Terry Schiavo Case Revisited

A Florida court has reopened the tragic and bizarre case of Terry Schiavo.

Judge won’t set aside Schiavo ruling (CNN)

Photo: Terri Schiavo has been in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state for 14 years.A judge in a contentious right-to-die battle has refused to reconsider his ruling allowing a man to remove the feeding tube keeping his brain-damaged wife alive. Circuit Court Judge George Greer rejected arguments by Terri Schiavo’s parents that their daughter’s due process rights were violated because she never had her own attorney. Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have waged a long fight in several courts to prevent their daughter’s husband, Michael, from removing the feeding tube.

Friday’s decision could pave the way for the tube to be removed in the coming weeks. A stay preventing the removal is to be lifted February 22, according to Michael Schiavo’s lawyer.

Andrew Somers provides a concise background to the story:

Terry Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 following a heart attack. The brain damage left her unable to care for herself so for the last 13 years she’s had a feeding tube in her mouth for nutrients and fluids. Terry was awarded a substantial malpractice settlement for the improperly diagnosed potassium deficiency that led to the heart attack and collapse which damaged her brain. The settlement was for continuation of her care and rehabilitation, among other things. Many forms of rehabilitation were attempted in the first years of Terry’s condition, but she did not respond or recover. It is reported that nearly all of the settlement has now been spent on rehabilitation attempts, and continuing care.

Terry is now in a hospice. Several doctors, including those appointed by the courts, have pronounced her to be in a “persistent vegetative state”. However Terry parents have hired doctors that claim that Terry has a consciousness. Terry is unable to eat or swallow, and is being kept alive by means of a feeding tube. Her husband, Michael Schiavo has sought for years to remove the feeding tube and allow Terry “die naturallyâ€. In other words to starve to death.

The issue has made it’s way through the Florida courts, and in June of 2003, the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling that would allow Michael to have the feeding tube removed from Terry. On October 20, 2003 the Florida Legislature passed bill 35E, which empowered Governor Jeb Bush to issue executive order 03-201, which he did the following day. His executive order required that doctors replace the feeding tube and continue to provide medical attention as needed.

The court ruling obviates the order. A story in the Chicago Tribune explains that this case is hardly over, though:

Although Friday’s decision closes another door on Bob and Mary Schindler, it will not end their efforts to keep their daughter alive in a right-to-die case that has pitted them against their son-in-law for seven years. An attorney for the Schindlers said they would appeal the latest order and also ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review another issue. And they plan to ask Circuit Judge George Greer to bar Michael Schiavo from removing his wife’s feeding tube while they continue their legal fight.

Jim Pfaff and others around the conservative blogosphere (name change pending) are outraged by this latest move.

All that can be said for the “mercy” killing advocated by Michael Schiavo and Attorney George Felos is that it is mercy sought not for the patients but for those who must bear responsibility for them. This is a degradation for life with many parallel’s in human history, not the least of which being the Holocost of the Jews.

While the issue of withdrawing life support is a messy one, I have a rough time getting too upset with the husband, who I consider the real victim in this case. His wife died fifteen years ago but, because of advancements in medical technology and the stubborn resistance of his in-laws to facing the truth, he’s being cast as the villain for simply wanting to pull the plug and get on with his life. He shouldn’t have to divorce a woman who died fifteen years ago in order to do that.

Why the Schindlers have any legal standing in this case is beyond me. Terri was an adult who was legally married. Absent a living will or other document whereby she was able to establish her desires before she entered a vegetative state, her husband is the one who has to make these crucial determinations. Certainly, he is in a better position to know what she would have wanted than the Florida legislature or Jeb Bush.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    because of advancements in medical technology and the stubborn resistance of his in-laws to facing the truth, he’s being cast as the villain for simply wanting to pull the plug and get on with his life. He shouldn’t have to divorce a woman who died fifteen years ago in order to do that.

    I think there’s more in the story than you’re letting on here. From what I’ve read, Sciavo is not this “right-to-die” saint you make him out to be, any more than he’s the devil.

