Terri Schiavo Roundup

Collected below are just a few of the more significant stories and opinion pieces on the Terri Schiavo circus.

Reuters states the obvious: “Schiavo Case Exposes Political Divide in U.S.

By intervening in the fate of a severely brain-damaged Florida woman, President Bush and Congress have turned up the volume on cultural and social issues that divide Republicans and Democrats in the United States. The “moral” rift — including on the questions of abortion and gay marriage — laid bare in last year’s presidential election was exposed again on Monday over an emergency bill to prolong the life of Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube was removed three days ago. Democrats accused Republicans of pandering to the religious conservatives who helped re-elect Bush on an issue they said should be decided by the Schiavo family and the state courts. “They clearly viewed this as a political opportunity,” one Democratic official said. “They saw this as a chance to service their base. … It was a no-brainer for them.”

The reported divide, though, is far from even if a new ABC News poll is to be believed:

Poll: No Role for Government in Schiavo Case

Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain.

The public, by 63 percent-28 percent, supports the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube, and by a 25-point margin opposes a law mandating federal review of her case. Congress passed such legislation and President Bush signed it early today.

That legislative action is distinctly unpopular: Not only do 60 percent oppose it, more — 70 percent — call it inappropriate for Congress to get involved in this way. And by a lopsided 67 percent-19 percent, most think the elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive are doing so more for political advantage than out of concern for her or for the principles involved.

This ABC News poll also finds that the Schiavo case has prompted an enormous level of personal discussion: Half of Americans say that as a direct result of hearing about this case, they’ve spoken with friends or family members about what they’d want done if they were in a similar condition. Nearly eight in 10 would not want to be kept alive.

Given the public’s distrust of politicians, the first part of this isn’t surprising. The overwhelming number of those favoring the removal of Terri’s tube, though, is. Caveat: I haven’t seen the exact wording of the question.

Micah Sifry observes that this case “demonstrates the power of a networked minority over a diffuse majority.” Quite so. My guess is that the 28% is much, much more intense in their belief than the 63%.

John W. Whitehead writes at the Rutherford Institute of the “Slow, Horrible Death of Terri Schiavo.”

The public is not aware of what will actually happen to Terri Schiavo after her food and water are permanently withdrawn. The reality is that, over a period of several weeks, she will be slowly starved to death. The first effects of starvation and dehydration when the feeding tube is removed include the mouth drying out and the tongue becoming swollen and cracked. When a person is slowly killed in this way, the lips become parched and cracked, and a thick coating may begin to cake the mouth and lips. The eyes will sink back into the skull, while the cheeks will hollow. The lining of the nose will begin to crack, too, possibly causing nosebleeds. The skin will turn dry and scaly and hang loose on the bones. Urine decreases, becoming highly concentrated, and eventually stops completely. Then, the stomach lining dries out, causing vomiting and dry heaves. Brain cells dry out, too, causing convulsions. The respiratory tract dries out and thick secretions develop, which may plug the lungs and airways. Eventually, after the body suffers all these effects, all the major organs fail, including the lungs, heart and brain.

While it’s untrue that such stories aren’t out there, Whitehead is likely right that the public isn’t quite aware of what this method of dying means. Of course, this could just as well be an argument for active euthanasia as for forcing Schiavo to live out her days in a persistent vegetative state.

Virtually every blog on my blogroll has had commentary on the Schiavo case. LaShawn Barber, Jeff Jarvis, Jeff Goldstein, Steven Taylor, Michele Catalano, and Wizbang’s Paul offer a representative selection of the views and reactions on the issue.

Update: See these pieces, too:

Vegetative state can give kin false hope (MALCOLM RITTER, AP)

In the family video played over and over on TV, Terri Schiavo seems to gaze fondly at her mother, with the hint of a smile. On Sunday night, as Congress took up debate on her case, her father told reporters that she responded to his teasing by making a face at him. “It tells us she’s still with us,” he said. But in Schiavo’s condition, described as a persistent vegetative state, family members can be deceived by things like eye movements and reflexes, experts say. “It creates this ironic combination of wakefulness without awareness,” said Dr. James Bernat, a neurology professor at Dartmouth Medical School. That’s because in a persistent vegetative state, the brain centers that control wakefulness are functioning, but those that permit conscious awareness of oneself or the environment are damaged or destroyed.

