In his announcement Tuesday that he would explore a 2016 presidential bid, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) promised to focus on “ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.” But he made no mention of his most controversial act during his two terms in office: his attempts to take custody of Terri Schiavo and overrule her husband Michael’s decision to remove her feeding tube, fifteen years after cardiac arrest had left her in a vegetative state.
ThinkProgress spoke with Michael Schiavo and the attorney who represented him in the matter, George Felos, about Bush’s presidential candidacy. Both expressed concern that Bush’s record was one of government interference and opposing individual liberty.
“If you want a government that’s gonna intrude on your life, enforce their personal views on you, then I guess Jeb Bush is your man,” Schiavo explained, adding, “We really don’t need another Bush in office.”
Felos described Bush’s actions interference in Schiavo case as, “An egregious example of the fat hand of government inserting itself into a family’s medical decision and the obtrusive hand of government trying to override their decision.”
Though Michael Schiavo got a court order in 2002 to remove his wife’s feeding tube — he said his wife had not wanted to be kept alive artificially — Jeb Bush intervened, pushing the state legislature to pass an unconstitutional bill in a special session giving him authority to order the feeding tube reinserted. When a state judge ordered it removed again, Felos told ThinkProgress, Bush “manipulated the organs of state government in order to try to evade the court order.”
“Through the Dept. of Children and Family Services and through the Department of Law Enforcement they tried in the courts to ignore the higher court pronouncements – this was documented in an article by the Miami Herald,” he recalled, though, “when local authorities said you’re going to have to go through us in order to get her, and the state law enforcement agency backed down.”
Though Bush, then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and social conservative activists protested that Terri Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state, an autopsy confirmed that she had been.
“It’s one thing to have your own personal beliefs,” Felos said, “It’s quite another to use your official powers and your official office to subvert the court and the lawful process.”
He also recalled that after Schiavo’s death, Jeb Bush went after Michael Schiavo personally, asking the state’s attorney to investigate whether he had called 911 fast enough. “It was very odd, almost like a personal vendetta the governor had towards Michael Schaivo.” The state’s attorney found no evidence against him and closed the case. “The propriety of using your office to hunt and harass people, as the governor did to Mr. Schiavo after his wife’s death, I think raises significant questions about his judgment and his character,” Felos said.
Michael Schiavo, nearly a decade later, said he believes Jeb Bush’s intervention was a purely political move and an act of buffoonery. “If you want a government that’s gonna be intrusive and interfere in your personal life, vote for Bush. If you want to live like that, want people to interfere in your personal lives, then vote for him,” he said.