X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
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 litigation. 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 tube. 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 18. 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.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.