17 Years After They Starved My Sister to Death, We Must Never Forget Terri Schiavo

Opinion   |   Bobby Schindler   |   Mar 29, 2022   |   1:41PM   |   Washington, DC

March 31st will mark the 17th anniversary of my sister, Terri Schiavo’s death. It was 1990, for those who do not remember, when Terri, at the age of 26, sustained a brain injury resulting from suspicious circumstances while home alone with her husband, Michael Schiavo. Terri’s brain injury affected her ability to swallow and therefore she needed a feeding tube to receive nourishment.

Terri did not have a medical directive, so it was Michael who became her court appointed caretaker which exclusively authorized him the fiduciary duty to make all treatment decisions in Terri’s best interest. At the time, my family did not anticipate there would be an issue with Michael being Terri’s caretaker.

However, in 1993, barely three months after a medical trust was established for Terri’s lifelong rehabilitation and therapy, Michael had a change of heart, deciding he was going to end Terri’s life. This also meant that if Michael was successful in killing Terri, he would inherit her medical trust, which at that time, was valued at close to a million dollars.

Tragically, in 1997 after two failed attempts to end Terri’s life by refusing to treat her urinary tract infections, Michael petitioned the court to remove Terri’s feeding tube and intentionally kill her by dehydration. My family immediately objected to Michael’s petition. We were confident that the court would see through Michael’s motivations. After all Michael had a live-in girlfriend, and if successful would inherit Terri’s million-dollar trust.

Michael would go on to rebuff pleas from U.S. lawmakers, the President of the United States, and the Vatican to allow my parents to care for Terri rather than kill her. Many of these leaders even suggested that Michael quietly divorce Terri so Michael could legitimize his adulterous affair by marrying the woman with whom he was cohabitating.

In January 2000, after a week-long trial in front of Pinellas County Florida Circuit Judge George W. Greer ruled in favor of Michael removing Terri’s feeding tube. Judge Greer sentenced Terri to death without even visiting her. My family had pleaded desperately for the judge to spend time with Terri so he could see for himself that what Michael testified under oath about Terri was not true.

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Subsequently, on March 18th, 2005, after a five-year legal battle, Michael was successful with his premeditated plan to starve and dehydrate his wife to death. What followed was the beginning of a prolonged death lasting almost two-weeks. My family stood helpless as we witnessed Terri’s agonizingly painful and merciless demise.

How did we reach the point where for the first time in U.S. history, an innocent disabled woman was court ordered to die by denying her basic care, food, and water?

Naturally, there are many reasons for how and why this happened, but one reason of vital significance occurred in the 1980’s when bioethicist Daniel Callahan stated, “The denial of nutrition may become the only effective way to make certain that a large number of biologically tenacious patients actually die.” Callahan regarded feeding tubes as the key obstacle to end the lives of the medically dependent who were living “too long.” In other words, people like Terri.

Not long after Callahan made this statement, feeding tubes were reclassified as “medical treatment” rather than ordinary care which is a basic requirement for life. This one sweeping rewording paved the way for all 50 states to allow the deliberate dehydration and starvation of patients, even in cases where family members were begging for food and water to be provided to their loved ones. That is effectively how policies and laws change. In many circumstances, these types of revisions only serve to mistreat, abuse, and end the lives of those who are weakened by their medical condition.

Understanding the motives seems apparent: an existing prejudice against the disabled, the elderly and the weak, but more sinister, for the love of money. It explains the aggressive nature of the current eugenic movement, as policies and laws are rapidly changing, systematically removing protections from the medically vulnerable to end healthcare expenditures and their lives.

There are many examples: The formation of medical futility policies, do-not-resuscitate orders (DNR’s), personhood theory, ethics committees, misuse of POLST/MOLST forms, and Covid-19 protocols that limit proven treatments, to name a few. Either implicitly or explicitly, these changes are facilitating the means to hasten death.

This would include doctor assisted suicide. In a recent survey of 1,000 physicians, nearly half believe health insurance companies would rather cover physician assisted suicide over more costly and potentially life-saving treatments. Perhaps this explains how doctor assisted suicide is now permitted in 10 U.S. states, and the District of Columbia, not to mention explaining why there is not pushback from suicide prevention organizations. It may also explain the media’s full force backing for this issue.

Indeed, today’s healthcare system demonstrates a relentless threat to our human dignity, controlled by a eugenic worldview. Much of what is occurring is intentional, and the ones orchestrating these changes cannot be bargained with, as the ability for families to make health care decisions will be taken away and placed into the hands of strangers.

The sooner we realize this and that we are battling a systemic, radical, anti-life, anti-Christian value-system, the more we will understand it is now our urgent duty to defend the medically weak. If we don’t protect them now, it will be impossible to protect our own families if and when the time comes to do so.

My family learned this after Terri’s death and it was the primary motivation to form the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, to serve as patient advocates, directing families to resources they need to fight for their loved ones. We also created a 24/7 National Crisis Lifeline, so patients and their families can get immediate help if they find themselves in an emergency. Since our inception, we have helped and supported close to 4,000 families and individuals.

Too often, medically vulnerable persons, their families and advocates are confronted with having their basic care denied. The insidious “quality- of-life” mentality continues to limit medical care patients receive as a means to ration healthcare and cut costs.

Our impulse is to trust medical professionals to make treatment decisions that are in the best interests of our loved ones. But to ensure that they get the life affirming care they want we need to find pro-life and pro-family doctors. We need to find medical professionals who we trust will appreciate our human dignity, and properly care for us and our family. Otherwise, you could be potentially placing yourself, your family – especially if you have children – at risk of having the care you want denied.

Moreover, it is necessary to appoint a health care agent. This is not done in a medical directive. A health care agent is someone you choose – legally in a medical durable power of attorney – who will make your health care decisions in the event you cannot make them yourself. Your health care agent needs to be a principled, strong, and heroic advocate.

Educating yourself to the seriousness of today’s healthcare system, one where your medical rights are no longer guaranteed, is equally important. One day, the situation may occur where you will need to confront the system and the people operating it, fully prepared to literally fight for your life, your children’s lives, or another family member’s life.

We are witnessing the effects of a culture that is complicit with evil and immorality. The insurance industry, hospital administrators, government elites, medical ethicists, lawmakers, and essentially anyone who is determining who lives and who dies, because this is their design, and we have allowed it to happen.

We live in a world that is at war with the Truth. Either we serve Christ who created us in His Divine image and defend our sick and vulnerable, or we knowingly allow this wickedness to further infiltrate and suffer the consequences. And the consequences of such a world may cost us our own life or our loved ones’ lives.