibility of moving Terri to another state, which would permit the divorce more readily? At first I thought the Schindlers might have objected to having Terri moved, but when I brought up the idea with Bob, he said, "if Michael wanted to move Terri to another state to divorce her, I'd say, 'let's do it tonight.'"

But, even then, there are other reasons why moving Terri and divorcing her wouldn't be acceptable to Michael. If Michael had divorced Terri say, five years ago, there would have still been around $700,000 in Terri's settlement fund. But in a divorce, Michael would be lucky to get even a third of it. Any competent lawyer representing Terri would realize that much of that money would be needed for Terri's care, and wouldn't have allowed Michael to get much of it at all.

No, a divorce wouldn't have given Michael what he wanted, if it was money he was after. In a divorce, Michael walks away with maybe $250,000. If Terri died, he would have gotten it all.

Now, of course, there isn't much money to be had. By all accounts, much of the money has gone to pay for Michael's lawyers. Michael says there's only about $50,000 left in the fund, and lawyer George Felos laments that he hasn't been paid since July (poor guy). Even allowing for Michael low-balling the amount left in the fund, there wouldn't be enough in there to care for Terri for more than a few years.

So now, for Michael, divorce is the last thing he wants. Not only in a divorce would he get nothing, he might even be required by the court to contribute to Terri's care, possibly for the rest of her life. He'd come out of the bargain worse off than when he entered it.

Then we come to what might be the more "intangible" considerations: Whatever motivations Michael may have had in seeking Terri's death, for George Felos, this is part of his Crusade of Death. Mr. Felos has built his legal practice around seeking the death of the diseased, elderly, and disabled. He has been a member of the Hemlock Society and is an advocate of euthanasia. Felos wants to expand the parameters within which we will find death not only acceptable, but desirable. And I think it was clear from the Larry King appearance that Felos is now the engineer of the train. Michael, it seems to me, may be a brute, but he is fundamentally a small, banal man. Michael is neither smart enough, nor evil enough, to have followed through for this long. And now Michael's only hope of seeing his wish for Terri's death come to fruition is to stay hitched to that train.

It would not suit Felos' purposes at all for Michael to divorce Terri. If that happened, Felos wouldn't have his test case. And Felos is not alone in wanting this test case. I do not think it is an accident that George Felos had Dr. Ronald Cranford appear as the chief medical witness for Michael. Dr. Cranford testified that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state, and will never recover. Although I hold, as I have written before, that Terri's "recoverability" is not the real issue, nonetheless Cranford's testimony on that score is hardly disinterested. He jokingly refers to himself as "Dr. Death," and for a fee he will come to your trial and testify that the person whose life you want ended is in a PVS. He was the leading medical voice calling for the deaths of Paul Brophy, Nancy Jobes, Nancy Cruzan, and Christine Busalucci. And what manner of death was prepared for all those about whom he testified? Removal of food and water, leading to death by dehydration/starvation.

Nancy Cruzan required no skilled nursing, no care but food and fluids, hygiene and turning to prevent bedsores. Indeed, she didn't require tube feeding. But Cranford testified that he would even consider spoon-feeding for Nancy Cruzan to be "medical treatment". Dr. Cranford has written that he foresees "that there may be extreme situations, and in the future increasingly common situations, where physician-assisted suicide may not only be permissible, but encouraged." In an op-ed piece for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune, Dr. Cranford advocated the starvation of Alzheimer's patients. Granny better hope and pray she remembers her grandkids' birthdays if Dr. Cranford gets his way.

Dr. Cranford is one of the leaders of the Death Crusade. He sees death as a solution to the problems posed by the elderly and disabled, and so wants more of it. George Felos demonstrates where he is coming from and what he is after by employing him. There are hundreds of thousands of elderly people in Florida, posing what Cranford called "challenges and costs" to society. A win in Terri's case would set a legal precedent, allowing Felos and the other acolytes of the euthanasia movement to help all those people to shuffle off this mortal coil a little more quickly than otherwise.

Mr. Felos has his own reasons for assisting Michael in his pursuit of Terri's death. Michael's reasons are, perhaps, more humble, but now they're attached to Felos.

Michael may have another reason for seeking Terri's death, though. It might be the same reason he has ordered that Terri is not to have an autopsy when she dies, and that her body is to be cremated...