    For one thing, Schiavo *has* gotten on with his life, now living with another woman who has two children by him. And it would be simple for him to relinquish care for his wife to the parents if he really just wants to *get on with his life.*

  2. Jem says:

    There also seem to be allegations that Michael Schiavo may have at least contributed to (if not caused) his wife’s current state. There is reporting that they had an ugly fight shortly before she arrived in the hospital, and that she may have had injuries consistent with physicla abuse (though not so obvious as to prompt the medical personnel to immediately contact law enforcement).

  3. James Joyner says:

    bryan: But why should he have to do that? She’s a vegetable. But for articial means, she’d have died 14 years ago. Why should he have to divorce her and give up his rights to their shared assets because her parents refuse to acknowledge reality?

    Jem: Given the emotions surrounding this case, it wouldn’t surprise me that these kinds of allegations are floating around. Absent proof, I tend to discount such things.

  4. Jody says:

    And if Sarah Scantlin’s parents had chosen to “face reality”? Then after 20 years of her being in “PVS” she would not have spoken to them. Terri did not die 15 years ago. She is alive today and no one should have the right to take her life just because they quanitify it as having no quality or useful purpose.
    I agree with you that Michael Schiavo has been demonized, but like previous commenters have said, he is not an angel either. Terri’s parents HAVE offered for him to cut in run. They are willing to make many concessions for Michael but Michael and his lawyers are determined that Terri is nothing better than a “houseplant” (their words, not mine.). If so what is the harm of giving up rights to that houseplant to her parents and let them take care of her and feed her?

  5. McGehee says:

    Why should he have to divorce her and give up his rights to their shared assets because her parents refuse to acknowledge reality?

    Better she should simply die so he can remarry with a clear conscience? C’mon, James.

  6. LJD says:

    Some will try very hard to make this a choice about death, when it’s really a choice about life. No one is going to decide to KILL Schiavo, rather, some one has ALREADY decided to continually make her live, with the help of machines. She does not have the ability to to say “let me die”.

    I am very familiar with hospice. Most families have a difficult time accepting that their loved one is dead, or dying. In trying to save them, they forcibly (albeit unknowingly) take away any dignity or quality of life they may have had. They just don’t get it. It’s not about them. It’s about the person’s RIGHT to die.

  7. Scott_T says:

    OK, My opinion, is that EVERYONE commenting on this, is speaking from the cheap seats, of this drama.

    The poor fact, is that she is a vegtable, and can only be kept alive by medical intervention.

    My father died of stomach cancer, and died of starving to death, and was doped up on pain medicine at the end. And it is NOT a pretty way to die. So until anyone who wishes to voice an opinion, they need to experience what these families go through first.

    Terry’s parents are obviously distraught about having their child’s life officially end with life-support being removed. Not knowing anything about them, and the husband being demonized in the Media, all I know is that they wish to be her body’s guardian and take care of her.

    This poor girl’s body (because my personal opinion her soul is gone) is forced it live a non-existance because of medical devices only. I don’t know why her parent’s can’t accept it after 15 years (because there was no degradation of her body, it was one day, bam, she had a heart attack) and I feel sorry for them.

    I partially feel that they made this “bed” of supporting Terry’s “right to life”, and have to sleep in it, even if their opinions have changed over the last 15 years.

  8. Just Me says:

    Well he claims that all her assets are gone, so there isn’t anything to share.

    I think he has painted himself in a corner at this point anyway-he has turned himself into this “right to die” paragon, so that now, if he did divorce her or turn over issues of her care to her parents, the case against him is proven, but this on his part is probably the more moral thing for him to do.

    This case has long bothered me, I think he is an ass. I think he won his money in the court suit, when he was all for therapy etc, and as soon as the check was cut, he decided he liked his money better than his wife.

  9. Beth says:

    Experts Who Have Testified Terri Schiavo Could Improve with Therapy

    Dr. William Hammesfahr
    Dr. Alexander Gimon
    Dr. Jacob Greene
    Dr. Richard Neubauer
    Dr. William Russell
    Dr. Jay Carpenter
    Dr. James Avery
    Dr. John D. Young
    Dr. William Maxfield
    Sarah Green Mele – Speech Pathologist
    Myra Stinson – Speech Pathologist

    I encourage you to take a look at all the information at Hyscience–there is MUCH more to this story. I’m just putting up a small bit for those who consider her beyond hope or (for lack of a better word) salvation. You may see things differently after seeing it.

