During the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration’s recent conference on “judicial activism,” David C. Gibbs III, the Florida attorney who represented Robert and Mary Schindler, parents of Theresa “Terri” Schiavo, regaled a banquet audience with a version of events that sharply contrasted with the accepted account.
In February of 1990, Terri Schiavo abruptly collapsed at her home and slipped into a vegetative state. When, after several years, it became apparent that she was not going to recover, her husband, Michael Schiavo, initiated legal efforts to remove her feeding tube. The case became a rallying point for the Religious Right, which prodded Congress to intervene.
Federal courts rejected congressional intervention, and Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed. She died March 31 and is quickly becoming a martyr among Religious Right groups.
Gibbs told the crowd that early speculation was that Terri Schiavo had a heart attack or that she suffered from an eating disorder. These suspicions were later ruled out, he claimed.
“The third leading theory – and as you can see, the first two seem to be sort of eliminated – is that there was some form of foul play, that some form of strangulation or violence occurred, and again at the hand of the husband possibly, that actions were taken that caused her for about five minutes to not have oxygen reach into her brain,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs asserted that Michael Schiavo then denied his wife any therapy and eagerly sought to collect a $2-million malpractice award he had won on Terri Schiavo’s behalf. Terri Schiavo, Gibbs said, was killed by the state, even though she desperately wanted to live. He blasted Florida Judge George W. Greer for ruling that Michael Schiavo should be able to make decisions on behalf of his wife.
“Terri Schiavo was as alive as any person sitting here tonight…,” he told the crowd. “I mean, completely animated, completely responsive, desperately trying to talk.”
Gibbs asserted that Terri Schiavo might have recovered were it not for “all the deprivation and abuse she suffered at the hand of her husband.”
Gibbs’ retelling of the case was designed to evoke an emotional response – and it worked. Several attendees were in tears, others choked them back.
There was, however, one drawback to the tale so skillfully woven by the smooth-talking attorney: It has absolutely no basis in reality.
Claims that Michael Schiavo assaulted his wife were common on right-wing web sites, but there’s not a shred of evidence to support the assertion. The statement might qualify as slander. Schiavo was never charged by the police with any crime, nor was there evidence of foul play.
In December of 2003, a court-appointed guardian prepared a report on the case for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The guardian, Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health and medicine at the University of South Florida, said evidence pointed to organic causes for Schiavo’s condition.
Wolfson also found that Michael Schiavo was anything but an indifferent caregiver. In fact, he frequently berated hospital staff if he believed Terri’s care was not up to par. Nor did he deny her treatment. In 1991, Schiavo accompanied Terri to California where she received “an experimental thalamic stimulator implant in her brain” in an effort to revive her.
None of this matters to the Religious Right, which has constructed an alternative sequences of events. This version has now become its unshakeable truth.
At the conclusion of the banquet, the Rev. Rick Scarborough, founder of the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration, demanded that all the men in the room get down on their knees for 10 minutes of prayer.
Several attendees took turns leading the prayers.
One of them cried out, “Father, we echo the words of the apostle Paul, because we know Judge Greer claims to be a Christian. So as the Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 5, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus.”
As reporter Michelle Goldberg of Salon.com noted, “It sounded like a prayer for death.”
And, for all the claimed religiosity of the Council’s event, it appears its supporters forgot one cardinal tenet of the Scriptures: Thou shalt not bear false witness.