As a result, patients close their eyes to sleep and open them when they wake up. If a doctor brushes the eyeball with a wisp of cotton, they may blink. If something gets caught in the throat, they will cough. There may be limited eye movements, though patients can’t follow a person walking from one side of the room to another, for example. That’s in contrast to a coma, in which the eyes remain closed and a person is neither aware nor awake, or brain death, in which there is no sign at all that the brain is functioning.

Bernat, past chairman of the American Academy of Neurology’s Ethics, Law and Humanities Committee, declined to comment specifically on the Schiavo case. He said outward signs of persistent vegetative state can give family members false hope. “There’s a normal tendency of family members to interpret (random) movements as evidence of awareness,” said Bernat, who recalled seeing that happen with his own patients. He said that when family members claim that a loved one in a persistent vegetative state is purposefully looking at them, he asks to accompany them to the bedside and see for himself. Sometimes, in fact, family members really have noticed genuine signs of consciousness and investigation shows the diagnosis was incorrect, he said. But in his experience, Bernat said, most of the time the family has been wrong.

A husband refuses to quit in the face of anguish and vitriol (SANDY BAUERS, Knight Ridder)

He has been vilified on Web sites and talk shows. He’s been called a wife-abuser, an adulterer, a money-grubbing murderer. Death threats have been left in his mailbox. Throngs of protesters have waved signs and chanted outside his house in Clearwater, Fla., and they have gathered again. Sometimes, even Michael Schiavo’s friends have wondered why, in the face of all that, he didn’t just walk away. It would have been easier for him to relinquish guardianship of his severely incapacitated wife, Terri, to her parents. So why not give it up, leave Terri’s feeding tube in, let her parents care for her? After all, he is living with another woman now and they have two children. “Because he’s sticking by what he promised,” Scott Schiavo, Michael’s brother, said in a recent interview. “He wants to honor the last thing he can give to her.”


Throughout the protracted legal battle, the Schindlers have made their religious views, their personal anguish, and their mistrust of Michael Schiavo a public cause.

Intensely private, according to his family and friends, Michael Schiavo has rarely spoken publicly about the matter, out of respect for his wife’s privacy. Through his brother, he declined to be interviewed for this story. However, in recent days he has gone on national TV to reiterate that Terri would not have wanted to live like this and criticize politicians for getting involved in a deeply personal matter. His brother and friends also have decided that it’s time to speak up. The mudslinging, they said, has become too ugly, too nasty. “I have a friend who I think has been maligned,” said Russ Hyden of Gainesville, Fla. “We’re tired of it. We’re done. It’s time people know who he is,” said Scott Schiavo, who lives in Levittown, Pa., near where the brothers were raised.

The thing is, even if Michael Schiavo wins the final court battle, and Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube is removed, he really hasn’t won at all, Scott said. “He’s already lost,” he said. “He’s already lost Terri.”

Whatever one thinks of Michael Schiavo or the issues involved in this case, this point seems constantly lost. Nothing I’ve seen indicates that he was anything but devoted to his late wife when she was alive. If he’s telling the truth–and judges have repeatedly found no reason to find otherwise–then he’s merely carrying out her expressed wish not to be kept alive in a form completely unrecognizable to her. For him to be treated as an evil man trying to off his wife for the money is despicable.
One can sympathize with Terri’s parents and siblings without villifying her widow.

FILED UNDER: Environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Pat Wesolowski says:

    If it is true that 63% of Americans prefer Terri starve to death, then our country is in deep trouble. If the media would print all of the facts then I imagine quite a few Americans would feel differently. Rarely do you see it reported that Terri is not in a vegetative state, that Terri’s husband is not fit to be a guardian because he’s an adulterer (living with his girlfriend with whom he’s fathered 2 children), that there is support for an investigation for spousal abuse, that a neurosurgeon has testified that Terri can be rehabilitated. Go to terrisfight.org to learn more.

  2. Thrasymachus says:

    I’m wondering what the outcome will be if Terri Schiavo’s family decides to actually bring her to Washington for the Senate hearing. I’m not entirely certain that a Florida court has the authority to quash a congressional subpoena, and I think there’s a sizeable minority within the GOP majority that would want her to appear, so that the country can witness her undergoing the symptoms listed above.

    The political effects of such a gambit are hard to predict.

  3. Charles Buchanan says:

    For a party that claims it want less government involvement in our private lives, the truth has been laid bare. Republicans are only for a “Culture of Life” if there is some partisan political gain to be made. Punting Mrs. Schiavo around like a political football in spite of her own expressed wishes is disgusting. Anyone who supports it is guilty of torture. Keep your hands off our lives hypocrites.