    You too, Scott_T. I’ve seen this kind of thing before as you have, and I agree, it’s not a pretty way to die. No offense intended, but this isn’t as simple as “right to die.” Susan Scantlin came out of such a state after 20 years! Yes, 20 years is a long time, but should one have to die to “relieve” the family of caretaking? (And it’s not her sleazy husband doing the caretaking, either.)

    From BP News:

    “She laughed and she started trying to vocalize again,” Schindler said of her daughter during the visit to the hospice where she has lived for several years.

    “I just keep telling her the same thing, ‘Just hang in there. You’ve been so strong so far. I know you can hold on a little bit longer,'” Schindler said.

    Both Schindler and Weller said they are encouraged by a recent article in The New York Times describing a breakthrough in testing brain-damaged individuals. The article said those who have suffered brain damage may be able to “hear and register” their surrounding but be unable to respond.

    “I thought they were talking about my daughter,” Schindler said animatedly. “I absolutely think she should definitely have this test. Absolutely. I would love to see her have that test and see what she does when she hears our voices.”

  10. Beth says:

    sorry – formatting screwed up!

  11. Janette says:

    Terri Schiavo is NOT in a coma, she is NOT in a persistent vegetative state check Hyscience for the list of experts who agree on this. Several experts have said that with therapy and rehabilitation she could communicate. If Michael Schiavo is so concerned about what Terri really wants why won’t he agree to let her have the therapy she needs?. He could agree to giver her therapy for a year and then maybe we could ask her what her wishes are.

    She breathes on her own and quite likely can eat on her own but Judge Greer and Michael Schiavo refuse to allow her to try because she might choke to death. They consider that more inhumane than deliberately starving and dehydrating her to death for 8 or more days.

    As for demonizing Michael Schiavo, he refuses to let her have any physical therapy, has refused her medication when she was sick, refuses to let nurses turn the tv on in her room or allow music to be played. He refuses to have her wheel chair fixed so she can go outside, refuses to let her be placed by a window. Michael refuses to allow lotion to be rubbed on her skin or lip gloss to be applied to her chapped lips. Yeah, all of that really sounds like a loving husband concerned about his wife’s comfort.

    I don’t have to demonize him, he’s done it himself.

    And do go check out all the information on Hyscience. I’m sure you’ll learn things about this case that you’ve never seen in the media.

  12. bryan says:

    So until anyone who wishes to voice an opinion, they need to experience what these families go through first.

    I’m sorry, but this is a bush-league argument akin to “those who cannot *have* an abortion have no right to make comment on it.”

    The fact is that your experience may actually make you *less* capable of commenting from an impartial perspective. And your *experience* is not generalizable to *every* person who is on life-support, or every family member for that matter.

  13. Xrlq says:

    So now Michael “When is that bitch going to die?” Schiavo is the victim? Get real. Absent a clear written directive, even a devoted husband has no right to order his wife to be starved to death. Schiavo, of course, is anything but that. First he obtained a huge judgment on the theory that Terri needed it for rehabilitation. Only after obtaining that judgment did he suddenly “remember” that she supposedly wanted to be starved to death instead. Then he went on to shack up with another woman and have several kids by her. Which would be fine if he had admitted that from that point on, he wasn’t really Terri’s husband anymore, at least in any meaningful sense of the word.

    To the notion that a two-timing (ex-)husband with a pecuniary interest in swift death and a bizarre understanding of Catholicism is in a better position than her real family, who is ready, willing and able to care for her, I only have one word to say: huh?

  14. Beth says:

    So now Michael “When is that bitch going to die?” Schiavo is the victim? Get real.

    EXACTLY. I can’t even FATHOM how he’s a victim in this at all. Calling him a victim is the most shocking and appalling statement I’ve heard yet. Even if he didn’t have a new family and all that money, he STILL has his health and life. Terri’s not a victim because “she’s a vegetable?” (Which she isn’t, BTW.)

