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Guardianship of Schiavo

Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District
780 So.2d 176 (2001)


Facts

Theresa Schiavo had lived with or near her parents for the majority of her life until she married her husband, Michael. The couple moved to Florida and in 1990, at the age of 27, Theresa suffered cardiac arrest and was rushed to the hospital. She never regained consciousness. She was in a permanent or persistent vegetative state with a complete lack of consciousness or awareness, but did not have a life-threatening condition. She had never completed a will, living will, or advance directive indicating her wishes. She was raised Catholic, but had no religious advisor. Prior to her condition, Theresa’s discussions with family and friends regarding what she would want if she were in her current state were minimal. For 10 years, she lived in nursing homes completely unable to care for herself, including eating and drinking. A CT scan of her brain showed significant deterioration as a result of the oxygen deprivation at the time of the cardiac arrest. She only had slight instinctive neurological functions. Michael continued to care for her, never divorced her, and was diligent in ensuring that Theresa received proper treatment. Similarly, Theresa’s parents visited her often and prayed for a miracle. The two parties disagreed on what Theresa would have wanted regarding the continuation or cessation of life-prolonging treatment. They also distrusted each other, in part, because Michael, as Theresa’s guardian, received a large financial award from a medical malpractice action filed on her behalf. If she were to die, the money would go to Michael. If he divorced Theresa, the funds would likely go to her parents upon her death. Both Michael and Theresa’s parents suspected each other of having financial-based motives. In 1998, a trial court granted Michael’s petition to have Theresa’s life-prolonging treatment stopped. Theresa’s parents immediately appealed the removal of artificial life support.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Altenbernd, J.)

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