updated 3/25/2005 2:17:56 PM ET 2005-03-25T19:17:56

Guest: Jay Sekulow, William Coplin, Geoffrey Fieger, Randall Terry, Jay Sekulow, Geoffrey Fieger, Jesse Jackson, Kevin O‘Rourke, Richard Land

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, THE ABRAMS REPORT:  Coming up at this moment, a federal judge in Tampa is beginning a hearing that could be Terri Schiavo‘s parents‘ last opportunity to keep their daughter alive.

This after the U.S. Supreme Court again refused to take up the case.  Now the Schiavo parents say they have new evidence that Terri‘s actually more aware than many believe.

And we talk to the man leading the protests.  Randall Terry says he‘ll do almost anything to make sure Terri‘s feeding tube is reinserted.  But how far are he and his supporters willing to go now that Terri‘s days are numbered?

Plus, Terri‘s husband Michael now has children with another woman. 

Should that mean he has less say over his wife‘s fate?

The program about justice starts now.

Hi, everyone.  First up on the docket tonight, right now, what could be the final hearing in Terri Schiavo‘s parents‘ quest to keep their daughter alive.  They are back in this federal court with their attorney.  The hearing is expected to start at any moment.

Bob and Mary Schindler say they have new proof their daughter is not in a persistent vegetative state, but rather in a “minimally conscious state”—far more aware, they say, than many believed.

A federal judge in Tampa is going to hear that argument at any moment. 

Of course, bring you updates on that as it‘s happening.

You might have thought this case was over this morning after the U.S.  Supreme Court refused without comment to hear Terri‘s parents‘ appeal, and Florida district court Judge George Greer, ruled against the state‘s Department of Children and Families‘ attempt to intervene to take custody of Terri and restore her feeding tube.

But now, Federal Judge James Whitmore, who turned down an appeal from the Schindlers on Tuesday is hearing the case again, a case that just seems to get more emotional every day.

My take.  I believe this latest effort is one of the most disingenuous of all.  A single doctor, who‘s never actually examined Terri—seen her, but never examined her—suddenly provides the family with false hope.

And I say false, because almost everyone in the medical community believes that Terri‘s in a persistent vegetative state.  It‘s almost uniform, as long as you‘re not a congressman or senators or somehow affiliated with the cause here.

Those who objectively examined Terri say her cerebrum is nearly liquefied.  She‘s remained in this state for 15 years.  Even her parents conceded that she was in a persistent vegetative state until, I guess, their lawyers realized it might be hurting their legal argument.

It‘s time for people with a political agenda to stop playing with this family‘s emotions and hopes for Terri.

Joined now by criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger, and in turn by Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.  He‘s represented Terri‘s parents before the U.S. Supreme Court.  And Dr.  William Coplin, a neurologist and critical care specialist from Wayne State University.

Thank you all for joining us.

Jay, what am I getting wrong here?

JAY SEKULOW, CHIEF COUNSEL, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW & JUSTICE:  Well, number one, of course, they have a right to amend their complaint and go back into court.  That‘s their right under civil procedure, and that‘s what they‘re doing.

The Supreme Court did refuse their plea today, but the are entitled to do this.  And if you‘ve got a death case—and that‘s what this is at this point.  I mean, I look at it and I say it‘s a disability case, but it‘s a death sentence.

You exercise every available option.  And I don‘t think there‘s a lawyer on this panel tonight that would say, as the lawyer, you don‘t go in and try to represent your client (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here.

ABRAMS:  I think that‘s entirely fair.  I don‘t mean to be criticizing the lawyers for going to court.  I guess what I‘m criticizing is the underlying argument here.

Let me read from some of what Dr. William—number one, let‘s do number one here—William Cheshire said, a neurologist who they‘re depending on.  This is it.  They‘re saying, this new account makes all the difference.

“There remain huge uncertainties—in regard to Terri‘s true neurological status.  I believe that, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, there is a great likelihood that Terri is in a minimally conscious state [rather] than a persistent vegetative state.”

Dr. Coplin, what do you make of that?

DR. WILLIAM COPLIN, NEUROLOGIST:  Well, the differences between minimally conscious states and vegetative states are somewhat open to debate.

The patient who is vegetative—the term vegetative means that sort of the bookkeeping functions of the body can go on unaided, as long as there is medical support.  And when I say unaided, meaning that the bowels will still work if fed.  The lungs may still work.  The heart will still beat.

But that the big thing that divides the two are the abilities of patients, some say, to understand or at least to sense some things that may be going on in their environment.

ABRAMS:  And what do you make of this doctor‘s assessment?

COPLIN:  Well, I have—I‘ve never examined Ms. Schiavo, and I do not...

ABRAMS:  Neither has he.

COPLIN:  ... by any, you know, means want to make anything that is a statement about her, per se.

The issue is that, regardless of whether one calls one minimally conscious or vegetative, these are patients whose—who cannot make their needs known to those around them, be they caretakers, be their family.

And that is an important distinction from those who are conscious.

ABRAMS:  And here‘s what Judge Greer had to say about this issue.  He evaluated this question about this supposedly new account from this doctor.

