Who’s To Blame for Terri Schiavo’s Death

Kevin McCullough is conducting a poll over at his place:

In the event that Terri Schiavo were to pass away tonight/today from the effects of the starvation process – who would you say was primarily responsible for her death?

It’s multiple choice. Given that we must assign blame to an actual person for the fact that she’s dying, I’d pick a) Terri Schiavo, given that her eating disorder was the proximate cause of the heart attack that led to her brain condition and that she expressed a desire to not be continued in such a pitiful state.

Overall, though, I don’t think anyone is “responsible” for the woman’s death. A vibrant young woman had a heart attack, she didn’t get medical care in time, and she had a tragic outcome. The long, drawn out process that’s led to the removal of her feeding tube and, presumably, her ultimate death is merely the culmination of that process. For all intents and purposes, the person that Terri Schiavo’s family loved died almost fifteen years ago.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor 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. praktike says:

    There was that successful malpractice suit a while back though … but you’re probably right, sadly.

  2. FireWolf says:

    Gonna hafta disagree with ya there Doc 🙂 Terri’s diet/eating issues were related to a fertility doctor hence the malpractice suit, so to blame her for it could be considered poor judgement. Certainly you have only yourself to blame for what you eat, but when you’re doing so based on a fertility doc’s recommendations to have a kid, eh….who’s to say?

    I voted for B myself. This whole thing would never have happened had Michael not brought it to court.

    What do I know 🙂

  3. Donna says:

    I believe that everything happens for a reason – good or bad. Michael bringing this situation to court was, I believe, for the sake of Terri. She is in a state where she is “Awake” but not “Aware”, which is heartbreaking. She had “died” 15 years ago and it was “man” that kept her alive by inserting a feeding tube. Who’s to say that “God” didn’t want her then? She should be able to start a “new beginning” without suffering. I can’t even imagine how hard it is for the family to see her going through this, but to see her suffer or be in peace is the question here, I believe. Knowing that she will be in a better place!

  4. John Burgess says:

    The ultimate cause of death, of course, was being born in the first place. That it is happening in just this way is due to a confluence of events, not uncommon in an ordinary life, that just happened to work out badly.

    The proximate cause of her death will be heart failure, brought on by failed kidneys, brought on by dehydration, brought on by the court-ordered removal of her feeding tube and hydration, brought on by….

  5. Jeff Harrell says:

    I haven’t decided whether to vote or not, because the poll asks me who I think is primarily responsible. I think natural causes are primarily responsible, with the caveat that if you subscribe to the “she was bulimic” interpretation, it’s arguable as to whether her hypokalemia could be considered a natural cause.

    But I think if you take that off the table, Michael Schiavo will be responsible for actively choosing to end his wife’s life. He won’t be legally responsible, but he’ll be morally responsible. People of faith might say that he’ll be responsible to God, and while I’m not a church-goer myself, I certainly can’t argue with them.

  6. anjin-san says:

    I think you could make a reasonable argument that God called Terri Schiavo home 15 years ago. Using medical technology to keep people alive who have a reasonable chance of recovery is something I think most of us agree is a good thing.

    I have grave doubts however, about the wisdom of keeping someone alive who seems to have no chance of recovery, especially for what is now going on 2 decades.

    No doubt there are perfectly healthy kids all over Fl as we speak who will become ill someday only because they lack access to decent heal

    th care. As a society we have only so many resources. I have no doubt that those who decry the decesion to remove Terri Schavo’s feeding tube have (except for some politicians) their hearts in the right places. Will they be so vocally compassionate in supporting the health care needs say of poor minority children?

  7. ken says:

    Terri Schiavo was bulimic. She went from over two hundred pounds down to around 110 pounds before she and Micheal got married. Bulimia leads to weakened bones, anemia, chemical imbalances and infertility. They were seeing a fertility doctor who missed the eating disorder and Terri has a heart attack due to a lack of potassium in her system. The heart attack led to brain death. She has been a vegetable for over 15 years. For the first four years she recieved, at her husbands direction, daily rehabilitation plus intensive medical treatments, all in the hope for a recovery. Micheal realized the truth about Terri’s condition but here parents choice not to accept it. They live in a fantasy land where Terri talks, walks, eats, and laughs with them. Regardless of who is to blame for Terri’s death, and yes, I think the blame should be fixed on Terri herself, it the parents who are responsible for the circus that her death has become. What a couple of evil self centered people they are.

  8. kappo says:

    Who is ultimately responsible for the Schaivo affair?

    Easy…Hillary Clinton

  9. I would tend to agree with you IF, and only if they allow an autopsy to determine the causes of the woman’s fractures. If foul play is found to be suspected, then we need to look at Michael a little closer.

    But if there is an autopsy and nothing suspicious is found, then hey, to a POINT, I’m in agreement with taking personal responsibility. If that is the case, then yes, Terri is ultimately responsible for her own death.

    But OTOH, it’s too bad it takes something like this to bring the importance of a living will to our attention. In a way, maybe we, as a society, are PARTIALLY to blame for letting the ACLU gain so much power in our country, too. If it wasn’t for them, Terri’s “right to live” would have taken precedence over her “right to die”.

    I know the ACLU slam sounds strange coming from the “left” but it’s really how I feel. TTYL –

  10. Not phat anymore says:

    Kate Moss is to blame and every other heroin addicted model rockstar wanna be. If they, and Terri would just have EATEN SOMETHING…like RED MEAT and not HO HOs…excercise a little and be who you are…none of this would have happened. Terri would have trimmed up, lost some of that 250 pounds of baggage, gotten some self esteem – or at least enough to blow off that Mike Shiavo jerk…she’d be just another 40 something year old watching desperate housewives and dealing with her teenage kids and overworked husband and hopefully a career of her own. What irony, eat like a pig, force yourself to hurl in order to please an idiot who ends up shagging someone else anyway, having 2 kids on the side to boot and now he’s starving you to death.