    If there’s a chance she can be rehabilitated–and some experts have sworn affadavits saying that there IS–then she should LIVE and be allowed that chance. Anything less is frankly unthinkable.

  15. WriteWingNut says:

    How can anyone claim that Terri’s “soul is gone” when she still smiles, laughs, feels emotions and responds in the best way she can despite being denied any rehabilitative treatment whatsoever by Michael Schiavo? Her soul is there. If you can’t see it, then I think that speaks volumes about your entire perspective on this issue.

  16. Linda says:

    I think that at this point, Michael Schiavo should “let go and let God”. It’s clear that Terry’s parents want to take over and care very much about her. I think she should be given all the best rehab that money can buy and God should decide when a “natural” death should occur. Mr. Schiavo should just move on, focus on his own life and stop playing control games with Terry’s parents. We wouldn’t starve an animal to death…..why should we do it with a human being?

  17. Joanne says:

    While I’ve read extensively the information put out over the net re: the Terry Schiavo controversery, I have just come across some opinions on a different side of this sad case.

    . husband real victim
    – wife died 15 years ago
    – husband cast as villain for wanting to pull the
    plug and get on with his life
    – Schindlers have no legal standing
    – many forms of rehabilitation were attempted in
    first yrs. of condition; she did not respond or
    – nearly all the settlement has now been spent on
    rehabilitation attempts and continual care

    Where’s the truth? Sounds like a “we say, they say” situation.

  18. Outraged says:

    Negative, Joanne — when the “we say” points are actually refuted by the “they say” points, and not merely argued to stalemate, then there is no stalemate, and “they” win the argument. I came across “their” opinions time and again, and dismissed them too, but no longer.

    She may or may not have responded *initially*, but the fact is that she’s responding *now*. So what if it took her brain a while to start regenerating? Does that mean the husband can decide to kill her NOW?

    On the money: first, he’s spent $500,000 of the $1.7 million settlement on lawyers trying to cruise her along toward starvation, part of it on him and his new girlfriend, and a fraction of whatever’s left on a token effort at Terri’s rehab. And sure, by now the money may be “running out”, but is money a standard we use to determine when someone needs to live or die? Is it time to starve them when the “cash runs out?” By that logic, you can speed anyone along to death just by spending their money on dubious items without their consent. (“Sorry honey, these right-to-die legal fees and expenses on the new girlfriend are eating me alive. No more food for you.”)

    The “legal standing” argument is a canard that ignores the husband’s demonstrated patterns of abusive behavior and inherent conflicts of interest, as well as the parents’ willingness to take on the burden of care for their child. His legal standing is based on a hearsay claim that materialized *after* he got the $1.7 mil. At this point, the Terri Schiavo case is a case for CSI Tampa, not euthanasia court. (This is where the press has been weak IMHO.)

    Lastly, under the old line of B.S., some of us “evildoers” would have been okay with letting the husband pull the plug on her assuming (1) there was a plug to pull and (2) she was never coming out of her coma (or inhumane suffering of an obvious kind).

    Apparently there’s no plug, and there’s no coma either, nor any inhumane suffering (except what the husband is about to put her through). Please forgive us. We were lied to.

    Now that the husband’s little boondoggle has been exposed as a fraud, what’s going to happen to him? And what’s going to happen to Terri? I think the public will be on her side if the word gets out. But it’d better happen QUICKLY if her execution is going to be stayed/re-evaluated.

  19. Too much misinformation is still floating around, causing some to react in a “pro pull the plug” response. For instance, Andrew Sommers in his ‘Concise Background” states that Terri is a victim of a potassium imbalance which caused a heart attack. This is impossible, since the tests run in the emergency room showed no heart attack. This rumor was floated early on, when the medical records were sealed, but in 2003 the reports surfaced and show the falacy of any heart stoppage actually occuring.
    Secondly, Andrew states that Terri cannnot eat or swallow. If this were true, she would constantly have drool running down her face. Liquid is the hardest thing to swallow correctly and Terri has been swallowing approximately two quarts a day with no problem. Dr. Hammesfahr, a renouned nuerologist who specialises in rehabilitating brain damage victims and who conducted a two day examination of Terry said that the feeding tube is merely a convenience.

