updated 3/28/2005 1:21:00 PM ET 2005-03-28T18:21:00

Guest: Hamden H. Baskin, Anita Kumar, Dana Milbank, John Fund, Jerome Wolf, Rosanne Leipzig


ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST:  This is COUNTDOWN‘s special coverage of the Terri Schiavo story.  Tonight, the eighth day, time and options running out for Terri Schiavo‘s parents.  Their lawyers filed last-minute appeals to reinsert the feeding tube, but is it too late? 

How did it come to this, the history of the family feud.  How an argument over money began the rift between Schiavo‘s parents and her husband. 

The political fallout.  They put themselves into the debate so what happens now for the politicians?  Will Terri Schiavo‘s life or death as an issue come back to haunt them?  Will Mrs. Schiavo be seen as a martyr for a political movement? 

And her final hours, is Terri Schiavo‘s death as painful and brutal as some have alleged, is it as pain-free and peaceful as others have maintained? 

We‘ll cut through the rhetoric with an expert on the subject. 

COUNTDOWN‘s special coverage of the Terri Schiavo story right now. 


STEWART:  And good evening, I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann. 

At this hour tonight, two different courts are once again weighing the fate of Terri Schiavo.  One at the federal level, the other a Florida state court. 

Our fifth story, the legal marathon to keep Mrs. Schiavo alive.  She‘s been without food or water for just over a full week now.  Attorneys for her parents say she is showing signs of dehydration.  Doctors have said she could live only one or two weeks without sustenance.  In desperation, her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, launching legal action today on several fronts.  The first, placing the case back in the hands of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. 

And at the state level, gathering earlier tonight in a Tampa courtroom, once again, asking Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer to reinsert Mrs. Schiavo‘s feed be tube.  Now claiming that Terri Schiavo try to say “I want to live” when it was removed.  Her parents say time is running out. 


BOB SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S FATHER:  Terri is weakening.  You know, she‘s down to her last hours.  So, something has to be done and has to be done quick. 


STEWART:  Protesters are still keeping vigil outside Terri Schiavo‘s hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida tonight.  Correspondent Mark Potter is covering the story there, as he has been for quite a while, now.  Mark, let‘s begin with an event earlier today, very stunning images.  Children being arrested for symbolically trying to bring Mrs. Terri Schiavo water. 

Now, since you‘ve been there, how has the atmosphere among the protesters changed over time? 

MARK POTTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s changed a little bit in that there is a greater sense of desperation, a greater sense of disappointment.  Everybody here knows that the family is not doing well in the courts, and they‘re watching that closely.  There was a lot of prayer here today, not only because it‘s Good Friday but on behalf of Terri Schiavo.  Many people think that‘s about all they have left. 

The images you were talking about of the children being arrested involved three children who were taken into custody after their parents involved them in a symbolic protest here outside the hospice.  I think about six other adults were also arrested.  They walked up to the police line saying they wanted to take water into Terri.  They wouldn‘t leave the property, and they were arrested.  Among them, a 10-year-old boy from North Carolina, and right after he was taken away by the authorities, his father, a conservative Christian, talked to the media saying, how proud he was of his son for taking this stand, for taking this responsibility for a woman he didn‘t even know—Alison.

STEWART:  How are the arrests being handled, Mark?  I understand sometimes during these protests, there‘s a certain amount of organization, a certain flow. 

POTTER:  Oh, this is all choreographed.  The police are notified.  The protesters are all marshalled and probably most important for them, we‘re all called to stand there and take pictures.  This is not a surprise to anybody.  It‘s theater and it‘s for a political purpose, and they care very deeply about what they‘re doing.  There‘s no doubt about that.  They want the attention and they get it.  It is all planned. 

STEWART:  Any supporters of Michael Schiavo there? 

POTTER:  Very few.  It‘s interesting you asked that.  You wouldn‘t think there would be any here.  This is largely a crowd in support of Terri Schiavo‘s parent.  But there are a few people here in support of Michael Schiavo, and the idea of letting Terri die without reinserting the tube.  They stand quietly by.  They don‘t seem to be bothered by anybody.  They talk with us.  They talk to others.  And they‘re just here.  But not in great numbers. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about the legal options before I let you go.  What are they?  What is still open to the Schindler‘s, Terri Schiavo‘s parents? 

POTTER:  Well, there are two things left right now.  There‘s the appeals court ruling that we await.  It could come tonight.  They lost in federal court in their attempt to get the feeding tube reattached, so they went back to the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals.  A three judge panel is dealing with that issue right now.  We await that ruling.  It could be tonight, it could be early tomorrow.  And then there‘s that circuit court filing today that caught a lot of people by surprise.  The attorney for the parents went to court saying that one of his associates heard Mrs. Schiavo, Terri Schiavo a week ago attempt to say, as she has testified, “I want to live.”  She was prompted by the attorney to try to say that on the grounds that that would change all this. 

