After the Smoke, Oxygen
On Saturday, November 12, 2005, Life Legal Defense Foundation held its annual attorney banquet in Berkeley, California. Continuing its tradition of banquet venues both beautiful and historic, LLDF welcomed its guests to the Berkeley City Club. The club building is a California State Landmark. Built in 1929, it was designed by Julia Morgan, the architect of the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.
The evening began with a live auction of donated items. Matt Lopez served as auctioneer and performed like a pro, squeezing top dollar from each auction item. The bidding was spirited and enthusiastic, and fun for participants and spectators alike.
LLDF President John Streett opened the evening’s formal program with a warm welcome to the guests and proceeded to keep the program moving along with his signature combination of dry wit and thoughtful observation. Following an invocation by LLDF board member Terry Thompson, LLDF Executive Director Dana Cody delivered her traditional “Year in Review” report. Her comments served to demonstrate the broad range of cases in which LLDF has participated, and the truth of its unofficial motto, “No case too small.” Dana mentioned in particular the tragically unsuccessful fight to save the life of Terri Schiavo, and the ongoing effort to defeat the California Stem Cell Research and Cures/Bond Act (Proposition 71). She also recognized some of LLDF’s “smaller clients,” courageous individuals who have been unlawfully arrested for engaging in informational leafleting.
LLDF Legal Director Katie Short then presented the 2005 Attorney of the Year Award to Colette Wilson, whom Katie described as “an attorney with the soul of an activist.” In her touching acceptance remarks, Colette recalled the day in 1989 when she was arrested at an abortion mill in Los Angeles. A baby saved at the same clinic nearly sixteen years later became her third child, Jack. As Colette observed, “God’s blessings follow faithfulness.”
Katie then turned her attention to the recently-failed California Parental Notification Initiative (Proposition 73). She good-humoredly assured the guests that such a law in California was not defeated, but only “temporarily delayed.” She called to the podium Don Sebastiani, one of the generous donors who had helped to put the initiative on the ballot. A former three-term California Assemblyman, Mr. Sebastiani expressed his gratitude to all those who had worked so hard on the initiative, several of whom were present.
John Streett then introduced the keynote speakers of the evening, Bob and Mary Schindler, the parents of Terri Schiavo. As John said, the question was not so much how Terri Schiavo died, but how her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler, were able to keep her alive as long as they did. In the course of their remarks, the Schindlers answered that question in disturbing and heartbreaking detail. They pointed out some of the many “facts” that were incorrectly reported during the years after Michael Schiavo received a medical malpractice settlement, and suddenly decided he was no longer interested in rehabilitating his brain-damaged wife, or even keeping her alive. Among the falsehoods promulgated by Michael Schiavo’s attorneys and his public relations firm, dutifully reported by the secular media, and eventually accepted as fact by much of the public:
• Terri was comatose (False: Terri was awake and alert.)
• Terri was in an irreversible “persistent vegetative state” (False: Terri was brain-damaged.)
• Terri was hooked up to mechanical life-support equipment (False: Terri received food and hydration through a feeding tube.)
• Terri had collapsed from a heart attack caused by bulimia (False: Terri never had bulimia, and did not suffer from a heart attack—as subsequently proven by an autopsy.)
• Terri had made a verbal end-of-life will to her husband Michael (False: Michael did not “recall” this until years later, after he had received the medical malpractice settlement and then wanted Terri’s feeding tube removed.)
• Terri’s case had been heard by twenty judges (False: Terri’s case was heard by a single judge, Judge George Greer.)
It was painful to hear the litany of injustices and cruelties heaped upon the Schindlers as they fought Michael Schiavo and the Florida judicial system—in the beginning to obtain rehabilitation for their daughter and later, just to keep her alive. Their sufferings during those years, and those of Terri, are unimaginable. Mr. Schindler gave a somber warning about the increasingly common use of the medical-sounding term, “persistent vegetative state”:
My family and I are witnesses to the fact that the arbitrary assignment of this term by a doctor or court to anyone with a brain injury puts him or her on a fast track to death—mainly by starvation and thirst.
Mr. Schindler described the last days and hours of Terri’s life at the hospice—the roadblocks, the multiple checkpoints, and the police everywhere, even in Terri’s room, to prevent the Schindlers from getting close to their dying daughter. He was particularly affected by the arrest of a ten-year-old boy who had attempted to bring Terri a glass of water. “And this is all happening in America,” he said.
Still, Terri’s ordeal has not destroyed the Schindlers’ faith in God. They are confident that God chose Terri to awaken the world to the murders that are committed regularly under the name of “euthanasia.” To this end they have restructured Terri’s foundation (Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation—www.terrisfight.org), originally established to help save Terri’s life, to save the lives of others who are or may become disabled and therefore in danger of being deemed undeserving of life. The Schindlers are grateful for the blessings they have received along the way, such as the support from people of all faiths, races and even political persuasions. And they acknowledge that without the assistance they received from LLDF, Terri would have died in October, 2001.
As in years past, the banquet was an opportunity to look back on the year’s victories and defeats (and “temporary delays”), and to re-vitalize, re-energize and re-dedicate ourselves to the defense of innocent human life. To enjoy the occasion among like-minded friends and supporters was, as Mr. Sebastiani put it, “… like coming out of a smoky building and putting on an oxygen mask.”