Six years this week Terri Schiavo died of starvation after being denied food for thirteen days. Her death was sanctioned and ordered by the Florida courts at the request of Terri’s estranged husband. An estranged spouse should never have the power of life and death decisions over their spouse.
Terri’s death occurred after her parents lost their tenacious fifteen year legal battle to wrest control of Terri’s life away from her estranged husband. Full details on Terri’s story can be found at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network ((www.terrisfight.org).
In the National Right To Life News Today, Dave Andrusko published an eloquent article “In Memory of Terri Schindler Schiavo” that reminds us what the courts elected to do to Terri. Andrusko quoted former President George Bush’s:
Many across our state and around the world are deeply grieved by the way Terri died. I feel that grief very sharply as well. I remain convinced, however, that Terri’s death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society.
So what are some of these major unresolved issues that former President Bush was referring to?
In Terri’s case, the serious moral error by the Florida courts allowing an estranged spouse to remain Terri’s guardian. It is inherently wrong for a former spouse or an estranged spouse to maintain a guardianship over their former spouse.
The courts should have removed Mr. Shiavo as a guardian after he moved on with his life. He became involved with another woman and had two children with her. At this point, he should have been removed from making life and death decisions for Mrs. Shiavo because of his obvious and inherent conflict of interest.
Another issue that needs to be resolved is the notification of interested parties and the available time period that they have to challenge a guardianship. According to Terri’s site, her estranged husband, Michael Shiavo, obtained this curatorship over Terri’s person and property in June of 1990 without her immediate family being given notice of the court proceedings. Terri’s parents are clearly an interested party. If this claim is true, it should be sufficient grounds to overturn a courts awarding of a guardianship.
In Louisiana, a guardianship is called a curatorship. The process of obtaining a curatorship is called an interdiction. Under Louisiana law,
‘Any person may petition for the interdiction of a natural person of the age of majority or an emancipated minor.’ – C.C.P. Art 4541. The petition is required to name “The name and address of the adult children of the defendant or, if he has none, of his parents and siblings or, if he has none, of his nearest adult relative. C.C.P. 4541(7)”
The terms of this law are obviously too restrictive.
All interested relatives should be notified. All of the persons adult children should be identified and notified; both parents of the person should be notified; all adult siblings should be notified; and all of the immediate relatives should be notified.
Another problem with Louisiana law is that if an interested party is not notified, the curatorship cannot be invalidated. Louisiana law says:
“B. Within three days of filing the petition, the petitioner shall mail a copy of the petition by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the last known address of each other person named in the petition. Failure to mail a copy of the petition to any such person shall not affect the validity of the proceeding, but may subject the petitioner or his attorney to sanctions.” C.C.P. 4543.
So if a malicious party fails to notify the potential challengers to the interdiction, the interdiction cannot be overturned. The only solution contemplated by law is the possible sanctioning of the petitioner and/or the attorney.
And finally, the persons allowed to obtain an interdiction are too broad.
Louisiana law allows ‘any person’ to petition for an interdiction. This clause should be narrowed to greatly limit who can obtain the interdiction. There are parties and people who clearly should never be allowed to request an interdiction. For example, a spouse that has petitioned for divorce should not be able to petition for an interdiction. Also, a spouse who files for a divorce after filing a petition should be prohibited from being named as the curator. And a spouse who has obtains a curatorship but then files for a divorce should have that curatorship suspended or revoked by as a matter of policy.
In memory of Terri Schiavo, Louisiana’s interdiction laws should be revised. The law needs to be rewritten to protect a disabled person from being abused by a single malicious relative or relatives.
As Southern Conservatives, we care deeply about our families and the quality of their lives. We want safe, reliable, robust family laws that protect the family, that protect our children, and protect ourselves.