“Schiavo cannot live without a nutrition and hydration tube, and Dr.  Cheshire does not suggest otherwise.  By clear and convincing evidence it was determined that she did not want to live under such burdensome conditions, and that she would refuse such medical treatment assistance.”

Geoffrey Fieger, go ahead.

GEOFFREY FIEGER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Yes, again, the point isn‘t whether some doctor who‘s never examined her—and apparently they‘re coming out of the woodwork now.  We‘ve got Senator Frist, a heart surgeon, who presupposes to be able to diagnose people he‘s never examined, and now this doctor.

That isn‘t the question.  The question is, she can‘t feed herself.  She‘s dependent upon life support.  And the court has determined that she‘s made a decision that she doesn‘t want to be kept alive artificially.  And the court is carrying out her decision.

The real battle here is whether she decides or her parents decide—not whether her husband decides, not whether anybody else decides.  The real battle here is, the court has decided, based on the law of this country, Dan, under the Nancy Cruzan case and all of the cases that have since come up, that whether her wishes are being carried out, and nobody will respect that.

And nobody can present any evidence that it isn‘t her wish.  In fact, who wants to be in that condition?  I don‘t.  Do you?

ABRAMS:  Jay Sekulow, I think you wanted to make a point earlier about that other (ph) doctor (ph).  Go ahead.

SEKULOW:  Well, yes.  Two things.  One thing the doctor said that has me very concerned.

The fact that she‘s not communicative, and we don‘t know the extent of her cognitive capabilities is not a reason to treat a disabled person as if they should now not be fed, because the trend on that could be very dangerous for the disabled.  That‘s number one.

FIEGER:  That isn‘t what‘s being said.

SEKULOW:  Excuse me.  I‘m just saying what the doctor said about the medical condition.

Number two—and I think this is important—this doctor that evidence is being submitted as we speak, literally, Dan, is not some unheard of doctor here.

This is a physician with the Mayo Clinic, a neurologist who has reviewed the records of the case.  He‘s not—I don‘t know what the extent of the exam has been at this point, but he is credible.

He wouldn‘t have come forward, I don‘t think, and said these things with a prestigious institution like the Mayo Clinic if he didn‘t mean it.

And what Geoff seems to forget—and I know nobody likes this law of Congress, it doesn‘t appear—but there is this law that Congress passed that the president signed, that requires de novo trial review.  A trial de novo, basically at this point.  And that‘s what‘s been missing here.

ABRAMS:  Let‘s explain what that means.

SEKULOW:  Now, the lawyers hopefully this time are going to get the evidence in, and this time give the judge a fair shot at it.

ABRAMS:  let me explain what that means.  It means to basically look at the evidence anew.

FIEGER:  They said no.

ABRAMS:  All right.

FIEGER:  But the law didn‘t provide any new rights or new remedies ...

ABRAMS:  But let me just focus on something else.  But why—but Jay, suddenly this new doctor is coming forward.  And that‘s what the hearing is about that is about to begin at any moment.

Why should a single doctor, who seems to be at odds with almost everyone else in the medical community ...

SEKULOW:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... how is that a reason to suddenly say, we‘ve got a new federal case here?

SEKULOW:  Well, for two reasons.  Number one, you‘ve got a statute that allows this to go forward this way.  You‘re allowed to bring in new evidence, because that‘s what the de novo trial is here.  That‘s number one.

And number two, this was not a situation—if you look at the entire case here, starting from beginning to end—this is not a situation where Terri Schiavo has had no doctor say at any point that she‘s not in a persistent vegetative state.

There‘s been four that said she is.  There‘s two that says she‘s not. 

Now you‘ve got a doctor saying she may be minimally cognitive.

ABRAMS:  It‘s a little bit of a skewing of the numbers, actually, with regard to the doctors.  But ...

SEKULOW:  Well, that‘s with doctors looking at it with the record.  You know, I‘m appellate lawyer.  I look at it with the records that have been submitted.

Now, having said that, here‘s really the issue.  Do they have the right to go in as the lawyers?  Dan, you and I both know this.  Geoff knows this, too.  You make your best case.  This includes taking every last measure.

In other words, it‘s almost as if you‘re using the new DNA discovery in a death penalty case.

ABRAMS:  But I—and look, again, Geoffrey, I‘m not criticizing the lawyer for saying, you know, we‘ve got to do everything we can here.  Fine.  Let the lawyer go ahead.  But let‘s deal with the substance of what we‘re talking about.

We‘re talking about a doctor.  A single doctor, who‘s coming forward and offering an opinion that, look, it‘s hard for us to find.

We called doctors at hospitals all over the country, trying to come on to support the position of Terri‘s parents.  And at this point it has been nearly impossible to find doctors at top institutions, who are going to support that position.

FIEGER:  Not only that, there‘s been 12 doctors who have examined her for the court, for the guardians ad litem, not with any agenda whatsoever, who have documented the persistent vegetative state.

But something to be made—but the point to be made is, that‘s not going to change anything.  I promise you, the result of the federal hearing is, that whether one calls it a minimally conscious state or a persistent vegetative state is not going to change the ultimate result, which is that the artificial means being utilized to keep her alive are not desired by her.

And right-to-life and, unfortunately, Terri‘s parents do not control her life anymore.