And the filing in court was that she uttered the world, “I,” it was describes as A-A-A-A, “want” W-A-A-A, forming the words I want, and then she couldn‘t say anymore.  The characterization from the lawyer to the judge is she was trying to say I want to live.  The judge took that under advisement, and said that he would rule by noon tomorrow, that‘s Judge George Greer, who all along on substantive issues has ruled categorically against the parents.  We‘ll see if he changes his mind on this one—


STEWART:  And we know you‘ll be watching.  Mark Potter in Pinellas Park, Florida.  Thank you so much for that update.

At each stop of this legal battle, the results have been the same, the court siding with Michael Schiavo, Terri‘s husband and guardian each step of the way. 

Hamden H. Baskin III is one of Michael Schiavo‘s attorneys.  Just minutes ago, I got the chance to ask him how Michael Schiavo is doing. 


STEWART:  I‘m joined by Hamden H. Baskin III, co-counsel for Michael Schiavo.  Mr. Baskin, thank you for making the time for being with us tonight. 


STEWART:  Where Michael Schiavo right now and how is he doing? 

BASKIN:  Michael is with Terri and he‘s in hospice here.  He‘s not left for quite sometime.  And it‘s beginning to really sink in that the judicial process is coming to a close.  We expect Judge Greer to rule very soon, disallowing the latest motion filed by the Schindler‘s.  And as you‘re aware, the DCF was reject without hearing this afternoon.  So there will be no hearing on Monday.  So it is—Michael is really coming to grips with this thing and he‘s pensive.  And Terri is restful and peaceful. 

STEWART:  The Schindler‘s have been very present in the media personally and through the representatives.  We heard from Bob Schindler less than 90 minutes ago, why hasn‘t Mr. Schiavo spoken to the press? 

BASKIN:  Well, as I indicated earlier, this is a very private time for Michael.  He has been caught up on, staying at hospice with his wife and all of these legal proceedings have been going day after day, really, preventing him from really getting a hold of the fact that this dying process is occurring.  And that is now—that is now the main focus for Michael.  And he will not be leaving hospice at this point.  The legal proceedings, as I indicated, are coming rapidly to a close.  And he wants to be with his wife. 

STEWART:  I‘m sure you‘re aware, that police arrested a man for making threats and trying solicit the murder of your client, Michael Schiavo, over the Internet. 

Does he have any kind of protection, any sort of security or police protection? 

BASKIN:  Well, as you can imagine, we‘ve chosen to not comment on all of the security that has been made available to all of the principals in this case.  And which certainly pleased that—I believe North Carolina or South Carolina police or law enforcement did intercept this Internet cooke.  And Judge Greer was also threatened in that same bounty, if you can remember.  So, we‘re very pleased that he‘s out of circulation. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about some legal filings.  Today a attorney for the Schindler‘s, says Terri Schindler—excuse me, Schiavo attempted to communicate to the lawyer that she wants to live.  What is your response to that, sir? 

BASKIN:  Well, we address that this afternoon in the hearing and found that the two or three page affidavit by Barbara Weller (ph), an associate with Mr. Gibbs firm, that it was taken some five to 10 days ago was simply not believable on its face.  And even if you read the written words, she does not seem to articulate anything.  It was an outrageous filing, particularly for an attorney involved in the actual case.  To file an evidentiary affidavit to a motion seeking a—to set aside an existing judgment that‘s been in place since 2000, was outrageous.  And we believe Judge Greer will review things very carefully, as he does.  But I believe that he will make short work of this motion. 

STEWART:  Let me get your take on something else.  The basis for the Schindler‘s appeal that‘s going on right now, they use the term mercy killing.  That‘s what they‘re saying it constitutes, which is illegal in the state of Florida.

Can you explain to us why this doesn‘t qualify as a mercy killing?

BASKIN:  Well, the legal underpinnings for that was contained in their motion filed in federal district court.  And the judge found that they had no way to bring a nexus between the privacy rights and 14th Amendment right of Terri Schiavo to a state sanctioned murder.  So there are no state actors, which is a term of art, in this proceeding.  A civil law judge is not an instrument of the state, that is someone that simply arbitrates disputes between two different parties in a civil matter.  There is nothing akin to a criminal trial.  Hence, their entire argument is fictions (ph), and it has been found so on an—already, by the federal court.  And it was represented in a slightly different package yesterday. 

