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Living Wills; School Shooting; Report: Federal Judge Denies Emergency Request from Schiavo's Parents

Aired March 25, 2005 - 07:31   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, on this Good Friday. Good to have you along with us today. It's 7:31 here in New York.
In a moment here, still waiting for a decision from this federal judge in Florida in the Terri Schiavo case. It could come at any moment. In fact, speaking with Michael Schiavo's attorney a short time ago, he says he has his cell phone at the ready because the call could come at any time.

Also a key issue raised by the family, tragedy, too, is everything surrounding living wills today. We'll go step by step through the process of writing one, making sure it's legal, and what you need to know in a moment here.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, students from two tragedies are coming together now. We're going to talk to a survivor of the Columbine massacre with the message that she delivered to some of the students at Red Lake High School. That's ahead this morning.

First, though, let's get a check of the headlines with Carol Costello.

Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News."

Almost a dozen Iraqi police officers have been killed in a suicide bombing. Military sources say some sort of improvised explosive device went off at an entry control point in eastern Ramadi. Two U.S. soldiers and 14 other Iraqis were injured in that blast.

A U.S. Army paratrooper opposed to the war in Iraq says he will appeal a ruling to keep him from staying across the border. Twenty- six-year-old Jeremy Hinsman (ph) fled to Canada to avoid serving in Iraq, and he has been living in Toronto. Canadian officials have denied him political asylum, but Hinsman (ph) says he will appeal. The court action, though, could drag on for years.

In California, more testimony this morning about fingerprints on a nudie magazine. The prosecution in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial showed jurors adult magazines seized from the Neverland ranch, linking at least one set of prints to the accuser's brother. Next week, the celebrity witness lineup is expected to start with possible testimony from actor/comedian George Lopez.

And March Madness is in full swing now with four teams advancing last night in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Arizona beat Oklahoma State in dramatic fashion with a game-winning shot in the final seconds. Final score, 79-78. Also advancing to the tournament's Elite Eight, Illinois, Louisville and West Virginia. So Bobby Knight's fight is over -- Bill.

HEMMER: Got some good games tonight. Duke is playing, North Carolina, some others. Thank you, Carol. The madness continues.

It's 33 minutes now past the hour on this Friday morning here.

We want to bring you up to date on the very latest we have in the Terri Schiavo case. A federal court ruling is expected any time now on a new motion from Terri Schiavo's parents. The parents and their supporters are calling on Florida's Governor Jeb Bush to intervene now. An all-day Good Friday prayer vigil has been called to take place outside the governor's mansion in Tallahassee. And Terri Schiavo now without food or water for seven days.

And this case is apparently generating a tremendous interest in living wills. The U.S. Living Will Registry Web site has had 40,000 hits in two days. It normally would get 600 or 700.

What you need to know now with our personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, looking into the issue of living wills.

Good morning to you.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Good morning, Bill. Good to see you.

HEMMER: Let's start with a definition first. What is a living will?

WILLIS: A living will is just a written document that tells people how you want to be treated if you're incapacitated. Let's face it, if you're at your most vulnerable, you want a way to make sure that your wishes are followed. This is the way to do it.

HEMMER: So, an attorney says this is binding, legally. Do doctors see it the same way?

WILLIS: They sure do, except for certain circumstances. It only goes into effect if you are in a persistent vegetative state, if you are really beyond the bend. Keep in mind, if you're in a car accident and you temporarily lose consciousness, this will is not going to go into effect.

HEMMER: So, when you're writing this and crafting it with an attorney or doing it by yourself, how specific do you need to be?

WILLIS: You need to be really specific. You need to say things like, when do you want to have the artificial hydration and nutrition. You can even say things like how much pain medication do I want? People forget about things like that. You can also say, do I want to die at home in my own bed instead of in a hospital?

HEMMER: How then do you go about advising someone on who the right person to choose to carry out your wishes? Who is that?

WILLIS: Well, you've got to pick a proxy, a surrogate, someone who speaks for you. And it may not be the most obvious person. You may, first of all, think, hey, I'll just get my spouse to do -- my wife, my husband. That might be a good idea. But say you're in your 80s, that person may not be able to represent you well.


WILLIS: Think of somebody in your family or someone you know really well who is outspoken, who will go to bat for you, who isn't afraid to argue with doctors.

HEMMER: The other advice they give you is talk about it with family members and talk about it with doctors. But isn't that document good enough?


HEMMER: Why not?

WILLIS: You've really got to share it with everybody. If people have not seen this document in your family, in particular -- and I've seen this in my own history in my own family -- you've got to have people look at the will so they know what you want and share it with them and talk to them about it.

HEMMER: Final issue. Do you recommend to write it on your own, or do you go out and hire an attorney and pay him a couple of hundred bucks?