  4. TalkLeft says:

    A “representative selection of the views and reactions on the issue?” Hardly. They are a view from the right. There is nothing wrong with you presenting only your side of the case, but at least admit it.

  5. Schiavo recovery impossible, experts agree

    Terri Schiavo, at the center of an emotional and political storm over whether she should be allowed to die, will almost certainly never recover from her unconscious condition, neurologists agree.

    She is in a permanent vegetative state, and no one has ever come back from such a condition, according to the American Academy of Neurology.

  6. Leah says:

    Those of us who have worked in the medical field understand taht this woman ceased to be a functioning human being at the time of her brain damage. Her brain, according to reports I’ve read, has shriveled and her brain cavity is mostly filled with spinal fluid. This means that only the autonomic funtions are working. It is amazing what the human body can appear to do when there is no functioning brain: smile, pass gas, cry, hiccup. But the person who is Terry has long since passed. Those who claim to be concerned for her soul should let any connection it still may have to this body be severed so she can fully pass on to her reward.

  7. From a comment over at World Wide Rant:

    She won’t starve to death. She’ll have multiple organ failure culminating in cardiac arrest as a result of dehydration, and during that time the nurses will keep her as comfortable as possible by giving her morphine and likely a sedative such as Ativan, as well as artificial tears, saliva, and a lip moistening gel. A side effect of the morphine will be to suppress her respiration, which will hasten the process. Her body will be comfortable. Her mind won’t know the difference, because she has no capacity to experience anything cognitively. I’ve been through this with five relatives in the past 12 years, including my grandmother last month. It’s the most humane way to go given the doctor’s legal inability to intentionally provide a drug for the purpose of causing someone’s body to shut down. When I go, I want to die instantly; but if I were to suffer an extended illness or be profoundly incapacitated, this is how I would want to go.

  8. LeeOfTampa says:

    The federal government has over stepped its authority. The ONE problem in this ENTIRE issue is too many people think THEY have the right to place judgement on this case. I have more faith in the 7 years worth of court battles; and the more than 10 rullings that have been in favor of letting her husband decide. Bush and Co. need to stop being hypocrites. Where was this passion for a ‘culture of life’ when we sent our soldiers off to kill 130,000 (Conservative Estimate as of Feb ’05) Iraqis??

  9. Jesse Lewis says:

    How about this Houston Chronicle story? A bill, signed by Bush as Texas governor, resulted in a baby being disconnected from life support against the wishes of his mother. Tom DeLay and Bush were nowhere to be found when SHE needed help keeping her baby alive.


  10. Thomas Williams says:

    It’s sad that a family has had to deal with this for 15 years, that a husband can’t carryout a wifes wish and that a mother and father find themselves incapable of letting go and to begin the grieving process.

    Sad that the neurosurgeon in question doesn’t have the backing of many of his contemporaries! Maybe then people would believe he’s not a quack.

    Sad that the public and the federal government can’t keep out of other peoples personal business.

    Sad that we’re willing to put Fido down quick and painlessly when he’s had a good run but we can’t give ourselves the same courtesy!

    As a father, I couldn’t let my daughter or son suffer for so long!

    As a husband, my wife expects me to provide the quickest most painless end possible and to get on with my life!

    As a human being, I expect nothing less!

  11. Dolores verges says:

    How can anyone condon what they are doing to Terry say she wont and cannot feel anything. How do you really know. This is a slow torcher! We put a man Dr. K for helping some one die that wanted to die because he did’t want to suffer at least they died right away, might as well give Terry a shot instead of murdering her in such an unhuean way, what she really need is attention and care and maybe you can see if she can really hear and maybe feel.

  12. Jeff Baker says:

    All you morons on the side of keeping Terri Schiavo’s corpse alive keep revealing your vast ignorance with every single post. Yes, 17 people have filed affidavits that Schiavo can be treated. None of these people has ever been in the same room with the patient, and only one has access to her medical records. No, it isn’t because Mr. Schiavo keeps them out of the room. It is because they are all wacko know-nothings like the lot of you.

    As for the allegations of abuse, they are all total fabrications. Please look at the primary documents in the case. The only allegations of abuse are coming from ignorant outsiders without access to primary evidence. In other words, they are just making it up.

    Get it straight right-wing Jesuslanders: there is no credible medical belief that Terri Schiavo can be anything other than a digestive system with muscles. The courts have ruled over and over again that Mr. Schiavo is the guardian and they have ruled repeatedly that he is carrying out his wifes wishes.