STEWART:  From a purely legal point of view, not your view as Michael Schiavo‘s co-counselor, are the Schindler‘s, Terri Schiavo‘s parents, completely out of legal options at this point? 

BASKIN:  Well, I‘ve thought that a couple of times.  What they have the right to do is to continue to file, because I do not believe that there will ever be an order that the Schindler‘s may not file any additional papers.  But there are legal procedures that prevent them from trying to bring the same claim time after time after time.  Today‘s motion was not only based on a spacious moot—an affidavit attached to this motion by an attorney involved in the case, which is impermissible, generally, under the rules of professional conduct. 

But also a one-page affidavit from a gentleman who claims to have invented a machine that will bring thoughts and run them through some type of electronic equipment, and it will come out on a speaker.  That is simply so outrageous as to really not—not something you would really want to have placed in a court of law and a motion in a case of this magnitude.  But that would give you the idea of the desperate kind of situation that exists for the Schindler‘s out there in the face of a good solid jurisprudence, which time after time after time has vindicated Terri‘s privacy rights and her choice for end of life issues. 

STEWART:  As you look back on this case, is there anything in retrospect that you and your team might have done that might have made this process less painful for both sides?  If you had to go through this all again, what would you have done differently? 

BASKIN:  There really was nothing that could be done.  Michael waited years and years and years to even present to the Judge Terri‘s right to have her own choice, and her end of life decisions.  Once we presented it, we were assaulted time after time for years, as you know.  I won‘t go back through all of those now.  And there was really nothing we could do except continue as a defense team to Terri‘s constitutionally protected rights. 

We would love to have been in this position a long time ago, but this is a country of the rule of law.  And the Schindler‘s were able to present both in state and federal court time after time after time.  And when we thought the judicial work had been completed, they were able to go to Congress and as you remember, the Florida legislature a couple years ago for Terri‘s law, which brought a whole new round of legal proceedings.  Those have now come to an end.  And from where we stand, this is going to end—end Terri‘s life the way she chose. 

STEWART:  Hamden H. Baskin, a third co-counsel for Michael Schiavo, thank you for sharing your point of view with us this evening. 

BASKIN:  Well, thank you.  Thank you so much. 


STEWART:  A family divided.  How an argument over money marked the beginning of the breakdown between the Schiavo‘s and the Schindler‘s. 

Plus, he ordered her feeding tube reinserted two years ago.  This time, he talked about taking custody of Terri Schiavo.  We‘ll look at the role Governor Bush and other politicians have carved out in this family drama.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC. 


STEWART:  Court doctors say she‘s in a persistent vegetative state.  Her family says she is responsive.  We‘ll ask the only journalist to actually visit Terri Schiavo, what she thought of her condition.


STEWART:  Her case has only entered the national consciousness recently.  But for the parents of Terri Schiavo and her husband, Michael, it has been a heart-breaking and contentious battle they have fought for more than a decade. 

Our number four story the COUNTDOWN tonight, the legal clashes of Bob and Mary Schindler and their son-in-law Michael Schiavo.  A rift that has left a life in the balance.  By all accounts, the marital bond that united them as a family remains strong, even after Terri Schiavo was struck by the heart attack that left her with severe brain damage. 

Michael Schiavo referred to his in-laws as mom and dad.  At one point, both and he the Schindler‘s jointly supervised her care.  So what happened? 

Earlier, I had chance to speak with Anita Kumar, a reporter for the “St. Petersburg Time,” who has been covering the Schiavo case since it began.  And she is the only journalist to have ever visited Terri Schiavo. 


STEWART:  Anita, thanks for being with us. 


STEWART:  By all accounts, Terri Schiavo‘s husband and her parents, they were actually close at one time, even after she became brain damaged.  So, what ignited the fight and then led to the escalation? 

KUMAR:  Well, it was in February of 1993, and the stories differ as they do now.  Michael Schiavo claims that the Schindler‘s were upset because he wasn‘t going to share the medical malpractice money he received with them.  He received $700,000 for Terri, but he was the guardian, so he received that money.  And the Schindler‘s claim that Michael Schiavo would not treat an infection, would not spend the money on rehabilitating her.  And so they had a fight in February of 1993, and they haven‘t spoken since. 

STEWART:  Now, was there anything in his behavior before then that would may suggest that he wouldn‘t continue with rehabilitation?  He had actually been pretty good to Terri. 

