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Terri Schiavo dies

Fri Apr 01, 2005 9:26 am

Schindler family via AP file
Terri Schiavo is seen in a 1990 photo taken shortly after she had a heart attack that led to her incapacitated state. free video


• Terri Schiavo dies
March 31: Terri Schiavo died 13 days after her feeding tube was removed in a emotional right-to-die dispute. NBC's Mark Potter reports.

Nightly News

• Schiavo's autopsy
March 31: A medical examiner could provide final answers to the long argued question of Terri Schiavo’s brain damage. NBC's Robert Bazell reports.

Nightly News

• Terri Schiavo dies
March 31: Terri Schiavo has died, says Brother Paul O'Donnell, a spokesman for the parents of Terri Schiavo.


• Terri Schiavo
March 31: Terri Schiavo died Thursday, nearly two weeks after a court ordered her feeding tube removed. NBC's Martin Savidge reports.

Today show

• Schindler family speaks
March 31: Suzanne Vitadamo and Bobby Schindler, the sister and brother of Terri Schiavo, read prepared statements reacting to her death.


• Felos: 'A peaceful death'
March 31: Michael Schiavo’s attorney George Felos says Schiavo’s concern was to provide “Terri a peaceful death with dignity.”


• Lawmakers' reaction
March 31: Lawmakers, who fought to prolong Terri Schiavo's life, are reacting to her death. NBC’s Mike Viqueira reports.


• Schiavo death reactions
March 28: MSNBC-TV has reactions to the death of Terri Schiavo, from the brother of Michael Schiavo to the White House.


• Media's coverage of Schiavo
March 31: The Poynter Institute's Scott Libin talks about the media's coverage of the Terri Schiavo case with MSNBC-TV's Randy Meier.


• Terri's battles in life and death
March 31: Terri Schiavo, the woman at the center of a lengthy and public legal battle, has died. MSNBC's Monica Novotony reports on the legal and personal struggle that began 15 years ago.

Terri Schiavo dies, but battle continues
Autopsy planned; Schindlers won't be allowed at burial siteMSNBC staff and news service reports
Updated: 8:34 p.m. ET March 31, 2005PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - The bitter family feud over Terri Schiavo continued after her death Thursday, with a member of the Schiavo family saying that her ashes will be buried in an undisclosed location near Philadelphia so that her immediate family doesn’t show up and turn the event into a media spectacle.


“If Mike knew they would come in peace, he would have no problem with it,” said Scott Schiavo, Michael Schiavo’s brother, during an interview at his home in Pennsylvania.

Schiavo, 41, died Thursday at the Pinellas Park hospice where she lay for years while her husband and her parents fought in the nation’s most divisive — and most heavily litigated — right-to-die dispute.

After an autopsy, Michael Schiavo plans to have his wife’s body cremated and her ashes brought to Pennsylvania, where she grew up. Scott Schiavo said the ashes would be buried in a plot left by an aunt and uncle, but the family does not plan on providing the specific location for the burial — underscoring the bitterness of the dispute.

Click for related content
Live Vote: Do you think the U.S. court system worked?
Bioethicist Arthur Caplan on Schiavo's death

Nation transfixed by case
The battle over whether to keep Schiavo alive with a feeding tube galvanized the nation over the last month, with President Bush and Congress weighing in on the side of her parents.

The president said "millions of Americans are saddened" by Schiavo's death. “The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak,” he added. “In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in favor of life.”

The case had spent seven years winding its way through the courts, with Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, repeatedly on the losing end.

They have been at odds with Michael Schiavo, who consistently won legal battles by arguing that his wife would not have wanted to live in her condition. The case focused national attention on living wills, since Schiavo left no written instructions in case she became disabled.

Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 after her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance that was believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors ruled she was in a persistent vegetative state, with no real consciousness or chance of recovery.

Last-minute altercation
Brother Paul O’Donnell, an adviser to the Schindlers, said the parents and their two other children “were denied access at the moment of her death" and were only allowed into her hospice room after she died.

Another Schindler adviser, the Rev. Frank Pavone, said Schiavo’s blood relatives were sent from her room just 10 or so minutes before she died because her condition was to be assessed and Michael Schiavo was going to visit.

“Bobby Schindler, her brother, said, ‘We want to be in the room when she dies,'" Pavone said. "Michael Schiavo said, ‘No, you cannot.’ So his heartless cruelty continues until this very last moment. This is not only a death, with all the sadness that brings, but this is a killing."

Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, disputed that account.

Felos said that when the time came for hospice workers to do an assessment, the brother engaged in a dispute with the police officer on duty. He characterized Michael Schiavo's decision that the relatives leave as an effort to provide a peaceful atmosphere for Terri's death.

Dueling criticisms
Although he tried his best to be respectful of the Schindlers' wishes, Felos, said, "Mr. Schiavo's overriding concern was that Mrs. Schiavo die in peace ... in an atmosphere of love and not acrimony."