WILLIS: Well if you're the kind of person who wants all the t's crossed and i's dotted, you can get an attorney to do it certainly. But I'm going to tell you, the ones you do on the Web are just as valid. A great place to go,, will explain to you everything you need to know and actually help you write one of these documents.

HEMMER: That Web site again, agingwithdignity?


HEMMER: Thank you, Gerri. Good stuff to know here.

WILLIS: You're welcome.

HEMMER: Especially with what we've been watching for the past two weeks. Gerri Willis.

Here's Soledad now with more. O'BRIEN: All right, Bill, thanks.

A survivor of the Columbine high school massacre is reaching out to the victims of that tragic shooting at Red Lake High School. On Thursday, a wounded victim spoke out about the ordeal from the hospital.


CODY THUNDER, RED LAKE STUDENT: I heard a shot, and then that scared me and made me jump. And, hey, I was really close. And then I looked at the clock, and then I turned around and there he was. I never thought he would do this. I never thought that he would come up and try to shoot up the school.


O'BRIEN: Lauren Beyer Bohn and her husband, Brent, met with the Red Lake survivors, their families and their staff. They join us today from Bemidji in Minnesota with their little daughter, Felicity. She's only 3 weeks old.

And I was surprised, Lauren, frankly, that immediately after hearing and reading about this shooting at Red Lake High School, in spite of having a brand new baby, you thought you needed to go there to talk in person with the students. Why?

LAUREN BEYER BOHN, FMR. COLUMBINE STUDENT: Yes. Well, my heart went out for them. I felt exactly what they're going through, and I felt like I had something to offer. And I really believed that the students would probably relate with me and would have -- you know, listen to what I had to say, because I have been through a similar situation.

O'BRIEN: Let's back up a little bit. When you first got word about the shooting at Red Lake High School, did it take you back immediately to that terrible day at Columbine in 1999?

L. BOHN: Of course it did. It was six years ago that the shooting took place, and the memories are still as fresh as they were yesterday, you know. And when I got the word that there was a shooting in Minnesota again, I was absolutely devastated. And our first instinct was to get up there as soon as possible to help.

O'BRIEN: And bring that brand new baby with you.

L. BOHN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: What was your message to the students? What did they want to hear from you, Lauren?

L. BOHN: I think they wanted to know that there is hope after this. They wanted to know that life does go on. That they do not have to stay in this state of, you know, questioning, of mourning. You know, you will consistently mourn for the lost ones, the close friends that you do lose, but that there is life beyond it. And I think for them to see that I have picked up and I have moved on and I have kept my head up and I've said, you know what? I'm going to use this tragedy for the good. I think that was really positive for them to see.

O'BRIEN: Brent, I know you're a youth minister, and I also know that you're the one who really encouraged Lauren to go out there and get her message out. The young people who are suffering in the wake of the shooting at Red Lake High School, how did they seem to you? Very shocked still?

BRENT BOHN, MET WITH RED LAKE VICTIMS: I think, well, the community is a very tight-knit community, the way it is. But they have really just come around each other, the teachers. We've met with many unsung heroes that just -- they saved lives in that high school. It's been amazing to see the community come together even tighter than what they've already been.

L. BOHN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Lauren, at Columbine High School, you were not physically injured. But the gunmen, from what I understand, chased you out of the school, essentially, as they were shooting. How long does it take before you feel ready to say, emotionally, you've healed? How long do you advise the Red Lake High School students that it will be before their live feel like they're anywhere near normal?

L. BOHN: You know, each person is going to deal with this situation differently. And the healing process is going to be different for everybody in that community. As far as a timeframe, I don't really want to say, because, you know, for me, the healing process was pretty quick. And I think that's because I have a great family, and my Christian faith really helped me through the situation, obviously.

As far as the people in Red Lake, they are very strong people, very family-oriented. And I think that they are really going to come through this, and I think the healing process, is, hopefully, I'm praying, going to be very quick for them.

O'BRIEN: Lauren Beyer Bohn and Brent Bohn joining us this morning. Congratulations on that new baby.

L. BOHN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: And good for you for going in and reaching out to others who are now experiencing what you did. Appreciate that -- Bill.

L. BOHN: Thank you.

HEMMER: Sweet people.

It's 20 minutes before the hour now. A check of the weather.

(WEATHER REPORT) HEMMER: We're still waiting word on this decision from the federal court on Terri Schiavo's case. We're told it could come at any moment. As soon as it does come down, we'll have it for you here.

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, still to come, a popular '70s TV series is making a comeback. But it isn't your father's "Kojak." Does the new lollipop-sucking detective live up to the original?

HEMMER: Also, our series continues, "Faith in America," the new beat of religious music. How hip-hop artists are winning with Jesus.

