One Year After Terri Schiavo's Death, Advocates Promise To Continue
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 4, 2006
TAMPA, FLORIDA--The one year anniversary of Terri Schiavo's death was marked this week by dueling accounts of what happened during the last 15 years of her life, more calls for "living wills" and "advanced directives", and promises from advocates to keep fighting for the rights of people with disabilities to avoid her fate.
Terri died of dehydration on March 31, 2005, less than two weeks after the tube providing her food and water was removed under a court order, despite efforts to keep her alive made by her parents, disability rights advocates, right-to-life groups, Pope John Paul II, the controlling party in Congress, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his brother, President George W. Bush.
Terri was 26 years old when she stopped breathing in February 1990 and her brain was without oxygen for several minutes. Until her death 15 years later, it was reported that her collapse was a heart attack brought on by a chemical imbalance from an eating disorder. Results from her autopsy, however, showed no evidence of a heart attack.
In 1993, Mr. Schiavo failed to win a $20 million malpractice jury award from his wife's gynecologist to cover the medical care and neurological treatments Terri would need based on her life expectancy, which Schiavo and his attorneys estimated at 51 years. Instead, the jury awarded $1.4 million to Terri and $600,000 to Michael, with the understanding that when she died the remainder in the trust would go to him. Within months, he instructed medical professionals to not treat Terri for a potentially life-threatening urinary tract infection, and invoked a "do not resuscitate" order.
In 1997, Michael Schiavo announced his engagement to Jodi Centonze, and hired prominent ""right to die" attorney George Felos. With the value of Terri's fund standing at $713,825, Schiavo then petitioned the courts to have his wife's feeding tube removed. He and his doctors convinced Florida courts that Terri was in a "persistent vegetative state", that she could not think or feel, could never recover, and that Terri had told him before the collapse that she would not want to be on life support. An unknown portion of that money was spent over the following years on attorneys fees to seek her death.
Other medical experts and Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, claimed that she was aware, that she responded to them, and even tried to talk to them. They believed that Terri could have improved with therapies which Mr. Schiavo refused to allow, and that she would not have wanted to starve to death. They challenged Mr. Schiavo and the courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Michael Schiavo was front and center in his hour-long interview last Sunday with NBC's Matt Lauer on "Dateline NBC" and shorter segments both Monday and Tuesday on "The Today Show".
Mr. Schiavo said it was now "my turn to talk", and to promote his new book, "Terri: The Truth", which, he agreed with Lauer, "settles some scores".
In one exchange during the interview, Lauer asked Michael why he refused to turn over custody and care to Terri's parents, Schiavo answered, "Well, you know something, when you sit in a courtroom and you hear the father say, 'I'll cut her arms and legs off just to keep her alive,' why would I want to put their daughter back in their care if he's going to do that to her?"
Lauer interrupted, "Let make sure we understand that statement: I think the statement was if she were to develop gangrene and had to have limbs amputated, he would do that and okay that as long as he could still have her alive."
"That's a little different than what you said," Lauer corrected Schiavo.
Schiavo told Lauer he had not yet had time to decide what to do with the money he stands to make from the book.
For their part, the Schindlers are publishing their own book, entitled, "A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo - A Lesson for Us." They plan to use the proceeds to fund the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation to ensure "the rights of disabled, elderly and vulnerable citizens against care rationing, euthanasia and medical killing."
"We lost in our battle to save Terri, but we believe it is incumbent on us to redirect our efforts to saving the lives of the innocent, who every day are being targeted by the euthanasia cult," Mary Schindler said during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
While the dispute between Terri's parents and her husband waged on, most mainstream media and lawmakers focused on the importance of "living wills" and "advanced directives". Since her death, however, there has been little change in laws regarding life-sustaining care and treatment. According to the St. Petersburg Times, at least 49 such bills were proposed in 23 states over the last year. The only one that was inspired by Terri's situation and became law was in Louisiana, and it only passed after being heavily watered down.
For years, disability rights groups watched with great interest the battle between Terri's husband and her parents. Dozens of national disability groups signed a petition in October 2003 showing support for keeping Terri's feeding tube in place -- noting that thousands of people use feeding tubes every day. Many people with disabilities have said they identified with Terri's situation, in which another person could make decisions regarding their health, welfare, and death. Many said they worried that letting Terri die of starvation and dehydration would send a message that their lives are not worth living.
Last Monday, Diane Coleman, president of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, said in a press release: "We see many indications that managed care, government funded health care providers and overburdened courts have ignored constitutional principles that we used to take for granted, threatening millions of old, ill and disabled Americans who are endangered on many fronts."
As of this printing, 78 individuals and 38 organizations had signed onto "A Statement Of Common Principles On Life-Sustaining Care And Treatment Of People With Disabilities". The statement asserts that people with disabilities have the right to self-determination when it comes to life-sustaining care, and that when there is doubt as to a person's wishes, "a presumption must always be made in favor of providing such care and treatment."
"Disability Activists Mark Schiavo Anniversary, Express Concerns" (Not Dead Yet)
"Books by husband, parents of Terri Schiavo out this week" (Miami Herald)
"After her life, they fight for others" (St. Petersburg Times)
"Michael Schiavo nearly gave up fight to end brain-damaged wife's life" (Associated Press via FindLaw)
"Michael Schiavo's side of the story" (NBC)
"Moral of Terri's story: Marry wisely" (WorldNetDaily)
"Schiavo bills sit on back burners " (St. Petersburg Times)
"A Statement Of Common Principles On Life-Sustaining Care And Treatment Of People With Disabilities" (Center on Human Policy)
"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)