ABRAMS:  All right.

FIEGER:  She controls it.

SEKULOW:  Unfortunately, her life appears to be controlled, in a situation.  You have a convergence of facts here, one of which is—and let‘s face it, nobody wants to talk about it, but it‘s a fact.

If you had the parents and the husband in agreement, there wouldn‘t be an issue here.  They‘re not in agreement.

And to complicate it more, the husband has a, in essence, a common law wife and a new family.  He went on with his life, so to speak.

ABRAMS:  But with the parents‘ OK.  I mean, the parents were like meeting women he was dating and et cetera, in the years afterward.

SEKULOW:  Well, I think, you know, I think ...

ABRAMS:  They didn‘t seem to care then.

SEKULOW:  I think what happened is, this was a convergence of activities.  You know, there was no discussion about this desire to have the feeding tube removed until seven years ago.

FIEGER:  These decisions are made ...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Let me take a quick break.  We‘re all going to come back.  Geoffrey, Jay, doctor, please stick around.

We are waiting for a hearing to begin that many say could be the last effort for the parents of Terri Schiavo.  We have got a live picture up of that courthouse.  We are going to bring you any information as soon as we get it.

And, we talked to the man leading the protests outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice, Randall Terry, a veteran of the abortion war.

The question:  How far will he go, and some of his supporters, to try to keep Terri alive?

Plus, this is not just a political and legal battle.  It‘s also a religious one.  We talk with religious leaders, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, about whether religion provides answers that the law cannot.

Your e-mails, abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name, where you‘re writing from.  I know that you all feel very, very strongly about this topic on both sides.

Thanks for all your (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, we are waiting for any information out of an emergency hearing in federal court in connection with the Terri Schiavo case.  Many say this could be the last of the full hearings.  Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, HEADLINE NEWS:  MSNBC keeps you up to the minute every 15 minutes.  I‘m Milissa Rehberger with the latest now.

Many in Lebanon are welcoming the news that there may be an independent inquiry into the assassination of its former prime minister.  A U.N. report says the Lebanese investigation was not adequate under international standards.

Searchers have found the body of a worker who was missing after yesterday‘s explosion at a Texas oil refinery.  It brings the total number of dead from that blast to 15.  Still no word on what caused it.

And Michael Jackson‘s defense is taking aim at fingerprint evidence as a Secret Service expert has testified that fingerprints of Jackson‘s accuser found on an adult magazine could have degraded in the year before it was tested.

You‘re up to date.  Back to THE ABRAMS REPORT.

ABRAMS:  We are waiting for a hearing to begin in federal court in the Terri Schiavo case.  Yes, you‘ve heard that before, but this is based on what the parents of Terri Schiavo say is essentially new evidence.

They are now heading back to federal court with the affidavit of a doctor who works at the Mayo Clinic, a very prestigious hospital in this country, saying the following.

“Based on my review of extensive medical records documenting Terri‘s care over the years, on my personal observations of Terri, and on my observations of Terri‘s responses in the many hours of videotapes taken in 2002, she demonstrates a number of behaviors that I believe cast a reasonable doubt on the prior diagnosis of persistent vegetative state.”

Jay Sekulow, why now?

SEKULOW:  Well, why now?  Because good doctors are starting to look at this.  Because what happens in these cases, like in a death penalty case, the closer you get to the sentence being executed, so to speak, more people come to the aid.  And that‘s what‘s happened here.

This is like the DNA discovery in death penalty cases.  It‘s always at the end.  It‘s always after a number of court cases have been reviewed, and it‘s when people are realizing, this is it.

So this is what happens.

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey?

SEKULOW:  I don‘t think you could say the Mayo Clinic doctor here is not qualified.  He‘s reviewed the records.  He‘s reviewed tapes.

I mean, he‘s done an extensive review, and he‘s from the Mayo Clinic, so it‘s a prestigious institution.  But he‘s not going to put his reputation on the line for no reason.

FIEGER:  The absurdity of this is approximately 4,000 times a day in the United States, life support, similar to Terry Schiavo, is removed by doctors at the request of a myriad of different family members.

If we actually are expecting government to intrude in those decisions, you don‘t have enough money in the United States from day one.  We‘d be bankrupt tomorrow, Dan.  This is absurd what‘s going on.

She is being made a pawn in basically a game that‘s being—a political game—that‘s being played by right-to-life.

And she‘s the pawn.  It can‘t be—no one could employ the type of review procedures.  We‘d have to close down the courts for 4,000 people a day.

Her life support, the provision of medical care to her is not undifferent than 4,000 other people who receive respirators and others.

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to ask ...

FIEGER:  You couldn‘t possibly do that.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask Dr. Coplin a question.  I have just read this quote again from this doctor at the Mayo Clinic.  And you heard Jay Sekulow saying, look.  It‘s not going to put his reputation on the line, et cetera.

But this is definitely—this opinion is out of the mainstream with the majority, the vast majority of the medical community.

COPLIN:  Well, I can‘t speak to the medical community.  Again, I‘ve never seen Ms. Schiavo.

