Terri Schiavo Dies After Enduring 13 Day Court-Ordered Starvation

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 31, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Terri Schiavo has passed away after enduring 13 days of a painful starvation and dehydration death that six state and federal courts declined to prevent. While her family will remember a loving daughter and sister, her death will be the beginning of a renewed debate about euthanasia and end of life issues.

Terri died Thursday morning at Woodside Hospice, and Paul O’Donnell, a Franciscan monk who has been a spokesman for the Schindlers during the last two weeks, confirmed Terri’s death.

“It is with great sadness that it’s been reported to us that Terri Schiavo has passed away,” he told reporters. O’Donnell indicated Terri’s parents would make a statement later Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, a representative of Terri’s family said her parents described her as “very gaunt” in a morning visit and noted that her medical condition deteriorated rapidly overnight.

“It’s her 14th day without food and water. You can imagine, it is not a pretty sight,” Terri’s brother told reporters early Thursday before her death.

According to David Gibbs, the lead attorney for Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, the Schindlers and Terri’s brother Bobby Schindler and sister Suzanne Vitadamo were in Terri’s hospice room visiting with her until about 10 minutes before she died.

“This is indeed a sad day for the nation, for the family. Their faith in God remains strong,” Gibbs said, according to an Associated Press report. “God loves Terry more than they do. She is at peace.”

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life visited Terri Thursday morning with her family. He said Bobby and Suzanne were ”sitting there praying, holding her hand, stroking her hair,” the Miami Herald reported.

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The Schindler family spent years in Florida courts trying to stop the death of their daughter.

Circuit Court Judge George Greer initially ordered Terri’s death in 2000 and her feeding tube was removed twice before. The second time, Florida Governor Jeb Bush lobbied state lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow him to protect Terri’s life.

They did, but the bill was ultimately declared unconstitutional.

During the third time Terri’s feeding tube was removed, Congress passed legislation to protect Terri and the measure received President George W. Bush’s approval. However, three Florida and six federal courts ignored the bill’s mandate to halt Terri’s starvation and hold news trials related to the Schindlers’ lawsuit.

“Terri has always been beautiful from the inside out,” a good friend, Diane Meyer, said in 2003. “And then when she lost all the weight, she really became quite beautiful on the outside as well. What was inside she allowed to shine out at that point.”

Meyer told the courts that Terri never would have wanted to die this way.

After viewing a documentary on Karen Quinlan, another disabled patient who was the center of a national euthanasia debate, Terri said courts and doctors wouldn’t know what Karen wanted.

“Where there’s life, there’s hope” Terri told her friend.

Pro-life organizations and disability rights activists joined together to support Terri’s parents during the last few years of their legal battle with Terri’s estranged husband Michael.

Burke Balch, the director of medical ethics for the National Right to Life Committee, said his organization was “deeply saddened by Terri’s death and extend our heartfelt sympathy to the Schindler family.”

Balch said Terri’s death marks the start of an intense debate over euthanasia and the rights of the disabled.

“Terri Schiavo’s death is a gross injustice and it marks a sad day in our history when our society allows Terri and others like her who have severe disabilities to be discarded in such a cruel and inhumane manner,” Balch added.

The next battle for the Schindler family and Michael will be over an autopsy.

The autopsy will not likely be able to determine if Terri was a PVS patient or in a minimally conscious state and able to interact somewhat.

It will probably be able to show whether Terri had any broken bones as a bone scan conducted in 1991 showed. Terri’s family has long believed that Michael physically abused Terri and caused her incapacitation.