KUMAR:  He had.  And for three years from her accident until 1993, he had, both the Schindler‘s and Michael Schiavo had agreed on rehabilitation.  He had taken her to California.  He had tried—he had hired an aide to try to take her to museums, take her to the salon.  He had tape of family and friend that he played for her.  So he and the Schindler‘s definitely tried several things before that.  So, there wasn‘t a big indication that something was going to change.

STEWART:  All right, we‘ve heard so much about that money.  From what I understand, wasn‘t that money supposed to go towards Terri Schiavo‘s care and is there any of the malpractice award even left? 

KUMAR:  There‘s about $40,000 to $50,000 left, which is now in a trust that is essentially (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by the judge in the case who decides how it is going to be spent.  My understanding is that it‘s now remaining for attorneys‘ fees. 

The money, the $700,000, was split between spending it on attorneys‘ fees for Michael Schiavo‘s attorney and health care for Terri. 

STEWART:  How about the Schindlers‘ attorneys?  Do we know who is paying their fees? 

KUMAR:  No.  But I believe both sides, both the Michael Schiavo‘s attorney and the Schindlers‘ attorneys now say that they have not been paid in a very long time, perhaps even as much as two years.  I don‘t think anyone is getting paid now. 

Neither side had a lot of money, and so I think that they had received some help in paying for their attorneys as well. 

STEWART:  Now, from your reporting on this case, we‘ve heard a lot about this money issue.  Is this about anything other than money?  Considering just how really ugly this has gotten? 

KUMAR:  Well, it has to be about more than money now, because there is no money left.  So I mean, it‘s probably about many things, and money was probably part of it at one point.  In fact, the trial judge in this case, the original judge, Judge Greer, had said at the trial that he felt like everyone was a little bit biased because of this money sitting out there. 

STEWART:  Now, you actually met Terri.  Tell us what your experience was like with her. 

KUMAR:  I met her, visited with her in a nursing home where she used to live in January of 2000, the time of the original trial.  I sat with her alone, actually, in a room.  And she was in bed.  She was propped up in bed.  And she is much like the person that you see on the videotape.  She moves her eyes around a lot.  She blinks a lot.  She moans.  And she can turn her body slightly.  But more often than not, she is very still in the bed and is not making any noises. 

I called her name.  I talked to her.  But I saw no recognition or response. 

STEWART:  Anita Kumar of “The St. Petersburg Times,” thank you so much for sharing your reporting and your experience with Terri Schiavo.  We appreciate it. 

KUMAR:  Thanks very much. 

STEWART:  Important lessons learned from the Terri Schiavo tragedy.  How to make sure your loved ones and your lawyers know exactly what your wishes are. 

And the politics of this case.  Seems that most people polled did not want the government to get involved.  So do politicians and political groups actually benefit from their stance on the Schiavo case?


STEWART:  Some say she is dying peacefully.  Others describe a horrible, slow death by starvation.  We will ask a medical professional what is actually happening to Terri Schiavo‘s body. 

Then, politics and protests.  Governor Jeb Bush takes center stage on the Schindlers‘ side of the debate.  Protesters have made their wishes known, calling for more action.  What political vibrations will Governor Bush feel? 

And how to protect your wishes.  Telling a loved one what you want, it‘s not enough.  We‘ll run through the options, from living wills to the power of attorney.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


STEWART:  We‘re back with COUNTDOWN‘s special coverage of the Terri Schiavo case.  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann. 

Now, when the Supreme Court rejected the hearing the Schiavo case, it did so in a mere 33 words.  But politicians who have gotten involved in this painful argument have never been so brief.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the politics and the political fall-out of the Terri Schiavo case. 

To those who love her, she is a human being first and always.  But right now, we want to examine what she represents.  Politicians like Congressman Tom DeLay, Governor Jeb Bush and even President George Bush have laid claim to issues coming out of this case.  But are they staking out positions that will endear them to supporters or ensure a back lash?  Monica Novotny joins us with a recap. 

Good evening, Monica.


In the early 1990‘s, it seemed as if Terri Schiavo‘s case might be one limited to the court rooms.  But the politicians stepped in and tonight we take a moment to chart their involvement in her story.  Beginning 13 years after her 1990 collapse when the governor of Florida spoke out. 


GOV. JEB BUSH, ® FLORIDA:  I‘m not playing God at all.  I have been troubled that, of this whole tragic case for the family, for Terri Schiavo, for her husband as well. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  When the personal became the political.  Florida governor Jeb Bush in October 2003 pushing Terri‘s law through the state legislature ordering her removed feeding tube reinserted.  That law declared unconstitutional the following September. 