The question, I guess, comes in the differentiation between the two, and what it means regardless, whether one is a persistent vegetative state, or one is in a minimally conscious state, as we are looking at two conditions with no meaningful recovery to neurological function and interaction with those arts that make us human.

ABRAMS:  So, you say it doesn‘t make a difference.  That it doesn‘t make a difference how you define it.

COPLIN:  I‘m not sure what difference it makes in terms of looking at the outcome of someone and their ability to interact and become social human beings.

SEKULOW:  Well, doctor, are you saying—maybe I‘m misunderstanding here.  And I certainly don‘t have a medical degree.

But are you saying that because someone‘s cognitive capability of communicating with others is not developed to a point where it‘s satisfactory and meets some minimal standard where it‘s interpersonal, that those people are not entitled to some kind of dignity and recognition of life?

COPLIN:  That is not at all what I‘m saying.

SEKULOW:  Then why does it matter ...

COPLIN:  What it is ...

SEKULOW:  Let me ...

ABRAMS:  Let the doctor answer.

SEKULOW:  Go ahead, go ahead, please.  Yes, go ahead.

COPLIN:  What it is I‘m saying is that these are minimally conscious

...

SEKULOW:  Minimally—what does that mean?  Minimally conscious. 

What does that mean?

COPLIN:  Well, one of the differentiations that have been used is, can people hear ...

SEKULOW:  Right.

COPLIN:  ... and I‘m not saying understand—but hear or have some sense of what is going on in the environment.

SEKULOW:  So let‘s say she was minimally conscious, that she can hear and may not have great cog—she‘s obviously had severe brain damage.

Does that mean that somehow she should be starved to death?

ABRAMS:  No.  Look.  You know that‘s not what the doctor‘s saying. 

The bottom ...

SEKULOW:  Well, I don‘t—I don‘t really understand it, Dan.

ABRAMS:  I‘m not—look, he ...

SEKULOW:  I‘m (UNINTELLIGIBLE) real hard.

ABRAMS:  Look.  The bottom line is he‘s saying that—he‘s not really

·         he‘s not really—he‘s says that he—he‘s not—hasn‘t examined her, and as a result doesn‘t want to make a medical opinion about it.

SEKULOW:  When I picked a doctor from—when I picked—no disrespect—I picked a doctor from the Mayo Clinic ...

ABRAMS:  All right.  That‘s fine.

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  It means that she doesn‘t want to live like that.  She doesn‘t have to ...

ABRAMS:  Wait.  I‘m going to put up number five here.  You want to trust him?  How about a doctor who actually examined Terri, unlike this doctor, and I quote:

“There isn‘t a reputable, credible neurologist in the world who won‘t find her in a vegetative state.”

That is the opinion of—the doctor doesn‘t want to say it.  I‘ll tell you—that‘s the opinion of the majority of the medical community.  That doesn‘t mean that they‘re necessarily right.

But that‘s the opinion of the majority.

SEKULOW:  Yes, but I get awfully concerned.  Why not take the last step here and let it be reviewed.  It‘s a death penalty case at this point.

ABRAMS:  It‘s being reviewed again ...

FIEGER:  Reviewed for what?

ABRAMS:  ... and again and again and again ...

SEKULOW:  Well, that‘s what‘s happens ...

FIEGER:  Reviewed for what?

ABRAMS:  And the same answers keep coming up.  It‘s the same.  And there‘s nothing new.

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  She can‘t see.  She can‘t hear.  She can‘t think.  She can‘t eat.  She can‘t swallow.

Now, who wants to keep ...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Got to wrap it up.  Jay gets the final 15 seconds, then I‘ve got to call it.

SEKULOW:  Well, you know, I think what you—first of all, let‘s not penalize the lawyers here.  They‘re doing a valiant effort of trying to ...

FIEGER:  Agreed.

SEKULOW:  ... go in there one more time.

FIEGER:  Agreed.

SEKULOW:  They have the right to do that.  They‘re doing that.  That‘s what‘s really before this court and the federal statute which says ...

ABRAMS:  All right.  You guys are coming back.  Jay and Geoffrey are coming back.

Doctor, thank you very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.

COPLIN:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...

ABRAMS:  Awaiting word from the federal court in Tampa.  Again, this is what we‘re talking about.  This new evidence that the family, that the parents of Terri Schiavo say they have.  They‘ve got a doctor‘s affidavit.  They‘re heading back to federal court.

And when we come back, Randall Terry, the man leading the protest outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice.  He‘s also been the parents‘ spokesperson.

He‘s now saying Republicans are not doing enough for Terri.

So, how far is he and some of his supporters willing to go?

And Michael Schiavo gets to decide what happens to his wife Terri. 

But he‘s not in a relationship, has children with another woman.

Should he make decisions for Terri, just because, even though they never got divorced?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY SCHINDLER, MOTHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  Please, someone out there, stop this cruelty.  Stop the insanity.  Please let my daughter live.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, it appears Terri Schiavo‘s family is running out of time, running out of options in an effort to keep their daughter alive.

They‘ve been turned down by a federal judge, twice by a federal appeals court and refused by the Supreme Court for a fifth time since they began.  The legal battle, not to mention the losses in the Florida courts.

And there is a hearing that we are expecting to begin in federal court.  They say they have new evidence that supports the notion that she is not in a persistent vegetative state.

