Doctor Disputes Media Claims Terri Will Not Suffer Agonizing Death

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 16, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Doctor Disputes Media Claims Terri Will Not Suffer Agonizing Death

by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 16, 2003

Clearwater, FL ( — While Michael Schiavo and some media outlets claim Terri Schiavo will die in peace, doctors say Terri’s starvation death will be agonizing and painful.

David Stevens, M.D., executive director of the Christian Medical Association, says Terri will suffer in part because she, despite media reports to the contrary, is not in a persistive vegetative state.

PVS patients are those who "are unaware of themselves, their environment and are unable to interact with others in any way," Stevens told "They can breathe and retain some brainstem reflexes but they are not able to sit up or do other things that Terri can do."

Stevens says that when feeding tubes are withdrawn patients should still receive food and water orally. That is not the case with Terri as Michael Schiavo decided against it and Judge Greer affirmed his decision.

"Nutrition and fluids or a universal human biologic requirement and a fundamental demonstration of human caring," Stevens explained.

As far as Terri’s starvation is concerned, some media outlets have reported that Terri "won’t feel a thing" because she will be prescribed pain medications. In fact, Michael contends Terri has had no feeling since her 1991 heart attack.

Peggy Guin, a nursing instructor at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida, told the Tampa Tribune that her experience with patients removed from feeding tubes shows they feel no pain.

Kenneth Goodman, director of bioethics at the University of Miami School of Medicine, told the newspaper "she is not going to feel a thing."

"There is nothing unusual about terminating hydration and nutrition,” Goodman said. "The reason why Florida law allows it, and the other 49 states allow it, is obviously that this can be done in a way that is pain-free and dignified. That is why it is legal.”

Stevens strongly disagrees.

"Without intervention Terri will not have a comfortable death," Stevens told

Technically, Terri will die from dehydration, not starvation.

"Her progression will go from thirst to extreme thirst. [Terri] is likely to cry and moan till she is so dehydrated she won’t have tears and her mouth is too dry and cracked to make sounds," says Stevens.

"If she gets any fluids in by mouth (if they are allowed) the process could take longer," Stevens tells

Terri will likely suffer numerous symptoms over time, and they will get worse the longer it takes for her to die.

"She may have nose bleeds as the mucous dries out. She will probably experience nausea, vomiting and cramps as her intestines dehydrate. She will decrease her urine output, have dizziness, cramping in the arms and legs as her electrolytes get out of balance," Stevens explains.

Unless Terri’s feeding tube is reinserted quickly or she is able to receive food and water orally, her situation may grow worse.

"She may have seizures and even further brain damage during the process," Stevens concludes.