Then this February, Circuit Judge Greer gave permission for the feeding tube removed for the third time on March 18, expanding the political battleground to Washington where the U.S. House and Senate passed different bills, as did the Florida legislature, all designed to keep Schiavo alive.  When those failed to impact the Florida court, Congress subpoenaed Terri Schiavo herself to appear at a hearing hoping to prolong her life. 

DAVID GIBBS, ATTORNEY FOR TERRI SCHIAVO‘S PARENTS:  Terri could travel to Washington.  And the family is prayerfully excited about the prospect of their daughter going before the United States Congress for the entire world to see. 

NOVOTNY:  But the judge said he refused to invalidate years of court rulings.  Governor Bush‘s response? 

J. BUSH:  Here‘s a woman who is alive, and starvation is not the appropriate thing to do. 

NOVOTNY:  After Schiavo‘s feed be tube was removed, Congress in a highly unusual move passed a law in the early morning hours of March 21 allowing Terri Schiavo‘s parents to seek a federal court review. 

REP. TOM DELAY, ® TEXAS:  If we do not act, she will die of thirst.  However helpless, Mr. Speaker, she is alive.  She is still one of us.  And this cannot stand. 

NOVOTNY:  But the vote was not unanimous. 

REP. JIM DAVIS, (D) FLORIDA:  This case should be about Terri Schiavo‘s will as interpreted by the courts, the will of God and not the will of the United States Congress. 

NOVOTNY:  President Bush rushed back to Washington from his Texas ranch to sign the measure. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together last night to give Terri Schiavo‘s parents another opportunity to save their daughter‘s life. 

NOVOTNY:  But a day hear, a federal judge declined to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo‘s feeding tube.  Lawyers for Schiavo‘s parents appealed to the 11th Circuit Court.  When that was denied, Governor Bush stepped in again. 

J. BUSH:  This afternoon the Department of Children and Families has filed a renewed motion to intervene in Terri Schiavo‘s guardianship case. 


NOVOTNY:  And in spite of the governors attempt, the judge declined to allow the state to take custody of Terri Schiavo.  This after Governor Bush‘s Challenge this week to Schiavo‘s diagnosis of being in a persistent vegetative state.  That challenge was based on a neurologist working for the state who observed her at her bedside, but did not conduct an investigation—Alison. 

STEWART:  Monica Novotny, thanks so much for putting together that package.  We appreciate it. 

Here to help us analyze the political reverberations from this case, Dana Milbank, the national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”

Good evening, Dana.  

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST:  Good evening, Alison. 

STEWART: And John Fund, columnist with the Wall Street Journal.  John, thanks for being with us as well. 

Dana, as far as politicians who have intervened in this matter, both Democrat and Republican, have they managed to galvanize, support, shore up the base, overstep their bounds or both? 

MILBANK:  Well, yeah, some of all of these things.  Let‘s start with the Democrats, they‘ve not really galvanized or alienated anybody.  They‘ve been sort of profiles in timidity throughout this whole thing, really reluctant to get involved, just AWOL on the whole matter.  Republicans, I think you could conventionally say, if a conventional analysis would say 70 percent, maybe 80 percent of the American public is against them.  People would say that that‘s not a wise move politically. 

But what the Republicans have proved in the last year‘s election was that it‘s not necessarily about the general public, it‘s about motivating and galvanizing their base.  And there‘s no question that they really fired up religious conservatives.  And this could really come back and help them later on, particularly if we get a Supreme Court vacancy. 

STEWART:  All right.  We‘ll talk about that in just a minute. 

John, President Bush few back from vacation to sign this bill to allow this to go to the federal courts, but he has since backed off, not been nearly as present in this discussion.  Why? 

JOHN FUND, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Well, I think what President Bush supported was extending the jurisdiction of the federal courts in the Terri Schiavo case which Congress has the power to do under article three of the constitution.  He never suggested going beyond that. 

So he‘s done what he‘s done.  I think he scored points with his base, as Dana said.  And I think that he‘s going to at least break even on this politically. 

Now as for the polls, I have never seen more sloppily worded polls trying to divine what the people think about the Schiavo case.  I certainly will agree a majority were troubled by Congress‘s action, as I was troubled.  I don‘t think it is anywhere near the 70, 80 percent figure that Dana says. 

I do think, however, that the intensity factor matters here.  And that‘s going to come into play, as Dana said, with the Supreme Court nomination.  We are going to see the culture war break out this summer.  And the battle lines will be drawn.  And a lot of people who want President Bush to nominate a conservative I think will be emboldened to push that.  And I think that they will be a lot of pressure on the Democrats who filibustered judicial nominees from that group. 

STEWART:  Dana, you touched on this as well.  I want to let you weigh in on the idea, the impact this will have on the Supreme Court nominees should there be a vacancy. 