First, though, the trivia question of the day. Name the first rap song to reach the top 40 charts in the U.S.? Was it "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer? "It's Like That" by Run DMC? Or "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugar Hill Gang.

Back in a moment with the answer right after the break.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to guess (c), "Rappers' Delight."

HEMMER: All right, we'll find out.


HEMMER: This just in to us here at AMERICAN MORNING. According to the AP out of Florida in Tampa, a federal judge is now ruling again, denying the motion to have the feeding tube reinserted into Terri Schiavo. If that is the case now, it is seven days, going on eight days, when she has been without any food or water or nourishment.

We do understand, though -- we're talking with lawyers in Florida -- this decision, too, can still appealed up to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Then after that to the U.S. Supreme Court as well. Whether or not anything changes on the legal landscape, we cannot say.

But according to the AP, at this point, the federal judge in Florida has ruled that the feeding tube cannot be reinserted in Terri Schiavo at this point. More when we get it out of Florida on this story still developing on our watch here at 7:46 in New York City.

Jack is with us also this morning, talking about this same issue, too, and ramifications.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A new poll out, Bill, showing that President Bush's approval rating has declined to the lowest point of his presidency. According to the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, the president's approval has dropped to 45 percent from 52 percent just a week ago. The White House so far hasn't said anything about this, but some independent political analysts suggest the drop may reflect opposition to the president and Congress intervening in the Terri Schiavo matter.

The poll found the largest drop for Bush came among men, among self-described conservatives, and among church-goers. So, the question we're asking is this: Was it a mistake for Congress and the president to get involved in the Schiavo case?

Charlie in West Virginia writes: "Absolutely not. The Congress and the president represent two components in the triad of power and representation in this country. And when the courts fail to rule on laws that are rooted in our Constitution, then other power and influence must act."

Mel in New York writes: "Was it a mistake? No. It was a well- orchestrated grandstanding ploy intended to fire up the electoral base of the reactionary ultra-right. Whichever way it goes, it will spur the faithful to greater enormities against the personal liberties of the rest of us. It is a road to tyranny."

Oh, Mel, I don't think it's that bad.

Elizabeth in Louisiana: "No. I do not think it was a mistake. I don't know what you polled or who you polled that gave you the results that the president's rating is going down. But I've been a Democrat for over 20 years, and for once I totally agree with President Bush."

A.J. in Florida writes: "I'm a dedicated Republican conservative supporter of the Republican Party, President Bush, Governor Bush and the entire Bush family. However, I most certainly do think this was a huge mistake."

And finally, my idiot friend, Dave, in Japan writes: "The Schiavo case makes me think about my own death. I hope I die in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in horror like the passengers in his car."

O'BRIEN: I assume and hope he's kidding.

CAFFERTY: It's a very old joke.

HEMMER: The political banners are very interesting, though, Jack, when you're talking about the left and the right. They're not normally taking the sides that you would predict.


HEMMER: And Jeff Greenfield was telling you that very thing, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: He said that yesterday, exactly, that this is an issue that crosses political lines. And you have lots of people who describe themselves as very liberal totally agreeing with the president on this. And people who would say, you know, it's all about states' rights are actually disagreeing with the president.

COSTELLO: You know, what's interesting, in "The New York Times" this morning, there's an article about Jeb Bush and how this has solidified his base and actually has helped his political career. HEMMER: Well, listen, we have just confirmed the news that a reporter from the AP a short time ago, CNN confirming now that feeding tube has been denied to be reinserted in Terri Schiavo. That's the ruling from the judge in Florida.

We want to get down to Florida right now and Bob Franken, still outside the hospice there.

Bob, this ruling coming down just moments ago. I am certain you haven't had much time to get reaction there. But if you have, take it away.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction, of course, is resigned disappointment, bitter disappointment. The judge had said he would take seriously the new claims that were being made to try and get the same federal judge, James Whitemore, to come up with an emergency order, a temporary restraining order, which would have restored the feeding tube to Terri Schiavo.

The lawyers came armed with what we they called new issues, including charges that there was a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. They were relying on an affidavit from a neurologist, who said that the other diagnosis of the persistent vegetative state might not be correct.

The judge said he didn't even want to deal with those, just the legal matter of whether there was a substantial likelihood that this would cause -- that this would pass, and thereby cause the emergency order to go into effect. He ruled not.

Now comes the question: What will the lawyers do next? They could conceivably go to the appeals route again, all the way up to the Supreme Court. But thus far, they have been so unsuccessful in that, that there's going to be some question whether they'll try that.

They also were unsuccessful in the state Supreme Court yesterday. The state Supreme Court refusing to get involved in a lower court ruling, which also went against Terri Schiavo's blood relatives, who have been trying to get that feeding tube installed. The judge was not willing to be moved, even by the fact that the family says there's an urgent matter here, that these questions have to be considered without the time pressures.