Related coverage
• Reaction to Schiavo's death
• Readers share their thoughts
• Timeline of the Schiavo case
• Other high-profile right-to-die cases
• Schiavo's life before the debate
• Profile of Michael Schiavo

Felos also criticized Pavone for the tone of his comments. "Father Pavone chose to act as an ideologue using the pulpit rather than using the pulpit for some healing," he said.

After Terri's death, Felos said that 30 to 40 hospice workers gathered around her bed to pay their respects. Some of these workers, whom he described as "angels of mercy" had cared for Schiavo for much of her five-year stay. "It was a very emotional scene," Felos said.

Scott Schiavo expressed relief that his sister-in-law’s ordeal was over, and anger at those who have attacked the Schiavo family.

“This isn’t over by a long shot, We’re going to get our name right,” he said. “The world is going to know who Mike was, they’re going to know Mike wasn’t a beast.”

The Schindlers had earlier pleaded for their daughter’s life, calling the removal of the tube “judicial homicide.”

After the tube that supplied a nutrient solution was disconnected on March 18, protesters streamed into Pinellas Park to keep vigil outside her hospice, with many arrested as they tried to bring her food and water. The Vatican likened the removal of her feeding tube to capital punishment for an innocent woman.

Dawn Kozsey, a musician who was among those outside Schiavo’s hospice, wept when she learned of the woman’s death. “Words cannot express the rage I feel,” she said. “Is my heart broken for this? Yes.”

At a memorial service held Thursday night for supporters of the Schindler family, Bob Schindler thanked them for getting the family "through some real tough times."

"We'll never forget you all. We thank you, and Terri thanks you,” he said to applause.

Politicians and courts
Although several right-to-die cases have been fought in the courts across the nation in recent years, none had been this public, drawn-out and bitter.

Gov. Jeb Bush, whose repeated attempts to get the tube reconnected failed, said that millions of people around the state and world will be “deeply grieved” by Schiavo's death but that the debate over her fate could help others grapple with end-of-life issues.

“After an extraordinarily difficult and tragic journey, Terri Schiavo is at rest,” Bush said. “I remain convinced, however, that Terri’s death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society. For that, we can be thankful for all that the life of Terri Schiavo has taught us.”

Six times, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. Schiavo’s fate was debated on the floor of Congress and by President Bush, who signed an extraordinary bill on March 21 that let federal judges review her case.

“In extraordinary circumstances like this, it is wise to always err on the side of life,” the president said.

But federal courts refused again and again to overturn the central ruling by Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer, who said Michael Schiavo had convinced him that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to be kept alive by extraordinary means.

At a federal appeals court in Atlanta, one judge rebuked the White House and lawmakers Wednesday for acting “in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers’ blueprint for the governance of a free people — our Constitution.”

“Any further action by our court or the district court would be improper,” wrote Judge Stanley Birch Jr., appointed by President Bush’s father.


Fri Apr 01, 2005 9:32 am

Relatives at war
Because Terri Schiavo did not leave written wishes on her care, Florida law gave preference to Michael Schiavo over her parents. But the law also recognizes parents as having crucial opinions in the care of an incapacitated person.

A court-appointed physician testified her brain damage was so severe that there was no hope she would ever have any cognitive abilities.

Still, her parents, who visited her nearly every day, reported their daughter responded to their voices. Video showing the dark-haired woman appearing to interact with her family was televised nationally. But the court-appointed doctor said the noises and facial expressions were reflexes.

Both sides also accused each other of being motivated by greed over a $1 million medical malpractice award from doctors who failed to diagnose the chemical imbalance.

However, that money, which Michael Schiavo received in 1993, has all but evaporated, spent on his wife’s care and the court fight. Just $40,000 to $50,000 remained as of mid-March.

Money issue
Michael Schiavo’s lawyers suggested the Schindlers wanted to get some of the money. And the Schindlers questioned their son-in-law’s sincerity, saying he never mentioned his wife’s wishes until winning the malpractice case.

The parents tried to have Michael Schiavo removed as his wife’s guardian because he lives with another woman and has two children with her. Michael Schiavo refused to divorce his wife, saying he feared the Schindlers would ignore her desire to die.

Schiavo lived in her brain-damaged state longer than two other young women whose cases brought right-to-die issues to the forefront of public attention.

Karen Quinlan lived for more than a decade in a vegetative state — brought on by alcohol and drugs in 1975 when she was 21; New Jersey courts let her parents take her off a respirator a year after her injury. Nancy Cruzan, who was 25 when a 1983 car crash placed her in a vegetative state, lived nearly eight years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that her parents could withdraw her feeding tube.

Schiavo’s feeding tube was briefly removed in 2001. It was reinserted two days later when a court intervened. In October 2003, the tube was removed again, but Gov. Jeb Bush rushed “Terri’s Law” through the Legislature, allowing the state to have the feeding tube reinserted after six days. The Florida Supreme Court later ruled that law was an unconstitutional interference in the judicial system.

On March 18, the tube was removed for a third and final time.