MILBANK:  Well, sure.  I think what you could say is this last 10 days or two weeks, I mean, we obviously don‘t mean any disrespect to the life of Terri Schiavo.  But this is a warm-up act for a much larger battle. 

Now, people won‘t feel as passionate about it, because it is not as visceral, as internal a decision.  But the Supreme Court battle is going to bring everybody into the fray. 

Here you had some conservatives who were split, who were opposed, were a little concerned, as John was alluding to, about what the Congress and the president were doing.  There you‘re going to have all the conservatives on one side.  All the liberals on the other side completely splitting the country down the middle. 

So, this is just a taste of what we‘re going to get, presumably this summer. 

STEWART:  John, we talked about President Bush.  Let‘s talk now about Governor Bush.  He really can‘t step away from this.  He has to deal with the reverberations of this.  What do you think it will be for the governor of Florida? 

FUND:  Well, he‘s not going to be able to satisfy the most passionate supporters of Terri Schiavo.  For example, a lot of them want him to conduct an Elian Gonzalez style raid to try to rescue her.  That‘s not going to happen. 

I do think that it is interesting, because this case is very much similar in terms of the passions it brought up to the Elian Gonzalez case. 

I note that the inconsistency here is fascinating.  There were an awful lot of people who were perfectly happy to have the INS and the Justice Department and Janet Reno overrule the local, state judge and overrule the local INS office in Florida about Elian Gonzalez‘s status and ship him back to Cuba.  Those same people who were more than happy to see Elian Gonzalez taken away from federal intervention...

STEWART:  John.  I need to jump in here for just a moment.  Please excuse me.  We‘re just getting some flash news that there, indeed, has been a ruling in that federal court ruling with the Schiavo case. 

We do not know what Judge Greer has ruled yet.  But we wanted to let our viewers know there indeed has been a ruling in the 11th Circuit Court Appeals judge ruling.  Judge Greer will let us know what that is. 

Excuse me—not Judge Greer, I‘m sorry, the three judge panel in the 11th Circuit Appeal.  I just wanted to get that in there.  That was happening as we were talking. 

Let‘s talk a little bit more about Terri Schiavo as a symbol here.  I know that‘s difficult to discuss considering the sensitivity of this nature.  Dana, do you think she‘ll become a symbol for some political activist groups? 

MILBANK:  People are determine to make her that already.  I mean, There have been many comparisons to what is happening on Good Friday, what‘ll be happening on Easter Sunday.  People have said quite openly to me, sort of conservative strategists, have said this is really not so much about Terri Schiavo but this is about the abortion debate.  They picture her as sort of a metaphor for the fetus, somebody who cannot really speak for herself, but who is very much alive. 

They see this issue as bringing about the entire culture of life.  And this is going to bleed into the abortion debate. 

Now, if the public is pretty heavily against religious conservatives on this, they are not on the abortion debate.  And this could really have broad ramifications. 

STEWART:  John, would you like to weigh in on that idea, of Terri Schiavo becoming a symbol for certain political groups? 

FUND:  Well, I would hope that it is kept within the bounds of taste.  I think that a lot of this—the reason the American people have reacted so violently in some cases to the spectacle is because these are intensely personal family matters.  So I think a few people are going to misuse this, but I think in most cases, people are just going to grieve for the Schiavo and Schindler families. 

And I think, remember, the next election is 20 months away.  And that‘s going to fade.  The difference between this and the Elian Gonzalez case is that Al Gore lost Florida because the Elian Gonzalez case was so close to the election.  This is far enough away from election.  I think Terri Schiavo will be allowed to rest in peace. 

STEWART:  Dana Milbank, the national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” and John Fund, columnist with “The Wall Street Journal,” thank you so much for your time this evening. 

And for those of you who have just joined us, we want to let you know, there is some flash news.  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has come to a ruling in the Terri Schiavo case.  We do not know what the ruling is yet, but we will continue to monitor this situation for you here on COUNTDOWN.

Now, from the political to the personal, the tragic argument over what Terri Schiavo would have wanted spurring people across the country to make their dying wishes clear. 

And dozens of protesters arrested for trying to bring Ms. Schiavo some water.  But is her body already past the point of recovery?  We‘ll discuss it.


STEWART:  You are looking at the live picture of the courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia, where the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has reached a ruling in the case of Terri Schiavo.  This same court ruled twice against Schiavo‘s parents, appealed just this week.  We‘re continuing to monitor the situation.  We don‘t know the ruling as of yet.  But as soon as we know, we will get you that information. 

