Reports Cite No Abuse of Schiavo

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By Maya Bell
Orlando Sentinel
Sunday, April 17, 2005

ORLANDO -- In the four years after Michael Schiavo won the right to remove his wife's feeding tube, the state's social welfare agency investigated 89 complaints of abuse but never found that he or anybody else harmed Terri Schiavo, records released late Friday show.

The state Department of Children and Families repeatedly concluded that Michael Schiavo ensured his wife's physical and medical needs were met, provided proper therapy for her and had no control over her money. They also found no evidence that he beat or strangled her, as his detractors have repeatedly charged.

The 45 pages of confidential abuse reports made public by court order show that despite the litany of complaints, investigators never found that Terri Schiavo had been abused.

That raises what Michael Schiavo's attorney said is a key question: Why, during her last weeks of life, did DCF twice try to intervene in the seven-year dispute between Terri Schiavo's husband and her parents?

"The answer is obvious," said attorney Hamden Baskin III. "From the get-go, this was nothing but a political intervention. There was and continues to be no reason for them to have been involved."

DCF spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez would not address the charges of political interference directly, saying only, "The reports speaks for itself. . . . We have a duty to protect the vulnerable and investigate allegations of abuse." Reports on the 30 allegations of abuse raised between March 18, when Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, and March 31, when she died, have not been completed.

Schiavo had been kept alive by the feeding tube for 15 years, but courts ruled that she was in a persistent vegetative state and had not wanted to be kept alive artificially. Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, countered that she responded to them and wanted to live, setting off an international debate over right-to-die issues.

The records show that DCF took seriously its duty to investigate abuse allegations, which became familiar fodder on the Internet: Terri Schiavo was dirty and unkempt. She did not receive proper dental care or rehabilitative therapy. She was kept in isolation. Her husband beat her and broke her bones. He wanted her dead for her money or to remarry. He pumped her full of insulin, hoping to kill her. He often asked, "When will (she) die?" Her lips were cracked and dry.

The names of the complainants were blacked out under Pinellas County Circuit Judge George W. Greer's orders.

But DCF investigators looked into the charges and closed them as unfounded with such comments as "the spouse has always been courteous and very compassionate toward his wife" and "all her needs being met."

In at least one case, the caller found the evidence of Terri Schiavo's alleged abuse on the Internet. In January 2004, a female caller reported that Terri Schiavo had an infection on her stomach, at the site of her feeding tube, that was not being treated. But, when questioned, she said she had no first-hand knowledge. She "stated that her information on current infections and lack of treatment was from Yahoo chatline," the report said.

In another instance, Terri Schiavo's parents were the subject of a complaint by a caller who alleged the Schindlers were exploiting their daughter by selling videotapes of her on the Internet for $100. That, too, was ruled unfounded.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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