Euthanasia and Terri Schiavo
Terri Schiavo was a 41-year-old severely disabled woman in Florida who was the focus of
two massive religious, judicial and legislative efforts: one to keep her alive,
the other to allow her to die. Her feeding tube was removed on 2005-MAR-19. She
died at about 9:05 ET on MAR-31.
As a teenager, Terri was quite overweight. In the late 1980s, she had lost 65
pounds and became very concerned that she might regain her excess weight. During
she suffered from bulimia, an eating disorder. She regularly purged her body of sustenance. This created a
potassium imbalance in her body which induced a heart attack, which
in turn temporarily starved her brain of oxygen. Courts and doctors appointed by the
courts ruled that she was in a persistent vegetative state. "Patients
in a persistent vegetative state lack integrated function of the cerebral cortex
while retaining involuntary brain stem reflexes that regulate heart rate,
digestive, circulatory, sleep and other involuntary bodily functions. Their
behaviors are automatic, non-purposeful, uninhibited reflexes no longer under
voluntary control by higher brain centers." 1
Unlike patients in a coma, patients in a persistent
vegetative state can never recover.
Leon Prockop, a professor of neurology at the
University of Southern Florida, has studied Terri's CAT scans. He believes that
Terri's life effectively ceased fifteen years ago. He said that "She has
approximately 20% of her [total] brain tissue left inside her skull and the
remaining tissue is damaged. The tissue that controls the higher brain functions
is gone. It's disappeared." He continued: "Her death occurred some time
ago. That's my opinion....She has lost all frontal lobe functions. In her case,
there is a severe absence of brain tissue. This is not guesswork.....Her CAT
scan shows a greater degree of brain damage than I have ever seen in a living
person. That brain tissue cannot come back. It never has, and it never will."
His view "coincides with the vast preponderance of expert medical opinion..."
On the other hand, Terri's family, and supporting
lawyers, spiritual advisors and a very few physicians disagree. They believe
that Terri is responsive to external stimuli, is conscious, and is aware of her
surroundings. William Cheshire, a neurologist on the staff of the Mayo Clinic in
Jacksonville, FL supports this view. He observed Terri in person and has
reviewed her medical history. However, he did not perform "a comprehensive
neurological examination" which the Mayo Clinic declares is "the standard
procedure for the evaluation of a comatose patient..." 9
Columnist Oakland Ross suggests "...it often seems the two sides are
talking about two different women. Yet they are both talking about the same
Terri Schiavo." 9
CitizenLink stated that: "Pinellas-Pasco County Medical Examiner Jon
Thogmartin also said he found no evidence to contradict the diagnosis that
Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state after her 1990 collapse."
Developments leading up to her death:
Brain scans showed that the part of Schiavo's brain that controlled thought and voluntary
movements had atrophied. Her brain stem, which regulates the body's automatic
functions such as the heart beat, blood pressure, breathing, kidney function,
eye blinking, etc. remained intact and functioning.
2 CAT scans showed that almost 90% of her cerebrum the "largest and
most complex part of [the] brain [which is] involved in consciousness, thinking,
speech and emotions" had been replaced by spinal fluid. Her cerebellum
which "regulates muscular co-ordination, smooth movements, balance, posture,"
etc. was "severely degenerated."
Her husband, sister in law and brother in law recall her stated wish
on two occasions that she
be allowed to die, if she were ever in this situation. The courts have accepted
this position. Her parents reject the
assessment that she is in a persistent vegetative state or that she ever
expressed such end-of-life beliefs. They feel that she was in a "minimally
conscious state" i.e. Terri was aware of her environment, of other persons, and
of her own bodily pain. She was capable of thinking, although she was unable to
communicate the thoughts to others. Further, her parents believe that she could
have regained some of her mental and physical functioning through therapy.
Terri was unable to eat or drink on her own. She had been supplied
nourishment through a feeding tube that connects directly to her stomach. On
three occasions in the past, her husband has obtained court approval to remove
the tube and allow her to die by dehydration. By late 2005-MAR, the family,
Florida courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, and Congress had been active in her
case. Almost all legal approaches to require the re-insertion of the feeding tube appear
to have been exhausted by the time of her death on MAR-31. Appeals as high as the
U.S. Supreme Court were possible, but would undoubtedly have been unsuccessful.
