In February of 1990, Michael Schiavo found his wife, Terri, lying unconscious on the floor of their bathroom. Due to a Potassium deficiency, Terri had suffered a heart attack and was in an anoxic state that would ultimately leave her with the diagnosis of being in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). In September of 1993, Michael Schiavo authorized the nursing home she resides in to write a DNR order for Terri. In February of the same year, the case entered the Florida court system when Terri's parents filed a petition to have Michael removed as Terri's legal guardian, because he refused to authorize antibiotic therapy on Terri's behalf for a urinary tract infection, which could potentially lead to Sepsis and death. In a deposition to the court, Michael Schiavo testified that he knew that Terri's condition might be fatal without treatment, but that he was making a decision that was consistent with what he understood to be Terri's previously expressed wishes regarding continued treatment in her current condition. Despite the infection, Terri survived, and the guardianship suit was dismissed in February of 1994.
In 1997, Michael's lawyer sent Terri's parents a letter notifying them that Michael was petitioning the court to authorize the withdrawal of Terri's feeding tube, i.e., artificially delivered nutrition and hydration (ADNH). Terri's parents then petitioned the court for an injunction to stop the withdrawal of treatment on the basis that, contrary to what Michael testified, they believed Terri would have wanted treatment continued. In 1998, the court appointed a guardian ad litem for Terri. In June of 1999, the guardian ad litem was dismissed by the court on the basis of failing to act impartially. In 2000, the court approved the removal of the feeding tube, based on clear and convincing evidence that Terri had previously expressed a desire not to receive life-sustaining treatment in such circumstances. Subsequently, Terri's parents filed an appeal with the Florida Appellate Court to overturn the lower court's ruling, claiming that Terri is not in fact in a PVS and had never expressed to them a desire to forego life-sustaining treatment. In January of 2001, the Appellate Court found that Terri is in a PVS and would not have wanted life-sustaining treatment. On this basis, the Appellate Court refused to overturn the decision of the lower court, but did issue a 30 day stay on the action. Over the next two years, the case worked its way up to the Florida Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that Terri is in a PVS and that there is clear and convincing evidence that she would not have wanted ADNH. On Tuesday, October 21, 2003, just after the Florida Supreme Court ordered the withdrawal of the ADNH, the Florida Legislature enacted a law giving Florida Governor Jeb Bush the authority to override a court's ruling in cases in which a patient is in a PVS, has not executed a living will and in which there is disagreement between family members regarding the appropriateness of life-sustaining medical treatment - in essence, tailoring the legislation to this specific case. The action of the Florida Legislature in this case is unprecedented insofar as it gives the Governor the authority to intervene in individual cases and overturn a court's rulings. Ordinarily, it is the role of the judicial branch of government to rule on individual cases, not the role of the legislative or executive branches. Michael Schiavo has filed suit in Florida State Court to have the new law overturned as unconstitutional. [See also: Ascension Health's Talking Points on the Case of Terri Schiavo Talking Points on the Case of Terri Schiavo ]