We‘re waiting for word out of that courthouse as we speak.

The question some are asking is, is somebody going to take matters into their own hands?

Joining me now is Randall Terry, spokesman for Terri Schiavo‘s parents and family.  Thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right.  Now, I understand that you ...

RANDALL TERRY, FOUNDER, OPERATION RESCUE:  My pleasure, sir.

ABRAMS:  ... that you‘re going to be—you‘re talking about holding a vigil outside of the governor‘s mansion to urge some sort of action.

TERRY:  That is correct.

ABRAMS:  ... tomorrow.  What more can they do?  I mean, it seems that the governor, the legislatures have done everything that they can.

TERRY:  We would hardily disagree with that.

The problem is this.  These folks have the authority to act, but it doesn‘t appear that they have the will to act.

ABRAMS:  What can they do?

TERRY:  We have been very disappointed.  In other words, Congress issues these subpoenas.  And the reason I pulled this out is because I was getting a feedback.

The governor issued—or rather, the legislature of the United States issued these subpoenas, but then did not have the will to enforce them.

Governor Bush yesterday said that DCF has the authority to intervene, but then didn‘t use the will and the force of the government to use that authority, the statutory authority.

So we have been bitterly disappointed.  And we‘re hoping still that Governor Bush will intervene.

ABRAMS:  But you know the court, I mean, the Florida court.

TERRY:  And that‘s why we‘re going to go have—that‘s why we‘re going to have the ...

ABRAMS:  Right.

TERRY:  ... that‘s why we‘re going to have the vigil outside the governor‘s mansion.

ABRAMS:  The court—but the court has specifically ordered law enforcement in the State of Florida not to do anything.  And you‘re basically saying they should just go do it anyway?

TERRY:  What we‘re saying is that we have three separate but equal branches of government.  Separate but equal.

If the governor is going to put all of the executive powers at the foot of some probate judge, and allow a probate judge to suspend the statutes of the State of Florida—because this is statutory authority to intervene—then what we should do is, we should have every policeman who ever stops a speeder, or who ever arrests somebody, or who ever enforces the statute that they have at their disposal, to first go to a judge and ask permission if it‘s OK to uphold the law.

This is crazy.  He needs to intervene.  He has the authority as the governor, and he has the authority under DCF.

ABRAMS:  And yet, again, what you‘re saying though is that they should ignore the court.

TERRY:  Yes.  You know, governor—Teddy Roosevelt as a president did not have the authority to start the park system, but he did it.  Thomas Jefferson did not have the authority to make the Louisiana Purchase, but he did it.

ABRAMS:  But, wait, wait.  But that‘s a different issue.

TERRY:  Our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is ...

ABRAMS:  But that‘s a different issue.

TERRY:  ... that Governor Bush does have the authority to do it.

ABRAMS:  Wait, wait.  Right.

TERRY:  And he just needs the courage to do it.

ABRAMS:  Very quickly, I‘ve got to wrap it up.  Some have said that if the governor doesn‘t act, if the legislature doesn‘t act, that you and some of your supporters may try and do something on your own.  Is that going to happen?

TERRY:  Well, do what?

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know.

TERRY:  I mean, this is like an armed fort (ph).

ABRAMS:  Storm the hospice.  I don‘t know.

TERRY:  No.  Absolutely not.  No.  There have been several people who have walked up symbolically with a glass of water.  And we think that that‘s appropriate.  But no one‘s going to do anything crazy.

We want to save her life.  And we are begging the governor, begging the DCF to uphold the law.  We have to stop thinking that the word of a judge equals the rule of law, because it isn‘t.

ABRAMS:  Well, I don‘t know.

TERRY:  In fact, this judge is showing more courage to kill Terri than Governor Bush and the DCF are to saving Terri.

ABRAMS:  Well, it‘s—I‘ve got to wrap it up.  It‘s every court, though, but anyway, I apologize for the technical difficulties you‘re having.  Sorry.

Come right back.  We‘ve got more on this thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  As we wait for word from a federal court in the Terri Schiavo case, we will ask the question, if a spouse commits adultery, should he or she lose the right to make a life-or-death decision?  We‘ll debate.

Now for the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back. 

This is a live shot of a federal courthouse.  We are waiting any word on this emergency hearing where the parents of Terri Schiavo say that they have new evidence that Terri is far more aware than anyone realized up to this point.  We are waiting to hear anything from that federal court.  And will bring it to you as soon as we hear. 

Terri Schiavo‘s husband, Michael, at this point has been winning the legal battles over the removal of Terri‘s feeding tube, but some saying he shouldn‘t have the authority to make decisions because he is now in a relationship and has children with another woman.  Her parents, of course, fighting the removal of the feeding tube, say Michael is not looking out for Terri‘s best interest. 

NBC‘s Kerry Sanders has more. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  He‘s been accused of being a money-grubbing, wife-beating attempted murderer.  But before the conflict and all the publicity, Michael Schiavo lived a quiet life with his wife, Terri.  Five years into the marriage, an eating disorder led to a chemical imbalance that caused a sudden heart attack, resulting in her medical condition. 

In an interview this week, Schiavo insisted he was and is a loving husband. 