Now, if you‘re watching this cable news channel, it is likely you have a driver‘s license or a Social Security card number, or you filed tax returns, navigated legal documents like a mortgage or a lease.  You may have even signed a contract to get your kids to do the dishes for an allowance. 

But in our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the importance of writing it down.  In light of the Terri Schiavo case, you might want to add living will to the list of legal papers in your life.  Though Mrs.  Schiavo‘s case is far from the first to bring this issue to national attention, it is the most galvanizing, because it does seem so tragic. 

In the absence of a living will, it was left to Michael Schiavo to press the case that his wife did not want life support of any kind.  A legal battle that has obviously taken years, with the financial and emotional cost no one wants to bear.  His brother Scott recently spoke about how vital it is to do more than simply tell a loved one what you want. 


SCOTT SCHIAVO, MICHAEL SCHIAVO‘S BROTHER:  You need to write it down.  You know, back in 1990 when this happened to Terri, living wills and stuff like that, it was only—they‘ve only been around for a couple of years, really.  You need to write down what you want to do.  You know, so you can die with dignity. 


STEWART:  Joining me now, an expert on living wills and a partner in a law firm of Berger, Singerman is Mr. Jerome Wolf.  Mr. Wolf, thanks for being with us. 


STEWART:  Can you settle a point of confusion for me?  Is executing a living will going to be enough, or do I need someone to act as a health care proxy, should the medicine advance farther than my living will knew? 

WOLF:  Well, that‘s an interesting question, because in Florida, we have two separate documents.  We have a living will, which is essentially the right to die document, and then we have the health care surrogate decision, which is the designation of somebody to make other health care decisions for you. 

The fact of the matter is, however, that when you execute a living will, you‘re basically saying, look, under these circumstances, if I have a terminal condition, or an end stage condition or I‘m in a persistent vegetative state, I don‘t want any heroic measures to try to preserve my life. 

But our statute in Florida and statutes in many other states particularly allow you to nominate somebody to also make that decision for you.  So if somebody doesn‘t want to recognize what you‘ve said, they can speak to somebody that you‘ve designated to make that decision, very clearly, without any question as to what your intention was. 

STEWART:  Now, you keep saying “here in Florida,” which is very interesting, because obviously, these living wills vary from state to state.  If I go online and I download one of those living wills, is that good enough? 

WOLF:  Well, prior to this past week, I would have thought so.  Because once you‘ve expressed what your intentions are, it would seem to me that any physician or health care provider would honor your wishes. 

But now it seems to be that they can parse what your intentions were.  For example, the New York living will form talks about a permanent unconsciousness, and Florida talks about a permanent vegetative state.  So I don‘t know whether that‘s the same thing or not.  One would assume that it is, but again, after what‘s happened this particular week and the parsing of words, parsing of actions, I don‘t really know whether a living will that‘s executed in one state will be honored in another. 

I assume it will, because remember, that the purpose of a living will is not only for a person to express what their wishes are, but it also is to give some comfort to those health care providers and physicians who have to act under it. 

So for example, if somebody expresses their wishes, and under certain circumstances, a feeding tube should be withdrawn, the doctors can feel free and comfortable to do that without threat of being sued by the family members for assault and battery, or even homicide. 

So the fact of the matter is, is once a person has expressed his intentions in writing, I would have thought that they would carry through, regardless of who is providing the treatment.  But again, as I said, the way that words and actions are being parsed after this week, I don‘t really have the comfort level that a document executed in one state will be honored in another state, and that is particularly relevant here in Florida, where there are so many who come on vacation, snowbirds who spend part of the year here from another states. 

STEWART:  Now, do I need to file this living will anywhere, or do I just give it to my loved ones—and no offense, but do I have to have a lawyer involved? 

WOLF:  Well, you don‘t have to have a lawyer involved in this state and most other states.  Most states have a suggested form in their statute, which you can download or you can go to a local hospital and get the form.  In Florida, in order for a living will to be effective, it needs to be entered in your medical records. 

What we interpret that to mean, is that you at least need to give a photocopy to your physician.  We usually recommend that you give a copy to every doctor that you have a relationship with.  You drop a copy off at the local hospital. 

STEWART:  Mr. Wolf, I need to interrupt you here.  I thank you so much for you your time in helping us with living wills, but we do have some breaking news...

WOLF:  Thank you.

STEWART:  .. that we need to get to.  We were waiting for this announcement.  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Schindlers‘ request to have the feeding tube reinserted into Terri Schiavo.  They have denied the request two times previous this week. 

