In Re Guardianship of Theresa Marie Schiavo: Opinion of the Court of Appeal of Florida

Issues in Law & Medicine, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

In Re Guardianship of Theresa Marie Schiavo: Opinion of the Court of Appeal of Florida


Robert and Mary Schindler appeal the guardianship court's order denying their motion for relief from a judgment that ordered their daughter's guardian to with draw life-prolonging procedures. We have carefully reviewed all aspects of the record on appeal. We conclude that the guardianship court complied with the instructions provided by this court in its last opinion. The guardianship court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for relief from judgment. Its ruling is supported by competent, substantial evidence and accords with the law of this state. Accordingly, we affirm the order on appeal. (1)

I.

This is the fourth time that this court has reviewed an order from the guardianship court in this controversy. Schindler v. Schiavo (In re Guardianship of Schiavo), 780 So. 2d 176 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (Schiavo I); Schindler v. Schiavo (In re Guardianship of Schiavo), 792 So. 2d 551 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (Schiavo II); Schindler v. Schiavo (In re Guardianship of Schiavo), 800 So. 2d 640 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (Schiavo III). This case has a long and difficult history, which we will not detail in this opinion. As we explained in our last opinion, Schiavo III:

In Schiavo I, we affirmed the trial court's decision ordering Mrs. Schiavo's guardian to withdraw life-prolonging procedures. Schiavo I, 780 So. 2d 176 (Fla. 2d DCA), cert. denied, 789 So. 2d 348 (Fla. 2001) (table). In so doing, we affirmed the trial court's rulings that (1) Mrs. Schiavo's medical condition was the type of end-stage condition that permits the withdrawal of life-prolonging procedures, (2) she did not have a reasonable medical probability of recovering capacity so that she could make her own decision to maintain or withdraw life-prolonging procedures, (3) the trial court had the authority to make such a decision when a conflict within the family prevented a qualified person from effectively exercising the responsibilities of a proxy, and (4) clear and convincing evidence at the time of trial supported a determination that Mrs. Schiavo would have chosen in February 2000 to withdraw the life-prolonging procedures.

800 So. 2d at 642 (footnotes omitted).

Schiavo III involved a motion filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540 seeking relief from the original judgment after it had been affirmed in Schiavo I. In Schiavo III, we held that the guardianship court must conduct an evidentiary hearing on the motion, limited to the fourth issue. We stated:

   Of the four issues resolved in the original trial ..., we conclude
   that the motion establishes a colorable entitlement only as to the
   fourth issue. As to that issue--whether there was clear and
   convincing evidence to support the determination that Mrs. Schiavo
   would choose to withdraw the life-prolonging procedures--the motion
   for relief from judgment alleges evidence of a new treatment that
   could dramatically improve Mrs. Schiavo's condition and allow her
   to have cognitive function to the level of speech. In our last
   opinion we stated that the Schindlers had "presented no medical
   evidence suggesting that any new treatment could restore to Mrs.
   Schiavo a level of function within the cerebral cortex that would
   allow her to understand her perceptions of sight and sound or to
   communicate or respond cognitively to those perceptions." Schiavo
   II, 792 So. 2d at 560. Although we have expressed some lay
   skepticism about the new affidavits, the Schindlers now have
   presented some evidence, in the form of the affidavit of Dr.
   [Fred] Webber, of such a potential new treatment.

Schiavo III, 800 So. 2d at 645.

On remand, we permitted the parents to present evidence to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the judgment was no longer equitable. We specifically held:

   To meet this burden, they must establish that new treatment
   offers sufficient promise of increased cognitive function
   in Mrs. 

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