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, HUSBAND OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  I never thought I‘d have to prove myself to the world. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Good girl.  Stretch up. 

SANDERS:  Back in 1991, Michael was pushing for rehabilitation.  He even studied nursing to help with her care.  Then Michael sued her doctors and more than $1 million that was awarded for medical negligence, after legal fees, $700,000 to Terri for medical care, $300,000 to Michael for the impact on his marriage. 

Now, 12 years later, reportedly all but $40,000 is gone. 

(on camera):  In the years since, Michael has made a life with another woman, fathering two children.  Critics, including Terri‘s Roman Catholic family, charge, that‘s a conflict of moral interests. 

FATHER MICHAEL ORSI, AVE MARIA SCHOOL OF LAW:  Her husband, Michael, has not been faithful to the marriage, and therefore it is difficult to see how he could be the one that has her best interests at heart. 

SCOTT SCHIAVO, BROTHER OF MICHAEL SCHIAVO:  I want people to know that Mike is a loving guy.  He‘s a caring guy.  He is not an animal. 

SANDERS:  Michael Schiavo‘s supporters say, in the end, this is a husband‘s personal loss as well. 

Kerry sanders, NBC News, Pinellas Park, Florida. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Now Michigan State Representative Joel Sheltrown is trying to prevent cases like Terri‘s from arising in his state.  He is introducing legislation that would prevent an adulterous spouse from denying food, fluids, or medical treatment to an incapacitated wife or husband.  Now some U.S. congressmen are talking about similar legislation. 

My take, again, I say this is political nonsense.  So, if the husband was beating his wife every day, he would still get to make decisions for her, but a man who years after his wife becomes incapacitated, after doing everything he can for her and with the blessing of her parents, starts dating again, he loses the power to make decisions for her?  If they want to say the husbands and wives who were estranged or separated at the time one became incapacitated should have a limited ability to make decisions, I might support that. 

But this is silliness. 

Back with me, criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger and Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center For Law and Justice.

Jay, do you think I‘m wrong on this one? 

JAY SEKULOW, CHIEF COUNSEL, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE:  I

do, Dan, and I will tell you why.  And I understand these are tough decisions.

But the reason that this case is in court and getting the attention is because of this convergence of fact.  And one of the facts are the fact that Michael Schiavo has basically what would in essence be a common law wife and two children.  And nobody wants to penalize his two children or his common law wife.  But the thing is, he shouldn‘t be the sole medical guardian in a situation when it is a life-and-death decision, because what would he do if, let‘s say miracle of miracles—I know Geoff doesn‘t believe many miracles—but let‘s say a miracle happened and Terri got returned some kind of capability he has got a wife now and another family and then she was restored.  What would you do then?  Because polygamy is certainly against the law.

So, to have her in a situation where he‘s controlling her medical destiny, this is why I say just let the parents take care of her.  That‘s what they want to do.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But creating a law that basically says adultery is the reason, as opposed to beating your wife up, I mean...

SEKULOW:  Well, this isn‘t just adultery.  This is another family. 

And that is a big difference here. 

He has made district attorney situation, which he has the right to make, but he didn‘t divorce his wife, which he could have done.  He could have divorced Terri and her parents would have taken care of her. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  And yet the parents, her parents—this is Bob Schindler.  And I‘m going to quote from a 1993 deposition: “I looked at that as maybe he was starting to take a step in the right direction and get his life back together.  He‘s still a young man.  He still has a life ahead of him,” referring to dating.

SEKULOW:  OK, so the father was sympathetic.  He is a young guy.  He wanted to get on with life.  But he didn‘t say, now go ahead and take my daughter‘s feeding tube out. 

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey, go ahead.

GEOFFREY FIEGER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  You know, I take exception to the suggestion I don‘t believe in miracles.  With all these religious personages supporting Terri, I wonder why they are attacking the governor and the courts, rather than putting it in the hands of God and letting God make the ultimate decision. 

As far as that proposed law here in Michigan is concerned, if it wasn‘t so frightening, it would be laughable.  Can you imagine having an independent hearing, because these decisions, Dan, and I am not exaggerating, are made thousands of time every day.  We would have to have an independent hearing.

And if anybody wants to make the decision—and, again, he is not making the decision.  Let‘s make it clear.  The court is making the decision about what the desires of the patient were.  He is only the guardian, in so far as this case is concerned.  But in every case involving those decisions, the guardian has to subject their personal life to an intrusion by the courts to determine whether or not they have had an extramarital affair?  That is just beyond laughable.  It‘s unbelievable. 

(CROSSTALK)

SEKULOW:  Hey, Geoff.  It isn‘t laughable.  This isn‘t an extramarital affair.  This is another family. 

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  Wait a second.  How do you administer the law here as proposed in Michigan, with all due respect?  And you say some reasonable things.  You don‘t seem to be totally out in left field. 

SEKULOW:  Thank you. 

FIEGER:  Is to deny...

(LAUGHTER)

FIEGER:  To deny people who have been adulterous in their marriage any standing to represent their spouse.  How would you determine that? 

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  How would you determine that? 

ABRAMS:  Hang on, Jay.  Focus on the Michigan legislation for a minute and specifically what Geoffrey was just saying. 