    Terri has been classified as being in a PVS.

    You may find it interesting to know that the two doctors who came to this conclusion, did so based on ten minute examinations, (which could very well have occured while Terri was drugged), since the examinations were ordered by those who have consistently desired her death, (Michael Schiavo, Greer and Felos), and who had the control to arrange such “medical treatment” prior to exam time. Furthermore, as has been cited in more than one comment above, numerous medical professionals have a different opinion, which, by the way, has never been entertained by the court.

    If you really want to understand this case, their is plenty of documentation available. I would recommend “The Empire Journal” http://www.empirejournal.com as good place to start. Hyscience is an excellent resource as well. But if you just want to rant about this “vegetable”, and say she’s already dead, go ahead, those of us who have looked into it will pity your ignorance though, and misinformation like that could have a profound impact on your own end of life decision some day.

  20. Dennis Gries says:

    Has anybody ever wondered whether Terri’s grimaces and other actions are PAIN, and that she is undergoing what is called “inhumane pain and suffering,” and this is being lengthened and imposed by her parents.

    Of course, her parents have become the dupes or just merely aligned themselves with the right-to-lifers that misread the bible (lower case intended) to find some mystical justification for their mental misfunctions and inability to deal with the actual physical world and others who can think for themselves.

    The right-to-lifers conveniently forget to demonstrate against wars inititated by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice quartet that are driving our society and economy into the pits.

    Now, we see some techno-babble and false science expressed above. The matter is that Terri is being subjected to cruelty, and the only proper natural process is to pull the plug. If she survives through god, then the bible-bangers will have proved their point. Amen.

  21. Xrlq says:

    Gotta love that Michael Schiavo logic. Let’s kill Terri because she’s already dead, and because she’s alive but suffering. Rest assured she won’t suffer from being starved to death, seeing as she’s already dead.

    I’m beginning to think that God can make a rock so heavy even he can’t lift it. The only thing the near-omnipotent one cannot do is make an argument so bad no Michael Schiavo apologist will use it.

  22. Beth says:

    Dennis, it sounds to me like the only reason you support Terri being killed is because “right to lifers who misread the bible” support her right to live.

    Guess what, there are a LOT MORE people who aren’t in the convenient little box you’ve put them in who fervently believe Terri Schiavo ought to be given the chance at rehabilitation and life. (I don’t even claim a denomination other than general non-evangelical Christian.)

    It’s disgusting how the ANTI-LIFE people have politicized the issue. She’s a human being, not a political poster child. But you can be sure she will be one, if she is “put down” like a dog. And mark my words, the pro-life movement will get even stronger, as you will undoubtedly regret, if that happens.

    The “cruelty” she suffers is at the hands of those who DENY HER any rehabilitation–that being her so-called husband.

    You’d look like less of an ass if you’d just take some time and look at the other side of the story, as millions of others have (and changed their opinions) instead of basing your opinion on knee-jerk political reaction.

  23. Colin says:

    Aye carumba! Note to self: make a living will so that I am not subjected to 15+ years of hospital beds, legal battles and unfathomable pain.

    Also: Potassium imbalance is the official cause of her heart attack. Any rumour of another cause is unsubstatiated and seems designed to curry favour for the parents.

  24. Diane says:

    What’s Michael afraid of? Afraid Terri will get better and spill the beans of what really happened. Sounds like the fight they had is still lingering on. Who knows. Maybe he was having an affair with his current mistress and that’s what the fight was about. Maybe he pushed her and now look where’s she’s at. Just a speculation. If he wants a divorce then give it to him. Just keep “her” money in the hands of her family. I mean if that’s all he supposedly wants is to be able to marry someone else, then fine but then the money shouldn’t be his anymore.