Terri Schiavo today will have had the feeding tube out for about a week -- Bill.

HEMMER: Bob, we're also hearing out of Florida on the legal side there, they say Jeb Bush has within his executive ability to gain custody at any point of Terri Schiavo. Is that true, under Florida law? Or is that just talk?

FRANKEN: To the contrary. He did have that possibility, according to some of the lawyers with the Department of Children and Families. They call it DCF here. But once the judge here ordered him not to, in an assertive court order, it is generally believed that that court order would trump any executive power he had. However, the governor is being urged to violate that court order. We've been guided repeatedly that he has no intention of doing that. That would cause, in everybody's mind, a constitutional crisis in this state.

HEMMER: Bob Franken, thanks, down there in Pinellas Park, Florida. We'll watch it from here as well.

Again, the news at this hour, the latest ruling from Florida, a judge denying the request to have the feeding tube reinserted into Terri Schiavo. We'll watch this and see where it goes from here. Now day seven without nourishment, food or water for Terri Schiavo.

Break. More in a moment here on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's get right to that breaking news we told you about just a moment ago, a federal judge denying an emergency request from Terri Schiavo's parents to reconnect the feeding tube that was providing for her nutrition, and water as well.

Alan Dershowitz is a Harvard Law School professor. He's in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He joins us by phone for more on this, this morning.

It's nice to talk to you, Mr. Dershowitz. Thank you very much for being with us. First, are you surprised by this ruling from the federal judge?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: No, this was entirely predictable. I think even the family knew this. And this really is checkmate for the parents' efforts. They can't really in good faith go to the circuit court, because there was a 10-2 embank decision against them. I think any lawyer who appeals at this point risks being held responsible for a frivolous appeal.

All that's left at this point -- it's really not available legally -- is some kind of an active civil disobedience by the governor. But if the governor were to take custody or do anything of that kind in violation of a court order, he would be risking contempt of court.

So, I think the time has come, probably, for the parents to be praised for their efforts, because you always want to encourage people to take every last legal step, but finally to say, it's over and the courts have said and the legislature has said that she has to be allowed to die in peace.

O'BRIEN: So, there is no legal appeal of the appeal, is what you're saying?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, there is technically an ability to appeal. But since the embank court has already said 10-2 that they're not going to give relief -- and there's nothing really new here -- I mean, it's conceivable that they could get the two judges that dissented and get a 2-1 decision. But that would immediately be reversed by the entire court embank.

And then if they appeal to the Supreme Court, there is no indication that there was a single dissent in the Supreme Court. So it appears to be 9-0 there.

And if I were advising the family, the parents, I would say at this point that an appeal would be frivolous, and it's unethical, actually, to bring a frivolous appeal.

On the other hand, as I said, I commend the parents for doing everything in their power. They think they have justice, the law and right on their side. And they should not be giving up. But there comes a time when the legal system says, enough's enough, and finality has to prevail.

O'BRIEN: As you well know, the family is among those pushing Florida's Governor Jeb Bush to go ahead and actually gain custody of Terri Schiavo. As you mentioned, that court order has ruled that he could not do that. That court order clearly trump's the governor's ability in this case?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, you know, there is a legal issue there that could be challenged, but the law is very clear about this: Even if a judicial order is erroneous, you cannot violate it without first getting a reversal of that court order. You can't challenge a court order, and then after the fact say, by the way, it was unlawful. The courts require you to comply with their orders. And even if it turns out they're wrong, you can still be held in contempt.

And I don't think the governor is going to want to run into a conflict with the court system. This would make him look like, you know, Governor Wallace on the courthouse steps defying court orders in the old days of segregation.

Now, of course, the governor thinks he's right in this case, and many of his constituents agree with him. But I would doubt that the governor would take what he would have to acknowledge would be extra unlawful action. So far, he's been saying, we'll follow the law.

And the law, whether right or wrong -- and I think reasonable people could disagree whether Florida law is right or wrong, whether it permits these decisions to be made too easily on the basis of a single statement by the woman to her husband -- whether that's right or wrong, surely Florida has the power to make that decision.

O'BRIEN: Legal expert Alan Dershowitz joining us by phone from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He, of course, is a professor at Harvard Law School.

And, of course, this breaking news he was commenting on, that federal judge now ruling that, in fact, the emergency request for Terri Schiavo's parents is denied. The feeding tube will not be reinserted into Terri Schiavo.

HEMMER: Alan Dershowitz saying this is checkmate.

O'BRIEN: Legally.

HEMMER: Through the legal process.

O'BRIEN: At the end of the road, essentially.

HEMMER: We'll get you down to Pinellas Park in a moment, down to Tallahassee, too. And we'll see if there is any movement there from the state capitol, the governor's office as well.

Back in a moment here. Top stories after this.


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