SEKULOW:  Well, I mean, if the definition is just adultery, and not that that‘s not serious and it does raise questions, that‘s a much tougher case than what‘s taking place in Terri Schiavo‘s situation, which is another family. 

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  We are not going to pass laws that just apply to him. 

(CROSSTALK)

SEKULOW:  Of course.  No, but hold it.  The legislature...

FIEGER:  What do you mean yes? 

SEKULOW:  The legislature can say that, when you are the guardian and you‘ve got a conflict of interests, you don‘t get to be the guardian anymore. 

FIEGER:  How would you enforce that? 

SEKULOW:  Well, if there‘s evidence that there is a conflict.

FIEGER:  You would have a hearing about everybody what wants to be a guardian into their own personal sexual behavior?  That is ridiculous. 

(CROSSTALK)

SEKULOW:  Hold it.  If they are making the determination whether they‘re going to have their wife terminated or have her feeding tube removed, which results in death, sure.

(CROSSTALK) 

SEKULOW:  Guardians—guardians and trustees go through that, Geoff -

·         and you know that—all the time. 

FIEGER:  No, they don‘t. 

SEKULOW:  Sure they do.

FIEGER:  Not their sexual proclivities, no way.

(CROSSTALK)

FIEGER:  And the next one is if they‘re gay.  How about if they‘re gay?  Where do we stop here?  If they engage in any behavior we don‘t like?

SEKULOW:  Let me give you a real easy place to stop. 

ABRAMS:  All right. 

SEKULOW:  Michael Schiavo has got another family.  Let the parents take care of her and the case is over with today.

ABRAMS:  All right. 

FIEGER:  That‘s nonsense about the other family.

ABRAMS:  All right.  And I‘ve got to wrap it up. 

SEKULOW:  Well, it‘s true.

ABRAMS:  Geoffrey Fieger and Jay Sekulow.

SEKULOW:  Thanks, Dan.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Thanks a lot of coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

Coming up, as we wait—the courts have spoken in this case.  We‘re waiting, though, for a federal court emergency hearing.  The parents of Terri Schiavo say they have new evidence that they say changes everything.  But we ask, coming up, as we‘re waiting, is there a religious answer to the Terri Schiavo case, in addition to the legal question?  I am going to talk to three leading clergy members coming up. 

That is the courthouse.  Any news, we‘ll bring it to you right away. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re waiting for a ruling from that courthouse, federal court, emergency hearing.  The parents of Terri Schiavo say they have new evidence. 

A new affidavit from a doctor from the Mayo Cleveland says that Terri is not in a persistent vegetative state, that she is far more aware than many people believe.  We‘re waiting.  We‘ll let you know if we hear anything from that court.

In the meantime, Terri Schiavo‘s parents have made the case that not reinserting their daughter‘s feeding tube is a violation of her religious freedom. 

I spoke to Reverend Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Father Kevin O‘Rourke, professor of ethics at Loyola University, and Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention President, and asked them if there is a religious answer to the case. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION:  In this case, the—her vital signs of life are independent of the tubes.  And so long as she has those vital signs of life—I‘m very sensitive to her husband‘s rights, sensitive to the parents‘ passion. 

I‘m even concerned about this invasion of the judiciary about the Congress.  But, somehow, the ethics of the matter transcend that she is right now being starved and dehydrated to death.  And that is unethical. 

ABRAMS:  Father O‘Rourke. 

FATHER KEVIN O‘ROURKE, LOYOLA UNIVERSITY:  We don‘t keep everybody alive as long as possible, and in the Catholic tradition, we have always maintained that there does come a time when perhaps it‘s best to withdraw life support because it‘s not doing the patient any good. 

In the Catholic tradition, we describe that as looking for the hope of benefit and the burden that might be involved.  And in so far as people in a persistent vegetative state is concerned, we do believe that their life should be prolonged, unless there is an excessive burden, and in this case I think the burden has been demonstrated.

First of all, the courts maintain, and I think rightfully so, although I don‘t want to get into the legal side of it, because dying is a spiritual event, not a legal event—but the courts have maintained that her due—her rights have been protected through due process.  And, secondly, when we look at the burdens that the family is enduring and when we see what benefit comes from prolonging her life in this condition, certainly, it does seem that excessive burden exists. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Mr. Land, do you agree? 

RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION:  No, I wouldn‘t.  I would agree that this is a cruel and unusual death.  If you did this to a dog or a cat, you would be charged with cruelty to animals, to kill a person through dehydration and malnutrition.  It seems to me that, you know, we‘re not talking about life support here, like a heart-lung machine or a respirator.  We are talking about a feeding tube. 

ABRAMS:  Does that make a difference religiously?  As a religious matter, does it make a difference? 

(CROSSTALK)

LAND:  I think it does.  I think it does.  I think it does, because this woman can breathe on her own.  This woman is not near death, except for the fact she is being dehydrated and malnourished to death. 

This is not a patient who is being kept alive by a heart-lung machine.  And I think there is sufficient doubt about whether or not this was indeed her will.  Now, if she had left an advanced medical directive or a living will explicitly stating that she did not want this treatment, I think that human beings have a right...