  25. terri cellin@ao says:

    Is everyone fooling themselves with this case. Terri is alive and it sure looks like she can comminicate. There is no living will she what the husband said. I have no understanding for this kind of cruelty is obvious this man just thinks of his wife as a burden. He has gone on with his life,let her go on with her life. Terri has a life her parents friends the world that cares about her. I would say she has more love and support then he we ever know. Go on with your life and let terri have hers. Wake up people who has a right to say what kind of life you have. This is so insane that a judge that we look up to for help is willing to let them pull her feeding tube. Starving a person to death thats reality is cruel painful and barbaric. This husband has NOT done everything possible for his wife. He has made it so that she is isolated from the world so she will die of loniness. He wants to kill her one way or other. Kill thats what he will be doing lets not sugarcoat this with some medical term. Judges will also be guilty of her death. We need to speak up for terri till she can. If you read this please call your state the state of florida we need to help save her.

  26. LANIE says:


  27. Dianna says:

    Colin do your homework – it wasn’t potassium imbalance – it was ruled out as the cause – nor was it the “suspected” heart attack either that the press wants to push. People do your homework before you come on here posting things. There is no “plug” to pull. The feeding tube is in her stomach not mouth. Right to die? They pulled the plug twice before, once for 6 days – she didn’t die. Some strange plug being pulled there – wouldn’t you say? Parents haven’t accepted the inevitable? Get real. They are the ones facing REALITY and dealing with it, not trying to run from it. Why do you think a govenor of the state intervenes? Cuz there’s a simple plug to pull? I don’t think so. There is more to this than we all know. But I suspect the abuse will come out now that the protective agencies have stepped in for official investigation. Why do you think the nurses logged suspicious drop in blood sugar after micheal left… too much suspicious things. He knowing CPR didn’t try to help her… hmmm How old is the “girlfriends” children? Terri told friends she was thinking of divoricing him…. wonder why.

  28. Lisa says:

    After reading all of this the only thing I am sure of is that everybody needs to drop what they are doing and make a Living Will out today. I myself will put that no heroic measures should be taken to save my life and in the case of a vegatative state, I want to die (and I don’t care how they do it). Even if I woke up 15 years later, I would rather be dead than suffer through all the mental anguish of what happened while I was in a coma and then comes the physical rehabilitation which is torture in and of itself. I wonder how many of those same people fighting for Terry’s “right to live” would make the same choice on their own Living Will? Funny that we can put our beloved pets to sleep and everybody says “it is the right thing to do” when the animal is in pain or has no quality of life left but we can’t do the same for our own loved ones. And yes, I am comparing her life to that of a dog (I know somebody is going to say it) because all that really matters here is our LOVE for another living being whether it be human or animal and our hope that he/she/it not suffer any more than he/she/it has to. Everybody has a right to their own opinion but I say put your opinions in the form of a Living Will today.

  29. Blonddbythelight says:

    Having had a beautiful 6 year old nephew go through a court battle to keep his so called “doctors” from pulling his breathing vent, I can’t even imagine what Terri’s Parents are going through. How dare that ass Michael presume to tell us what “Terri said” about living in a vegetative state. We are supposed to believe him that she wants to die? How convenient for Michael to tell us what Terri wants. AFTER the check was cut for her care. lol Why not get her some rehabilitation so she can tell us herself? Or is he afraid of what Terri would tell us…And you arm chair quarterbacks (You know who you are) have no right to talk…Until you go through a situation like this you have no right to advocate death. Terri shows fear when she hears that someone wants to take her tube out, we would give more compassion to a dog, also the ASPCA would help a dog. Who’s there to help Terri?

  30. Ally says:

    These conflicting statements regarding Ms. Schiavo’s condition, causes me to ponder like a few others that her husband had something to do with her injury. Especially when she was healthy initially… Sounds like it has always been about the money. Perhaps this woman might say what really happened one day, and the husband’s effort will be for naught.
    Finally, he should divorce the woman and move with the girlfriend and their children. He got paid!! Can he obtain more money from this? Only in America… It’s a shame the guy is doing this. Pay back is a bitch!

  31. Mike says:

    yea im doing a college report on this case, there are many conflicting reportings posted all over the internet and even on here. I was just wondering the fact that people say she is not in a coma or persistent vegetative state then what is she in??? Has anyone else ever been diagnosed like she has been?? If so did these people come out of what ever they were in?? If anyone could answer i’d appreciate it very much… thanks mike.