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Court Approves Withdrawal Of Life Support In Florida Case

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Theresa Marie Schiavo was only 27 in 1990 when a potassium imbalance led to her cardiac arrest. Although her husband, Michael Schiavo, called 911 and Ms. Schiavo was rushed to the hospital, she has never regained consciousness.

Ms. Schiavo remains in a persistent vegetative state. Although she goes through cycles of apparent wakefulness and sleep, she does not respond to stimuli and appears to have no cognitive function. Her breathing is often accompanied by moans, but she has no ability to understand any aspect of her condition.

Even if by some miracle Ms. Schiavo’s physical condition were to improve dramatically she would remain a total-care patient—her cerebral cortex has deteriorated and the resultant void has filled with cerebral spinal fluid. In short, Ms. Schiavo is completely incapacitated and will never recover, unless by miraculous means.

Michael Schiavo has remained closely involved in her care. Mr. Schiavo was appointed as his wife’s guardian and has managed her care for over a decade.

Ms. Schiavo has concerned, actively involved parents. Robert and Mary Schindler are devoted to their daughter and maintain as much contact as possible. They are clearly very concerned about her.

Unfortunately Ms. Schiavo’s husband and parents disagree. Mr. Schiavo believes that continued tube feedings are pointless, and that his wife would not choose to be maintained in her current condition. Mr. and Mrs. Schindler believe that she should be kept alive and as healthy as possible, in the hopes that her condition might somehow improve.

Complicating this family drama is a large settlement obtained for Ms. Schiavo in a personal injury lawsuit filed on her behalf. Her husband and her parents each appear to believe that the other is motivated by a desire to control—or even to inherit—that settlement.

Ms. Schiavo never executed an advance directive, so there is no clear indication how she actually felt about the prospect of being kept alive in her current condition. Without that guidance, the Florida courts have been called on to make the final decision in a heated contest between parents and husband.

Last month the Florida Court of Appeals granted Mr. Schiavo the authority to withdraw the feeding tubes keeping his wife alive. The judges decided that there was no evidence that his decision in the matter was affected by the possibility of inheriting her settlement funds upon her death, and ruled that he was acting in her best interests. In re Schiavo, January 24, 2001.

Ms. Schiavo’s parents have already appealed the decision to Florida’s Supreme Court. Although the human tragedy may have been unavoidable, the legal uncertainty might have been prevented if Ms. Schiavo had simply signed a living will or health care power of attorney.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.