Bobby Schindler is the president of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, an organization dedicated to defending the vulnerable and disabled from euthanasia.
He and his family had a tragic, first-hand experience with euthanasia when they fought to preserve the life of his sister, Terri Schindler Schiavo.
After Terri’s tragic death in March of 2005, Bobby left his teaching position at Tampa Catholic High School to become a full-time disability rights advocate. Today, he travels across the United States, educating the public on the threat of euthanasia. He, along with his family, wrote the book A Life That Matters, describing their fight to save Terri. He and his family continue to work tirelessly in defense of the medically vulnerable.
This week, he spoke with LifeNews about his work.
LN: For those who aren’t familiar, can you give us a brief summary of your family’s story, particularly your sister Terri?
Schindler: My parents, Robert and Mary Schindler had three children. Terri was born on December 3, 1963. I was born 13 months later, and my sister, Suzanne was born in 1968.
Terri was shy as a child but could be comical, at times. She also had an affinity for music, animals and the arts. She kept a small circle of friends and was dear to her schoolmates, neighboring families and her own extended family, in particular her grandparents.
In 1983, Terri met Michael Schiavo. He was the first romantic interest she had. Terri and Michael were engaged within a few months and married a year later at my family’s parish in Southampton, Pa. She was 21.
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In 1990, at the age of 26, Terri experienced a mysterious cardio-respiratory arrest for which no cause has ever been determined. She was diagnosed with hypoxic encephalopathy – neurological injury caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. Terri was placed on a ventilator, but was soon able to breathe on her own and maintain vital function. She remained in a severely compromised neurological state and was provided a feeding tube for her food and hydration.
On March 31, 2005, Terri died of marked dehydration following more than 13 days without nutrition or hydration under the order of Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer of the Pinellas-Pasco’s Sixth Judicial Court. She was 41.
LN: Today you have an organization, Terri’s Life & Hope Network, that helps people like your sister. Tell us more about the network.
Schiavo: The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network upholds human dignity through service to the medically vulnerable. We express this mission through public advocacy of essential qualities of human dignity—which include the right to food and water, the presumption of the will to live, due process against denial of care, protection from euthanasia as a form of medicine, and access to rehabilitative care—as well as through 24/7 Crisis Lifeline service to at-risk patients and families.
In the 12-year battle to protect Terri, my family has been put in a very unique situation, using that experience to advocate for others like her. Fortunately, we’ve been placed in the position to help hundreds of medically vulnerable persons from life threatening situations and have been successful using our resources to help those who have contacted us.
LN: What are you working on right now?
Schindler: Along with what seems to be daily phone calls the Life & Hope Network receives asking for help, we are currently working on several cases.
There is the remarkable situation involving Tabetha Long. Tabetha had a cardiac episode in April. As a result, she experienced an anoxic brain injury. Tabetha’s doctors were optimistic with her initial test results. In fact, in the few weeks following her incident, she had varying degrees of responsiveness. Consequently, she was considered to be a good candidate for rehabilitation when she began to answer questions and track objects.
Incredibly, and what is still difficult to explain, her mother, who was making her medical treatment decisions, decided to admit Tabetha into hospice where, subsequently, her food and water were stopped.
After Tabetha’s boyfriend began asking questions, he contacted our organization. We immediately put him in touch with an attorney. After a June 8 emergency court hearing, Tabetha was appointed a guardian ad litem, was removed from hospice, and her food and water were resumed after almost two weeks. Tabetha is currently at a rehabilitation facility, but her case is ongoing.
We are also involved in the tragic case of Kyle Dantzler, who I published an article about on LifeNews.com.
In 2013, we were closely involved in the Jahi McMath situation, and still make regular visits to spend time with Jahi and her parents, Nailah and Marvin Winkfield.
LN: Do you think things are better or worse today for vulnerable people like your sister?
Schindler: If we want to use the calls for help we are receiving on our Crisis Lifeline as a barometer to measure the climate of our health care system, then undoubtedly things are worse and in my opinion, will continue to deteriorate.
LN: Can you tell us about the types of life-threatening situations that you are hearing about at the network?
Schindler: Unbeknownst to most of the general public has been the reclassification of food and water via feeding tubes, which used to be considered basic and ordinary care.
Today, receiving food and water this way is considered extraordinary care/medical treatment. Because of this change, it is now legal in all 50 states to remove or deny feeding tubes to patients. Consequently, this has placed countless medically vulnerable at risk of having their lives prematurely ended by dehydration and starvation.
I believe that it’s just a matter of time before the same “medical treatment” classification will be applied to food served on a tray for a patient who is unable to feed themselves.
LN: California recently legalized assisted suicide, and across the border, Canada just legalized euthanasia. Do you find that over the past 10 years there has been a change in the public’s response to end of life ethics?
Schindler: I believe that there has, and I also believe that all of the life issues are connected. From abortion, situations like my sister’s case, and assisted suicide – it is all connected and has had an exceptionally harmful effect on our nation, not to mention globally. We are more and more emotionally insensitive to the value of human life and, as a result, we have accepting killing for almost any reason.
But it doesn’t mean we can stop doing the things necessary to educate the public so they understand that killing is never the answer, and providing compassion and love can never be substituted when it comes to caring for our most vulnerable.
LN: What are some misconceptions people have regarding end of life issues?
Schindler: Terri’s situation was and continues to be described as “end of life.” It wasn’t. Terri was not dying, nor did she have a terminal illness, and her brain injury was not going to lead to her death.
Terri’s life ended only after her basic care was denied and she was inhumanly starved and dehydrated to death. There are countless others, who, on a daily basis, are experiencing the same type of barbaric death and none of them are “end of life” circumstances.
LN: Do you have a quote or saying that inspires you or gives you hope?
Schindler: I’ve always liked Wesley J. Smith’s quote:
“Does every human life have equal and incalculable moral value simply and merely because it is human? Answer yes, and we have a chance of achieving a truly humane, free, and prosperous society. Answer no, and we are just another animal in the forest.”
LN: You recently got married. Congratulations to you and your wife! And there is a new executive director at Terri’s Life and Hope Network. Tell us a little bit about your future and the network’s.
Schindler: We are faced with the growing acceptance that we can end a person’s life for almost any reason. Even more is a health care system where families will be faced with the challenge of getting proper treatment for their loved ones (and for themselves) that will either sustain/save lives.
In the most extreme cases, patients are being denied food and water through forcible removal of a feeding tube. Our objective is to advocate for these persons and to uphold their human dignity. Fortunately, we have the resources in place to help families in most of the cases when they contact the Life & Hope Network.
LN: What would you suggest to someone who wants to learn more about protecting the ill and vulnerable from euthanasia?
Schindler: Please visit lifeandhope.com or call our 24/7 Crisis Lifeline at 855 300-HOPE (4673) if you feel your loved one is being denied lifesaving care.