ABRAMS:  You‘d be OK with that? 

LAND:  ... in this country to refuse medical treatment.  I don‘t agree with it morally.

(CROSSTALK)

LAND:  I don‘t agree with it morally, but I think that she does—would have the right.  But I think there‘s sufficient evidence that there‘s question about this.  And I think that this is a cruel and unusual death. 

This is—this woman, apart from the fact that she is being malnourished and dehydrated to death, is not near death.  She is not a critically ill, terminally ill patient. 

JACKSON:  Dan.

ABRAMS:  Reverend Jackson, Reverend Jackson, how much should it matter?  I mean, look, a court has determined that this was her will and her wish.  If that is true and if you were convinced of that, would that convince you as a minister to say, OK, her wishes should be fulfilled? 

JACKSON:  But it seems to me that the ethics and her right to life transcend even this judicial legislative quagmire we‘re in. 

I have been in a situation as a minister where someone was dying from cancer and say, for example, they hit the extreme point where all his vital signs were gone and you pull the plug and, within minutes, they died.  In this case, there is no—the pump she has—the feeding tube, and she is still alive.  And this transcends even those situations of Brother O‘Rourke.  We have deal with all of them. 

This is an extraordinary case I am convinced that demands of us extraordinary attention. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Father O‘Rourke, what about the issue of her intent and her desire? 

If she did have—I mean, look, the court has effectively said, I have heard all the evidence, I have heard all the testimony.  I am convinced that this was her will.  This is what she would have wanted.  As a religious matter, is that the make-or-break question?  . 

O‘ROURKE:  Well, that is one of the important questions.  The make-or-break question, I believe, is that there is life after death.  And we don‘t keep people alive through excessive burden just in order to have them living. 

It has been stated this evening that, well, she‘s not dying.  Well, if she‘s not dying, why all the fuss?  She‘s dying.  But the idea is, are we to keep trying to circumvent this?  Are we trying to keep avoiding death simply because we can do it?  There is no benefit to her, so you know what?  I get a kick out of the fact, it‘s ironic that some people will say, well, if she had signed a living will, we would follow it. 

Well, this is the equivalent of the living will, and somebody has to make the decision when the patient is unconscious.  So I think you can get here at cross-purposes. 

ABRAMS:  Reverend Jackson, Father O‘Rourke, Richard Land, thanks. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  We‘re keeping our eye on the federal courthouse in Tampa. 

Could be Terri Schiavo‘s parents‘ last hearing.  It is still going on. 

We‘re waiting for any word.  They say they have new evidence. 

When we come back, lots of you writing in about this case.  Your e-mails coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re waiting for any word on an emergency hearing in federal court in the Terri Schiavo case coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time for your rebuttal. 

Time running out for the parents of Terri Schiavo, her feeding tube removed six days ago.  I said it‘s time to end this battle, let Terri have her wishful filed. 

From Massachusetts, Lisa writes: “I think you need to realize that judges are people, too, and can be wrong or mislead.”

Yes, but, Lisa, all of the judges, every one, has come down the same way in this case.  What kind of system do we have if we‘re going to say, ah, just dismiss final rulings from courts.  That‘s anarchy.

Jeanette from New York: “What I don‘t I understand, all of these judges who have been brought into this case, none went to see Terri Schiavo for themselves.”

So what?  They‘re not doctors.  Getting a layperson‘s perspective in this case from a judge is irrelevant. 

L. Coker from New Mexico: “It is a sad day for the United States of America when the people of our country have no remorse for subjecting a human to the kind of death that Terri Schiavo is undergoing.  It‘s hard to understand why these people believe it‘s the Right thing to do.”

I just wonder whether you would support letting her die by any other means.  I doubt it. 

Kathie Lopez from New Hampshire is concerned about the protests outside the hospice where Terri is dying: “I‘m wondering what is happening to the other people in the hospice that are laying there dying, with all the noise and disruptions outside of there.  They have the right to die in peace also.  I think they should not be able to protest or use megaphones outside that building.  It is really mean to the other patients.”

Your e-mails, ABRAMSREPORT—one word -- @MSNBC.com.  Please include your name, where you‘re writing from.

“OH, PLEAs.”  If you thought reconstructing your house left you feeling robbed, you may want to think twice after hearing about one house in  Lindale, Texas, that, let‘s just say, got overhauled. 

For months, neighbors and passersby noticed the three-bedroom house in main drag of town being given what they thought was a face-lift.  It seems the two builders were doing more lifting than anything else; 29-year-old Brandon Parmer and 44-year-old Darrell Maxfield allegedly took the house apart brick by brick and shingle by shingle in plain sight while waving to motorists driving by. 

The motorists thought that the bleeding house was being removed to clear way for a new Lowe‘s or Wal-Mart.  The two guys worked every day until nothing was left standing but a pile of rubble.  All was fine until a Dallas-based realty firm called the police to said, hey, our three-bedroom house is missing.  Allegedly, Parmer and Maxfield robbed the house piece by piece, sold the parts for meth and cash.  They‘ve been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, giving new meaning to the term bringing down the house.

That does it for us.  Tune in 9:00 p.m. Eastern, special edition of the program.

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