  13. kevin says:

    I understand she never expressed to be killed if she loses her ability to feed herself.

    I understand her Husband mentioned she had said she did not want to be kept on “Life Support” (Respirator / Heart Machine) but he only mentioned this several years after she had gotten sick during the court case.

    While I was living in the mid-east I witnessed a public hanging and thought “for such an advanced culture, how could they be so primitive”?

    Now my country is starving a woman hoping she will die in a few weeks if we don’t feed her.

    We could never do something this inhumane to a dog or a cat. But we seem to except it for this woman.

    I understand she is/ was not “dying”.

    The question is “can we kill a person because someone else (only the Husband, with nothing in writing) said she asked him to kill her?

    I believe in a “Do Not Resuscitate”, but I do not believe in a “Starve me to death and make me suffer if I become a burden to you”.

    I just can’t imagine the discussion

    “Honey, if I ever lose most of my abilities, or suffer very serious brain damage and become reliant on you, well actually my Family whom I have know for 41 years, many more then you and I have been together, and I become a burden to you and your “Common Law Wife” please just kill me in a very slow, painful, inhuman way. What would be best is, make it as painful and horrible as you possibly can (drying up and starving is not an easy way to die).”

    Or do you think she might have said something more like this; “Honey, if I ever become sick and am on a life support system (Respirator / Heart Machine), please just pull the plug (cut the electricity)”.

    She is not and was not on “Life Support.

    She has a feeding tube much like many other disabled people.

    As for the person in the medical field who wrote;

    “Those of us who have worked in the medical field understand that this woman ceased to be a functioning human being at the time of her brain damage.”

    You obviously have not loved a person who has suffered serious brain damage. Perhaps someday you too will have that opportunity and will find that even if they are not “functioning” they are still a “human being”

    If she is in a “Vegetative State” (as her Husband claims) then she would not be cognitive of her in-ability. She would not be cognitive of her situation or her state. We would be killing a person who would not understand “why” we are being so cruel to her and not helping her.

    Husband is off the hook. He should let the Family take care of her and head off and enjoy his life with his “Common Law Wife”.

    If she is not in a “Vegetative State” then she may have the ability to get some enjoyment from being alive on some level. And intentionally killing a living being capable, or cognitive, of pain and pleasure is just plain sick.

    What kind of society are we?

    Hey Jeff Baker, thanks for your input. I am sure we all value your well though-out, adult comments and will consider your point of view.

    It’s folks like you that we all respect, and tend to listen to when we discuss serious subjects.

    I am kidding; you do bring humor to a serious subject. You do make a difference.

  14. Jamie says:

    What I don’t understand at all about this terrible thing is the desire of Michael Schiavo and his side of the debate to err on the side of death-sooner rather than death-later. What on earth is his hurry? He’s already moved on with his life – I don’t blame him for that. But if Terri is in fact in a PVS (about which there’s a heck of a lot more opinion than just “She is in a permanent vegetative state” as the Reuters article quoted in an above comment states), obviously she won’t care whether she’s alive or dead – so why kill her when her family is willing not only to keep her alive but to attempt to improve her lot? Why choose the side of actively taking life rather than the side of passively allowing life to continue?

    If Michael Schiavo’s concern is for Terri’s “privacy,” that ship has LONG since sailed. If it’s for her “dignity,” how can he justify denying her sufficient PT at least to prevent or minimize her contractures? If it’s for his own peace of mind, to know that he’s done all he can to carry out her wishes, then under what rationale did he pursue the medical malpractice suit intended to provide her treatment? I understand that new therapies have had success in training some patients previously thought unable to swallow, so that they can subsist without a feeding tube. What are we to make of Schiavo’s unwillingness to let these therapies be attempted, except that a feeding tube is the only form of “life support” that could legitimately be withdrawn from her to bring about her death? If my position, regardless of my motives, were as cloudy as his, I know I’d be doing everything in my power to make the process, both medical and legal, as transparent as possible so that I could eventually walk through a supermarket without people spitting on me.

  15. whatever says:

    Did anyone else see the CNN interview with the woman who was previously in a “permative vegatative state”? Yeah, another “digestive system with muscles” who confounded doctors.

    Oh, and you can believe what is going on is wrong without being a “Jesus freak”. I wouldn’t starve prisoners or dogs to death, and I am for killing both in the right cases. I am for turning off life support for those who can’t live without it, but starving someone to death because it is convenient is just wrong.