Events from 2005-MAR-18 onward:
||MAR-18: At 1:45 ET, her feeding tube was removed for the third time. A Roman Catholic
priest administered last rites. She was expected to die of dehydration sometime in very late March or very early April,
if the feeding tube were not reinstalled. |
||MAR-21: In an extraordinary intervention, Congress passed a bill that gave
jurisdiction over Terri's fate to federal courts on 2005-MAR-21. Only three
members were present to pass the bill in the Senate. The House voted 203 to 58
in favor of the bill. President Bush flew from Texas to Washington and signed it into law at about 01:30 hrs. The
legislation requires that a federal judge, if requested by Terri's family,
launch a new inquiry into the legal and medical questions surrounding Terri
Schiavo. This law resulted in multiple series of unsuccessful appeals as high
as the U.S. Supreme Court.|
||MAR-25: Her father, Bob Schindler, said: "Terri is
weakening. She's down to her last hours. Something has to be done and has to be
done quick." Later, he said: "I told her that we're still fighting for
her, and she shouldn't give up because we're not. But I think the people who are
anxious to see her die are getting their wish." Lawyers and friends of
Terri's parents have stated that her skin is flaking, she has a dry tongue, dry
lips and sunken eyes. 3|
||MAR-27: On Easter Sunday, governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) said that there
more he can do. He said: "I cannot violate a court order. I don't have powers
from the United States Constitution -- or for that matter from the Florida
Constitution -- that would allow me to intervene after a decision has been made.
I'm sad that she's in the situation that she's in. I feel bad for her family. My
heart goes out to the Schindlers and, for that matter, to Michael
[Schiavo], This has not been an easy thing for any, any member of the family.
But most particularly for Terri Schiavo." 4|
||Doctors started to administer morphine to Terri. This is not
intended to eliminate pain, because it is extremely doubtful that she can feel
discomfort. It is to ease her breathing. Some suggest that this use of morphine
means that her attending medical professionals believe that she only has a day or two to live.
||Terri was again given the last rites of the Roman Catholic church.
||Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, and
other conservative Christian activists, flew to Washington to attempt to have
Congress enforce a congressional subpoena which they believe makes Terri Schiavo
a legally protected federal witness. That subpoena was dismissed by George
Greer, a Florida judge. This triggered a debate over the constitutional
separation of powers in the U.S. between the judiciary and legislative branches.
||Randall Terry, the president of the Society for Truth and Justice, said:
"What in the name of God is going on here, when the entire US Government
prostrates itself at the feet of a tinpot judge named Greer?" 10
||George Felos, Michael Shiavo's lawer, said he had visited Schiavo
for more than an hour Monday and said she looked "very peaceful. She
looked calm. I saw no evidence of any bodily discomfort
whatsoever. [Her breathing seemed] a little on the rapid side." Her
eyes were sunken. 11
||MAR-31: By this date, a total of 47 persons, many of whom are children, had been arrested for
trespassing. They attempted to bring water into the hospice where Terri Schiavo
is being cared for. Their efforts are largely symbolic, because Terri is unable
to swallow water or consume food. Michael Schiavo has spent days and nights at his dying wife's bedside since
the feeding tube was removed. 5,11|
||Late in the evening, the 11th Circuit
Court of Appeals agreed to consider a petition for a new hearing.
Although past considerations by this court had been limited to legal
matters, this one would be more broad ranging. It would look at the same
evidence that the state judge reviewed.
||Jessie Jackson arrived in Florida and
prayed with Terri's parents. He called her impending death an
"injustice" and promised that he would call state senators who had
opposed legislation to reinsert the feeding tube and ask them to
reconsider. He said: "I feel so passionate about this
injustice being done, how unnecessary it is to deny her a feeding tube,
water, not even ice to be used for her parched lips. This is a moral
issue and it transcends politics and family disputes." He said that
he asked Michael Schiavo for permission to see Terri. He was allegedly
||First lady, Laura Bush, said: "I just feel like the federal
government has to be involved. It is a life issue that really does
require government to be involved." 11
||Covenant News Wire Service claimed
that Terri's parent's legal team had met with Florida Governor Jeb Bush
multiple times, trying to persuade him to charge Michael Schiavo with
adultery. Michael allegedly started to live with another woman about
five years after his wife was diagnosed as being in a persistent
vegetative state with no chance of recovery. He and his new partner have
had two children together. Under Florida law, section 798.01: "Whoever
lives in an open state of adultery shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of
the second degree." 13
There is some doubt that this law is constitutional. In
Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled that state governments cannot necessarily criminalize what it
regards as immoral behavior if that behavior is done by consensual
adults, in private.
||The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the
petition. Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. wrote: "While the members of
her family and the members of Congress have acted in a way that is both
fervent and sincere, the time has come for dispassionate discharge of
duty." He criticized the actions of President Bush and Congress: "Despite
sincere and altruistic motivations, the legislative and executive
branches of our government have acted in a manner demonstrably at odds
with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people
our Constitution." 12
||The U.S. Supreme Court also refused to
hear an appeal.
