Remembering Terri Schiavo: Two Years Since Removing Her Feeding Tube

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 19, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Remembering Terri Schiavo: Two Years Since Removing Her Feeding Tube Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 19
, 2007

St. Petersburg, FL ( — Two years ago yesterday, Terri Schaivo’s former husband won the right to remove her feeding tube and start the painful 13-day starvation and dehydration death that took her life and riveted a nation.

In the next two weeks, will look back at the events leading up to her death and the fallout from it — not to replay every moment, but to provide clarity and meaning to the end of life debate and remind readers what the national media failed to cover.

The battle over Terri Schiavo’s life began when she collapsed in February 1990 and the media claimed it was because of a potassium imbalance related to the suppossedly inordinate amount of tea she drank.

At first, Terri’s parents and family worked closely with her husband Michael Schiavo to provide proper medical care and attention. But when a medical malpractice award of approximately $1.5 million became available, Schiavo began to press for Terri’s death.

That made the Schindler family suspicious and caused them to suspect foul play associated with her collapse. Their concerns focused on medical documents showing possible abuse, evidence of a heated argument on the day before Terri’s overnight collapse, and Michael’s failure to quickly report the collapse to medical personnel and his failure to recall when he dialed 911.

During the medical malpractice trial that followed Terri’s collapse, Michael testified that he found Terri at 5:00 AM. Later, in a 2003 television interview with CNN’s Larry King, he said he found Terri at 4:30 AM and did not call 911 until 5:40 AM.

George Felos, the euthanasia advocate who was Michael’s lead attorney claimed Michael called immediately after the collapse and that had he waited Terri would have died that day rather than becoming incapacitated.

Terri’s family disagreed.

"The major question for our family that now remains is what happened," Terri’s sister Suzanne Vitadamo said at a press conference. "When a person is without blood and oxygen to their brain, 70 minutes is a terribly long time when each second counts."

Terri’s family also wondered why local police did not conduct an investigation at the time.

Vitadamo questioned how Terri could have been found lying face down on the floor with her hands crossed and up high against her chest.

Mark Fuhrman, the Los Angeles policemen who achieved national notoriety in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, eventually wrote a book on the case. He said he doesn’t understand why more wasn’t done to investigate the collapse either.

"They never investigated anything," he told CBS News in an interview about his book.

"They arrive at the hospital. I understand, two patrol officers are there. An unexplained collapse. And they wait for the toxicology to come back that she wasn’t under the influence of drugs," he explained.

After doctors were unable to determine why Terri collapsed, Fuhrman said the police left.

"So they left, never to return, even though the doctors could never find out why she collapsed, why her heart was deprived of oxygen," he said.

In his book, Fuhrman cites a co-worker of Terri’s who recounts a conversation with her about an expensive haircut Terri got the afternoon before her collapse. Terri said her estranged husband Michael was furious with her and told the co-worker the two had a heated argument.

Fuhrman told CBS that he was surprised Michael couldn’t remember the events leading up to the collapse or when he called 911 to report Terri’s condition.

"He couldn’t even remember if they had an argument," Fuhrman explained after looking at court records.

"He couldn’t remember what time he left work, couldn’t remember what time he got home, couldn’t remember if she was awake or asleep. Couldn’t remember, when he found her, if she was face up or face down. It goes on and on," Fuhrman told CBS show host Hannah Storm.

"There are so many things that Michael Schiavo can’t seem to answer," Fuhrman concluded. "In a time when you would think that you would have a memory, a videotape that you could put on play and those memories and those images would be etched in your mind forever, he couldn’t figure them out, from the first morning to this very day."

He indicated Michael declined to be interviewed for his book. While Fuhrman does not accuse Michael of any crime, he believes Michael knows more about what caused Terri to enter into an incapacitated state than he’s saying.

Michael’s brother Brian told the St. Petersburg Times newspaper at the time that he thought the book was a part of a smear campaign by the Schindler family against Michael.

But, Michael never responded to a bone scan showing signs of possible physical trauma and conversations about a possible divorce before the collapse occurred.

And an autopsy on Terri’s body after she succumbed to the painful two week starvation and dehydration death, confirmed a potassium imbalance did not cause her collapse. Yet, it couldn’t pinpoint the cause of the collapse that put her in an incapacitated state.

Although no one may ever know exactly what caused Terri to collapse and become disabled, the world waited with bated breath as the legal and political battle over her life and death came to a head in March 2005.

Next: Leading up to Terri’s feeding tube removal.