Once again, the flash news of the moment, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, has once again denied the Schindlers‘ request to have a feeding tube reinserted into their daughter, Terri Schiavo, who is now entering her eighth day without food or hydration since her feeding tube was removed last Friday. 

We‘ll continue to monitor this situation and talk to our reporters and our legal experts on the ground.  Please stay with MSNBC for the details. 


STEWART:  You‘re watching MSNBC, and this is flash news in the case of Terri Schiavo.  The 11th Circuit Court has denied the Schindlers‘ appeal to have the feeding tube reinserted into their daughter.  This is the third time this week that this court has denied the Schindlers‘ request.  It just happened two days ago on March 23rd; in a 2-1 vote they denied the Schindlers‘ appeal.  Once again, this ruling has just come down.  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Schindlers‘ request to have their daughter Terri‘s feeding tube reinserted.  It is the eighth day that Terri Schiavo has been without hydration or food at this point. 

She‘s unaware of the legal wrangling and unconscious to the politics, the passionate rhetoric, or the international media attention that surrounds her, is a woman who until five months ago was unknown to most people, and now she‘s dying 15 years after the incident that put her in her current condition. 

Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN tonight is the only story tonight:

Terri Schiavo, the human being. 

Crowds continue to gather outside Pinellas Park hospice where Mrs.  Schiavo is being cared for.  Their personal reasons for being there vary, but there is one constant:  They‘re waiting.  Doctors have anticipated that she should remain without nourishment or hydration, and Terri Schiavo‘s body will soon die. 

It‘s already been one week since the feeding tube providing her with both was removed, and according to her family, the effects are becoming pronounced.  But as her parents desperately try to get the tube reinserted, may the damage at this point be already done?  Dr. Rosanne Leipzig is a geriatrician with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is an expert in end of life issues.  Thank you so much for being with us tonight. 


STEWART:  At this point, what kind of condition would Terri Schiavo‘s body be in, after seven, nearly eight days without hydration or food? 

LEIPZIG:  It‘s hard to say exactly, but most likely she has looked as if she‘s gone to sleep and is now a coma.  Her blood pressure is probably going down.  Her heart rate going up, and her respiratory rate probably going up.  She‘s profoundly dehydrated, and that‘s the driving force for all of this. 

STEWART:  You keep hearing about the starvation.  And that‘s a very dramatic word to be using, but it‘s actually the dehydration which causes most of the issues.  Can you explain that a little more? 

LEIPZIG:  Sure.  The body is very dependent upon fluids, to keep it functioning, to keep your blood pressure up.  And without that, the tissues begin to die.  And that‘s mainly because the blood pressure goes down. 

STEWART:  All right.  At this point, I know so many people are concerned about pain, that that‘s an issue here.  Is Terri Schiavo in any kind of pain?  Is she going through anything?  Is she suffering? 

LEIPZIG:  It‘s highly unlikely that she‘s suffering at all, either pain or from hunger or from thirst.  There are numerous studies that have been done looking at this, and actually one that was done in 2003 -- 102 hospice nurses looked at and talked about the deaths of their patients who voluntarily decided to stop hydration and eating.  And they rated—the majority of them rated those deaths as being quote/unquote “very good” deaths in 8 out of a 9 scale, and that there wasn‘t any suffering.  There were no signs of hunger or thirst. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about the idea that her tube has been inserted and reinserted several times.  This is the longest period of time.  Should it be reinserted, would her body have been damaged to a point where it would almost be futile to reinsert it? 

LEIPZIG:  It‘s hard for me to say, because I don‘t have any of the medical information, in terms of what her blood pressure has been or anything like that.  But it‘s probable that some function has been lost that could not come back again. 

STEWART:  Could reinserting the tube hurt her in any way? 

LEIPZIG:  It depends on what you mean by hurt.


LEIPZIG:  And it‘s hard to say.  I don‘t think it would cause pain.   If fluids and nutrition were restarted, I don‘t think it would hurt her in any way. 

STEWART:  Rosanne Leipzig, Dr. Rosanne Leipzig, geriatrician with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, thank you so much for joining us tonight, we appreciate your expertise. 

LEIPZIG:  Certainly. 

STEWART:  And that is COUNTDOWN.  As we go out, we want to recap the events of the past 20 minutes.  Once again, in Atlanta, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has, once again, rejected the Schindlers‘ request to have a feeding tube reinserted into Terri Schiavo.  That just happened within the past five to 10 minutes.  This court has already rejected this request twice in the past week alone. 

We‘re going to continue to follow that story right here on MSNBC.  But that is it for COUNTDOWN tonight.  Thank you so much for joining us.  We appreciate it.  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann.  Please, have a safe weekend. 


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