    If you think it’s okay, let’s hope you don’t get Alzheimer’s.

  16. LJD says:

    I urge every one to read Bill from INDC’s post. He is the only one here making any sense.

    So many people willing to openly display their ignorance of HOSPICE care. You don’t get into hospice if you’re not dying, and it’s all about dying with comfort and dignity. Sciavo will not suffer at all. Stop being such emotional morons.

  17. teri says:


  18. Jim in CT says:

    It seems to me that the pivotal fact here is what Terri wants. I have not yet seen conclusive evidence to point in either direction. I know that her parents claim she would have wanted to hang on. Her husband claims the opposite. The problem is, there is nothing in writing.

    In her husband’s defense, based on my own marriage of 20 years, I truly believe I would be more in tune with my wife’s wishes than her parents. Also, as a parent, no matter how old your children are, they still are your children and you instinctively want to protect and preserve them.

    The problem with the husband, however is his credibility. This is a man who recived a huge settlement to ostensibly “care for her for the rest of her life” and then decided he didn’t want to. This is also a man who has been witnessed saying things like “Is she dead yet?” and “When is the b–ch going to die?”

    Given the fact that there is no clear directive from Terri herself, and believing (perhaps naively) that the first priority for the medical community is to preserve life and “do no harm”, I think the most correct answer is to default to the job description, and try to sustain her.

    The disclaimer is that we all bring into this our personal views and emotions. The fact however is that none of us who are posting here know what Terri would have wanted, and neither her husband or her parents have convinced me that they absolutely know either. So the simple question it boils down to is this: Is the job of medical science to let us die unless we have told them we want to live? Or is it to help us live unless we have told them we want to die?

  19. Brad S says:

    I am firmly convinced that the Evangelical Christians are now seeing how ill-served they were when certain conservatives from National Review and individuals like Bob Barr told them to FOLLOW AND RESPECT THE LAW and go through the legal channels. Now, when the law (while being correct) and the state show themselves to be asses, they may be forced to use a tool those same conservatives will shame them (Evangelical Christians) for using.

    That tool, of course, is Mass Civil Disobedience. History is replete with successful use of this tool to force an issue. What do I mean by Mass Civil Disobedience? Don’t be surprised if by, say, Easter Sunday, that a few hundred of those protestors on the ground try to force their way into Terri’s room, attempt to feed her, and barricade themselves into the hospice until they get their way.

    Or until something REALLY BLOODY happens

  20. anna barabaschuk says:

    my daughter was born severely brain damaged. In fact the spectialists said she didnt have a brain at all and would be much like a vegetable till she ended her expectedly short life. They denied she had feelings and said her hunger was from instinct rather than brain function and she didnt feel pain – a similar scenario to that of terris. The love and understanding of a mother for her child can never be compared. Mothers know their children more than anyone. And yet the law of the land can prevent a mother from feeding her child and instead favours the wishes of an estranged husband.
    It is wrong for us to sit by and watch terri die such a cruel death. What is going to happen from here? Are we going to start starving disabled people legally soon. Where do we draw the line? Is this nazism rearing its ugly head once more. It is often said that you know how good a country is by how well it looks after its most vulnerable. The U.S isnt looking so great at the moment.
    By the way, my daughter is doing very well. She loves to sing and has a great sense of humor. Sally is our little angel heaven sent.
    There has been too much gender bias towards the male perspective in the decisionmaking process of Terri’s fate rather than from a more nurturing female’s point of view. There is an urgent need for a full review of this whole case with a fair and unbiased selection of judiciaries. There is a lack of input and representation of the female perspective.
    Please stop terris suffering.
    anna b

  21. Crystal says:

    If the health professionals know it all why don’t they know how to cure people of aids and things such as they should know Terri is in there she is not brain dead. I have a daughter with CP in really bad neurological shape and I still wouldn’t starve her the answer is this would you want to die of starvation. Would you want to be denied your rights because you cannot speak for yourself. Your views might be one way when your young or the person you saw might be dieing of cancer she is not she wants to live or she would of died sooner than what she is. You people make me sick when you say right wing or conservatives. What about just plain morals. What about the medical code of ethics that use to be out there to help those who are sick and weak. Professionals HA> their humans and unless you walk on water your always 100 % right. Just take a look how many people are misdiagnosed every year. People think for yourself . This is a human being. I guess if you talked to the medical people that I did alot of them our if their not normal well you can have others or out of sight out of mind. Then they charge for their opinion!!