[Paleopsych] The Recorder: The Terri Schiavo Case: Following the Money

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The Recorder
By Jon B. Eisenberg
March 4, 2005

Have you ever wondered who is bankrolling the seemingly endless
courtroom effort to keep Terri Schiavo's feeding tube attached?

During the Watergate scandal, investigative reporters Bob Woodward and
Carl Bernstein were famously advised to "follow the money." In the
Schiavo case, the money leads to a consortium of conservative
foundations, with $2 billion in total assets, that are funding a legal
and public relations war of attrition intended to prolong Terri's life
indefinitely in order to further their own faith-based cultural agendas.

For the past 12 years, Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, and her
parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, have been locked in a bitter dispute
over whether to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from Terri,
whom the courts have determined is in a persistent vegetative state with
no hope of recovery. The Schindlers want the doctors to keep Terri
alive; Michael does not. Late last year, in Bush v. Schiavo, the Florida
Supreme Court ruled that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush violated the
constitutional separation of powers when he attempted to overturn a
court order to remove Terri's feeding tube. A few weeks ago, the U.S.
Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

I filed an amicus curiae brief in the Florida Supreme Court on behalf of
55 bioethicists and a disability rights organization opposing the
governor's action. Two months later I participated in a public debate on
the case at Florida State University. Among the participants supporting
Gov. Bush's position were Pat Anderson, one of multiple attorneys who
have represented the Schindlers, and Wesley Smith and Rita Marker, two
activists whose specialty is opposing surrogate removal of life-support
from comatose and persistent vegetative state patients. I found myself
wondering: "I'm doing this pro bono; are they?"

I did some Internet research and learned that many of the attorneys,
activists and organizations working to keep Schiavo on life support all
these years have been funded by members of the Philanthropy Roundtable.

The Philanthropy Roundtable is a collection of foundations that have
funded conservative causes ranging from abolition of Social Security to
anti-tax crusades and United Nations conspiracy theories. The Roundtable
members' founders include scions of America's wealthiest families,
including Richard Mellon Scaife (heir to the Mellon industrial, oil and
banking fortune), Harry Bradley (electronics), Joseph Coors (beer), and
the Smith Richardson family (pharmaceutical products).

I found a Web site called mediatransparency.com which tracks funding for
these foundations. Using just that Web site and the Schindlers' own
site, terrisfight.org, I learned of a network of funding connections
between some of the Philanthropy Roundtable's members and various
organizations behind the Schindlers, their lawyers and supporters, and
the lawyers who represented Gov. Bush in Bush v. Schiavo.

Here are a few examples:

Schindler lawyer Pat Anderson "was paid directly" by the anti-abortion
Life Legal Defense Foundation, which "has already spent over $300,000 on
this case," according to the foundation's Web site. Much of the support
for Life Legal Defense Foundation, in turn, comes from the Alliance
Defense Fund, an anti-gay rights group which collected more than $15
million in private donations in 2002 and admits to having spent money on
the Schiavo case "in the six figures," according to a recent article in
the Palm Beach Post. Mediatransparency.org states that between 1994 and
2002, the Alliance Defense Fund received $142,000 from Philanthropy
Roundtable members that include the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation and
the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.

Wesley Smith and Rita Marker also work for organizations that get
funding from Roundtable members. Smith is a paid senior fellow with the
Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates the
teaching of creationist "intelligent design" theory in public schools.
Between 1993 and 1997, the Discovery Institute received $175,000 from
the Bradley Foundation. Marker is executive director of the
International Task Force on Euthanasia, which lobbies against
physician-assisted suicide. In 2001, Marker's organization received
$110,390 from the Randolph Foundation, an affiliate of the Smith
Richardson family.

Roundtable members also played a role in financing the Bush v. Schiavo

The Family Research Council, which uses its annual $10 million budget to
lobby for prayer in public schools and against gay marriage, filed an
amicus curiae brief in Bush v. Schiavo supporting Gov. Bush, at the same
time its former president, attorney Kenneth Connor, was representing the
governor in that litigation. Between 1992 and 2000, the council received
$215,000 from the Bradley Foundation.

Another amicus brief backing Bush was filed by a coalition of disability
rights organizations that included the National Organization on
Disability and the World Institute on Disability. The former received
$810,000 between 1991 and 2002 from the Scaife Family Foundations, the
Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, and the JM Foundation; the latter
received $20,000 in 1997 from the JM Foundation.

These connections may be just the tip of the iceberg. I'm no Woodward or
Bernstein. I got this information using only the most rudimentary Google
skills. I imagine that a thorough search by a seasoned investigator
would yield quite a bit more.

With this kind of big bucks behind them, it's no wonder the Schindlers
and their allies have been able to keep the legal fight over their
daughter going for so long. And it's still not over. Although the U.S.
Supreme Court has refused to intervene, the Schindlers' lawyers are now
trying to prolong the litigation yet again through a series of
post-judgment motions which, regardless of their merit, could yield
stays that would continue to forestall the removal of Terri's feeding

Maneuvers within the past few months have included requests for a new
trial based on something the Pope said in a speech criticizing the
removal of feeding tubes from persistent vegetative state patients, and
on a newly minted claim that Terri was deprived of the right to
independent court-appointed counsel. Those maneuvers achieved the
desired delay but were ultimately unsuccessful. On Feb. 25, the trial
judge, George Greer, ordered Terri's feeding tube to be removed March

On Feb. 28, however, the Schindlers struck back by filing 15 written
motions and requesting 48 hours of court hearing time. These motions run
an extraordinary gamut, from a suggestion that Judge Greer should order
Terri and Michael Schiavo be immediately divorced, to a request for
"limited media access" to Terri, to a proposal for a 20-hour evidentiary
hearing on Terri's "medical/psychiatric/rehabilitative status." The ploy
is obvious: still more delay.

There is something wrong here. The Florida courts have ruled repeatedly
-- based on her doctors' testimony and evidence of statements she
previously made about her end-of-life wishes -- that Terri is in a
persistent vegetative state, would not want her life to be prolonged
under such circumstances, and should be allowed to die as the courts
have determined she would wish. But the conservative foundations, with
their massive funding, have turned the Schiavo case into a war of
attrition, where delay is victory.

They have met defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court. But they won't give up,
and they have the cash it takes to out-gun Michael Schiavo on every
front. It is going to take yet more judicial courage to ensure that the
rule of law prevails over big money. That will require Judge Greer to
reject the latest round of delaying motions, and the Florida Court of
Appeal and Supreme Court to back him up.

Jon B. Eisenberg is an appellate practitioner based in Oakland.

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