Transcript: Michael Schiavo on 'Nightline'

ByABC News
March 15, 2005, 7:49 PM

March 15, 2005 -- -- Michael Schiavo won a series of lengthy court battles for the right to take his severely disabled wife, Terri, off life support, but now faces a new challenge from Florida lawmakers who are seeking to pass a bill that would stop him from doing so.

Terri Schiavo collapsed in 1990 and suffered severe brain damage. She has been kept alive by a feeding tube ever since and has been unable to speak or care for herself. Her parents have insisted she is not in a persistent vegetative state, as doctors appointed by the court have concluded. They also believe she would not have wanted to be allowed to die.

While Michael Schiavo has only rarely spoken to the press, he gave an interview to ABC News' Chris Bury as the bill moves through the state legislature and the day for removing his wife's feeding tube approaches.

The following is a transcript of their conversation.

BURY: Joining us now from Dunedin, Fla., Michael Schiavo and his lawyer George Felos.

Michael, you've had very little to say outside of what's been filed in the legal briefs over the last year or so. Why have you decided to come out tonight and have something to say?

SCHIAVO: The reason why I've been keeping private for the longest time ever here, I've always wanted to protect my wife's privacy. I don't like -- I didn't want to put her picture all over the news. I just wanted to keep her private.

And today, and what's going on in the legislation, is really the reason why I'm starting to speak out, because it's outrageous.

BURY: When you say the legislation, I assume what you're talking about is the bill back now in the Florida legislature, which actually passed a committee in the legislature today and could be on Governor Bush's desk by Friday, which is the same day that Terri's feeding tubes are to be removed. Is that right?

SCHIAVO: That's correct.

You know, it's really uncomprehensible to think that a private family matter that has gone through the judiciary system for the past seven years -- I mean, we're talking all the way up to the United States Supreme Court -- and for a governor to come into this without any education on the subject and push his personal views into this and have his Republican legislation pass laws so that this doesn't happen.

He's basically jumping right over the state court's decision. We might as well not have any state courts.

BURY: Just, Michael, so we can all understand the legislation -- as I understand it, this would require that before the feeding tubes could be removed from someone in a vegetative state, they would have had to have left written instructions to the effect that that was OK with that. Is that correct?

SCHIAVO: That's what they're trying to pass now, yes.

BURY: And let me ask your lawyer, George Felos: How problematic is this legislation for you?

FELOS: Chris, this is the second time this has happened.

As everyone knows, in October 2003 the governor sent armed men to Terri's death bed, took her to a hospital and had surgery performed on her against her will.

The Florida Supreme Court said that was unconstitutional, and it also said there is absolutely nothing the Florida legislature can pass that can undo the result in Terri Schiavo's case. Yet, in response to political pressure, the legislature is poised to pass another unconstitutional bill.

And not only that, it's not just Floridians' rights that are at stake, but everyone in the country. There is a bill in the United States Congress, and this bill in the United States Congress would virtually let any family member bring a federal court habeas corpus proceeding, which would tie up a case like that for years in federal court, which would make it virtually impossible for anyone to remove artificial life support.

And I want to mention, too, for everyone listening out there, this bill, filed in federal court, does not pertain just to vegetative patients. It doesn't pertain just to removal of feeding tubes. It pertains to removal or refusal of any type of medical treatment.

BURY: Just for the sake of argument, if this Florida bill moves through the legislature and Governor Bush signs it as early as Friday, does that move the whole thing back into the courts?

SCHIAVO: Well, we'll have to see what, in fact, passes on Friday.

It may very well delay implementation of Terri's rights. We certainly hope that it will not. But it is beyond any doubt that the Florida Supreme Court will once again declare such a law unconstitutional.

BURY: Michael, did Terri, your wife, leave any kind of written instructions about her wishes?