||Jessie Jackson said in the presence of Terri's parents and siblings:
"We ask God to sustain this family as they go through this
gut-wrenching ordeal. We know that the innocent do suffer and that you
need not be guilty to be crucified." 12
||The state of Florida had
two or more appeals pending before a Florida appeals court. They ask that
the feeding tube be reinstalled. They became moot when she died. 11
||The Washington Times reports that Florida
Circuit Court Judge George Greer has received "a sea of death
threats." Some of the state senators who voted against a bill to
reinsert the feeding tube have also received death threats. Somebody has
allegedly threatened to bomb the hospice if Terri dies. 12
||Terri Schiavo died just before 10 AM ET. In her last moments,
Michael Schiavo asked Terri's brother and sister to leave the room. Some
suggest that he did this out of spite by denying them access to Terri as
she died. Michael and his attorney said that he did this because Terri's
brother was becoming argumentative with him, and Michael wanted his last
moments with the body of his wife to be peaceful.
It seems that the two "sides" were able to agree on nothing, during Terri
Schiavo's life and death.
Burial or cremation:
A battle is brewing over what to do with Terri's body
after death. Michael Schiavo has arranged for her to be cremated, and for her
ashes to be placed in his family plot near Philadelphia, PA where he and his
wife met and were married. Michael Schindler told The Tampa Tribune in 2002:
"She never wanted to be put in the ground with bugs." Terri's parents want a
wake, an open-casket Roman Catholic funeral mass, and burial in western Florida
so that they can visit the grave. Paul O'Donnell, a Franciscan monk and family
spokesperson said: "Even in death, he isn't going to allow them a shrine, a
place to go talk to her. He's taking her from them. Won't he at least give them
her dead body?" Anti-abortion activist Randall Terry of Operation Rescue
"He's a bastard,. it's sheer spite. He's moved on with his life. Why can't he
give ...[her parents] this?" 5
Michael Schiavo has arranged to have an autopsy
performed on his wife. He wanted to clear up some of the
disagreements about Terri's medical condition. The autopsy showed that there is
no evidence that her brain damage was caused by physical abuse, or harmful drugs
or other substances as some commentators had suggested. As noted above, it seems
that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state since the time of her collapse
in 1990. She could never have regained even a minimally conscious state. She
would never have been able to eat or drink if she had been given food by mouth.
On a positive note:
One encouraging result of this situation is that increasing numbers
of adults are preparing living wills to express
their precise wishes in case they are similarly disabled.
There is always the possibility that Terri's
tragedy will help focus public attention on the dangerous message spread by the
media and their advertisers that a woman's value depends on them being so
dangerously thin that their health is endangered. Author Jean Kilbourne has said: "Imagine
if all this energy and media attention focused instead on the self-loathing and
hatred of their own bodies that our culture generates in women, and the rampant
eating disorders that often result. Now that might save
the lives of many young women for whom it is not too late." 6,7
William Polk Cheshire, Jr., "Affidavit," 2005-MAR-23, at:
http://www.terrisfight.net This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
Tim Harper, "Judgment reserved in feeding-tube hearing," Toronto
Star, 2005-MAR-22, Pages A1 & A9.
Mike Schneider, "Schindlers Press
Legal Battle As Daughter Nears Death.
Legal appeals continue as Terri Schiavo nears death." The Day,
New London CT, 2005-MAR-26, at:
"Backers of Schiavo's parents head to Washington. Schindler spokesman
disputes attorney over her condition," CNN News, 2005-MAR-27, at:
Helen Kennedy, "Cremation uproar," New York Daily News, 20050-MAR-28
Antonia Zerbisias, "All-out coverage of Schiavo wears thin," The
Toronto Star, 2005-MAR-29, Page C6.
Jean Kilbourne is the author of "Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising
Changes the Way We Think and Feel," Free Press, (2000). Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Oakland Ross, "Terri died 15 years ago, neurologists maintain," The Toronto Star,
2005-MAR-29, Page A6.
Oakland Ross, "What has been going on in Terri Schiavo's head?," The
Toronto Star, 2005-MAR-29, Front Page (A1).
Jacqui Goddard, "Christians Rally at White House for Schiavo,"
"Court Agrees to Consider Schiavo Petition," Fox News, 2005-MAR-30.
Jane Roh, "Supreme Court Denies Parents' Plea," Fox News,
"Adulterer Michael Schiavo," Covenant News
Wire Service, at:
Pete Winn, "Schiavo Autopsy Finds No Evidence of Abuse," CitizenLink,
Focus on the Family, 2005-JUN-15, at:
Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally posted: 2005-MAR-27
Latest update: 2005-JUN-15
Author: B.A. Robinson