Fri Apr 01, 2005 9:33 am

Well, regardless of what was right and what was wrong, (I'm not getting into that) My feeling is she's much better off now and in a much better place. May she rest in peace and may lessons be learned from this tragic story.

Fri Apr 01, 2005 2:47 pm

Rob, I agree with you. Though the manner of her death was cruel and her husband's motives questionable, it was ultimately the right thing to do based on my knowledge of the circumstances.

However, that is not to say there isn't room for improvement on the legislative side of things. From where I sit, it looks as though the husband had the courts kill her so he could get married again.

Fri Apr 01, 2005 7:44 pm

I agree as well. This whole situation has been a morbid clusterf@*# from the very beginning. Now, as if this wasn't already bad enough, Michael and the Schindler's are fighting over her body. They want her buried in Florida, so they can visit her and he wants her cremated and placed in the Shiavo family crypt (the location of which he is keeping a secret so the parents cannot even visit). This case just goes from bad to worse. The only real winner is Terri, whose suffering is finally over and has found the peace that alluded her on earth.


Sat Apr 02, 2005 1:36 am

Stephen Butler wrote: From where I sit, it looks as though the husband had the courts kill her so he could get married again.

I'd say you're sittin' in the right spot Stephen!

RIP Terry.

Sat Apr 02, 2005 1:44 am

I've tried to catch up on a lot this as much as I can.

I'm still unsure that I've understood the basic case the husband put forward, which was that his wife had expressed a verbal will stating that she would rather die and that this was said whilst she was able to express this desire in a capable manner.

Is that the gist of that bit ?

Ignore this bit if the above is wrong:
Because she developed into a state where she was considered unable to express any other wishes further, it was deemed that the one she made above should stand.
Well what if inside her own mind she opted for the right to change her mind but was not able to express it in a manner which others could understand or even know of ? Who had a right in law to say she wasn't able to change her mind just because she couldn't express such a change ?

If I'm being naive through lack of knowledge on this subject please enlighten me further, thanks.

Sat Apr 02, 2005 1:57 am

You've got the gist of it Steve. And based on this tenuous alledged verbal expression the Judiciary ordered her to be starved to death. Dispicable.

Sat Apr 02, 2005 1:59 am

It is scary how much control a man like Michael Schiavo has over Terri's immediate family members. How they maintained self-control is beyond me.

Sat Apr 02, 2005 2:56 am

Okay, so sometimes, rightly or wrongly, someone determines that anothers life is too painful and their suffering should end.

I understand that on both sides of the argument and I respect each sides views.

But bloody hell! Starving someone to death who cannot express themselves in a manner we understand ????????

Please! They treat death row people better than that.

Starve to death! I'm dumbfounded by this. Give the poor woman a quick easy painless non suffering death if it really must be deemed that must be the way, but crikey - starving her ?

what's next - stoning someone ?

Sat Apr 02, 2005 5:16 am

I think anyone is entitled to die if they so wish, but did she so wish? We will now never know. If there was any evidence at all that this poor lady had expressed a will do die, then I say fair enough, but was there any real evidence? And yes, even during a so-called vegetative state, she could have changed her mind.

This case is such a morally complex one that it is hard to know where to begin.

I've a feeling this one could go all the way. After all the President, the President for crying out loud, tried to intervene and failed, because the courts, both state and federal, said up yours mate, we're going to kill her anyway so that her husband can get married again without any conscience. So where does that leave George Bush? Unable to dictate to his own courts, or a respecter of the legal system?

Sat Apr 02, 2005 12:11 pm

"Right-wing nut jobs" have been complaining about the power the courts have granted themselves for about 40 years now. Sure sometimes the overreaching has lead to gains in civil rights, but other times it has resulted in the lessening of the value of human life.

Sat Apr 02, 2005 6:17 pm

Steve_M wrote:But bloody hell! Starving someone to death who cannot express themselves in a manner we understand ????????

Please! They treat death row people better than that.

Starve to death! I'm dumbfounded by this. Give the poor woman a quick easy painless non suffering death if it really must be deemed that must be the way, but crikey - starving her ?

Steve -
The judiciary could not order a 'quick, easy, painless, non-suffering death' for Terri. To do so would have amounted to the judiciary ordering an innocent person to be painlessly executed. By ordering the removal of the feeding tube the judiciary can maintain the facade of 'allowing Terri to die.' But a feeding tube is not really an artificial life-support system. It's basically feeding someone who cannot feed themselves. As I mentioned on another thread there are Alzheimers patients and elderly folks suffering from senile dementia in nursing homes who cannot feed themselves, yet it would be morally unconscionable to simply not feed them.

Sat Apr 02, 2005 8:43 pm

Yeah, put her in a vacuum sealed room and allow her not to breathe might have been their other option.

I have to agree with President Bush (that will shock him!) and we must err on the side of life.

If it cannot be independantly proven that a persons wishes were to die then the default of life must be adhered to.

I know this was the principal under which everything was challenged, but it's simple enough without the need for further legislation to complicate it.