Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council (FRC), made misleading claims about affidavits filed in the Terri Schiavo case. Perkins' comment on CBS' Face the Nation followed other instances in which supporters of Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler -- including a family attorney and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) -- have misrepresented the contents of the affidavits in arguing for restoration of Schiavo's feeding tube.
On the March 27 edition of Face the Nation, Perkins said: "Thirty-three different affidavits were filed by those who provided care or attempted to provide treatment to Terri that questioned the motives of her husband." In fact, of the 28 affidavits posted on the Schindler family website, which apparently comprise the majority of the 33 Perkins referred to, only four questioned the motives of Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, and two of those were rejected by the trial judge as not credible. And while many of the affidavits on the Schindlers's website are from doctors who have proposed possible treatments for Terri Schiavo, only one is from a doctor who has actually examined her. That physician, Dr. William Hammesfahr,* has falsely boasted of being a Nobel Prize nominee.
A Media Matters for America search was unable to identify all 33 medical professionals who purportedly provided the affidavits. But of the 28 affidavits posted on the Schindler family website, terrisfight.org, 21 are from doctors and four from nurses or caretakers of Schiavo. Three of the doctors -- Hammesfahr, Jacob Greene, and Richard Neubauer -- each provided two affidavits.
Two of the four affidavits that questioned Michael Schiavo's motives -- provided by caretakers Carla Sauer Iyer and Heidi Law -- were dismissed as "incredible" by Judge George W. Greer, as Media Matters has previously noted. A third caregiver, "C. Johnson," noted in his or her affidavit that he or she "took care of Terri Schiavo several times," and that Michael Schiavo, "wanted no rehabilitation for Terri." The fourth affidavit, provided by caretaker Trudy Capone, noted her romantic interest in and eventual falling out with Michael Schiavo. In her affidavit, Capone said that "trial money was everything" to Michael Schiavo, that he "never knew" Terri's wishes, and that "if he said anything different he was a liar."
In an interview with MSNBC host Chris Matthews on the March 20 edition of Hardball, Schindler family attorney David Gibbs III claimed that "some of" the doctors had examined Schiavo:
GIBBS: [W]e did provide the United States Congress the 33 sworn medical statements from neurologists and other doctors across the nation, that all testified that Terri Schiavo was far beyond a vegetable. She was --
MATTHEWS: Did those doctors -- did those doctors get to examine her?
GIBBS: Some of them, yes.
But according to the available evidence, "some of" the doctors apparently amounts to only two who actually examined Schiavo and determined that her condition could improve, one of whom was Hammesfahr. As Media Matters has noted, a Florida appellate court ruled in October 2001 that five doctors should examine Terri Schiavo -- two chosen by the Schindlers, two by Michael Schiavo, and one by the court. As the Associated Press noted on October 22, 2002, while Hammesfahr and the other doctor chosen by the Schindlers said that Terri Schiavo could be helped, her attending physician, the court-appointed physician, and the two doctors selected by Michael Schiavo all stated that her condition would not improve. The other doctors and medical professionals submitting filings included in the 33 affidavits relied solely on photographs, video footage, or medical records, according to their sworn testimony.
Frist specifically cited the 33 affidavits in his March 17 Senate speech on the topic in which he questioned the diagnosis that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, although he had not examined her. At one point in his floor statement, Frist said "There was something like 34 affidavits from other doctors who said that she could be improved with rehabilitation"; he later described them as "33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals." And Frist "used Dr. Hammesfahr as a conduit to obtain" the affidavits, as The New York Times reported on March 23.
Correction: In this item, Media Matters previously wrote that the Florida Board of Medicine disciplined Hammesfahr in 2003. We have subsequently learned that the board's action was reversed on appeal in 2004 by the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal. We regret the error.