Long before President Donald Trump exposed media corruption by popularizing the term “fake news,” my family was subjected to a battle of deceptive reporting about my sister, Terri Schiavo. One-sided “journalism” continues today, as demonstrated by a recent Tampa Bay Times article titled, “Inside the Terri Schiavo case: Pinellas judge who decided her fate opens up,” by Leonora LaPeter Anton.
Ms. Anton writes about Judge George Greer of Pinellas County Florida Circuit Court, who ruled that Terri’s estranged husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, could remove her food and water (via feeding tube). Greer’s decision was enforced on March 18, 2005. Thus began my sister’s grotesque and heart-rending death due to dehydration and starvation that lasted almost 14 days.
For those who do not remember, Terri, at the age of 26, experienced a still inexplicable collapse that resulted in a severe brain injury. In typical media fashion, Anton distorts Terri’s condition, omits important facts about the case, and most egregiously, Michael’s apparent conflicts of interest in his pursuit to end Terri’s life. At the same time, she unapologetically portrays Judge Greer as the “victim,” requesting sympathy for all the suffering and hate he endured during Terri’s protracted legal battle and eventual death. This is the same judge who never visited Terri in the five years he presided over the case, despite several requests to do so. Not once did he see the innocent disabled person he sentenced to death.
Anton’s article also neglected to mention that Michael Schiavo abandoned his fiduciary obligations as Terri’s guardian (and more notably, her husband) within three years of her brain injury. This led to a personal and financial conflict of interest. For example, in 1992 Michael initiated a medical malpractice lawsuit that blamed Terri’s doctors for her collapse. During the week-long trial Michael promised the jury he would honor his wedding vows, asking for enough money (he was suing for 20 million) to provide Terri with life-long rehabilitation and therapy. The jury agreed to a lesser amount and a medical trust of nearly one million dollars was formed. As Terri’s guardian, Michael would inherit whatever was remaining in the trust fund when Terri died. Within weeks of creating the trust, Michael attempted to deny Terri antibiotics for a urinary tract infection that would have led to her death. During this time, he began living with another woman with whom he bore two children prior to Terri’s death.
Also conveniently omitted from Anton’s article was the fact that prior to Michael’s petition to the court asking for permission to remove Terri’s feeding tube, Terri was appointed a guardian ad litem to investigate the merits of Michael’s request. The guardian’s report recommended against removing Terri’s feeding tube, due to Michael’s aforementioned conflicts of interest. His findings were ultimately submitted to Judge Greer whose response was to remove the guardian and dismiss his findings.
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Greer also accepted the hearsay testimony of Michael, his brother, and sister-in-law that Terri “wanted to die,” which surfaced almost ten years after Terri’s unexplained collapse. Later in the proceedings however, Greer disregarded the sworn testimony of 40 medical professionals, some of them prominent neurologists. They argued that Terri was not in the condition portrayed by Michael and his doctors (supported ad nauseam by the media) and could have benefited from available therapy that doctors were more than willing to provide.
I could continue to expose Anton’s misleading information, such as that regarding Terri’s autopsy report or her claim that an eating disorder was the most likely cause of Terri’s collapse. However, at this point we need to ask the question, how is this happening? How do we live in a time where persons like my sister, the cognitively disabled and other medically defenseless who have lost the ability to swallow, are subjected to the worst kind of treatment society can inflict on them: a death by starvation and dehydration? How do we live in a time where judges are represented as “heroes” for killing innocent disabled persons?
There is no easy explanation—the dynamics are many, and we haven’t gotten here overnight. One thing that’s clear however, is what my family was combatting: an onslaught of lies misinforming the public that becomes desensitized to, or doesn’t fully understand, the reality of what is happening.
How else can we explain the extremism of euthanasia proponents who have been aggressively (and successfully) pushing their agenda to the extent that it is now common practice to starve and dehydrate the medically vulnerable in all 50 states as well as in an alarming number of countries worldwide?
Examine Terri’s case, which made international news more than 15 years ago. Unbeknownst to my family but evidenced by the enormous amount of pushback we received and their success in killing my sister, a persuasive medical ethics movement had already indoctrinated our culture. Indeed, the new norm is that the brain-injured (and others) no longer should be considered “persons,” deteriorating into a category of the “sub-human.”
Once this premise was accepted (and it has been), it was only a matter of time until the cognitively disabled were labeled as incapable of possessing moral equivalency. Consequently, the radical notion of “letting them die” when they are not dying is morally justified and it becomes a cultural obligation to put them out of their (and our) “suffering.” Even if that means killing these persons by denying or removing what was once considered the most basic care—food and water.
Consider the case of Vincent Lambert, who is currently being killed in France. The court rulings, the reporting by the media, and all of the justifications and reasons to end his life are eerily similar to what my family experienced. Sadly, Vincent’s disabled condition means that he no longer meets the prevailing societal status for personhood, so how dare his parents fight to provide their son, unconditional, life-affirming care?
There are many in the media and legal community who continue to honor Judge Greer and attempt to portray him as the victim and even a hero. However, for my family, his decision to deliberately starve and dehydrate my sister to death—based largely on hearsay testimony—is anything but honorable.
Terri was the victim, not Judge Greer, because it was Greer who denied her the most basic right that our laws are intended to protect: her life and her liberty.