Cover Story

End of the beginning

Denied "the reasoned attention" her case deserved, Terri Schiavo reaches the end of her life as a watershed debate over euthanasia begins

Issue: "Terri Schiavo: In memoriam," April 9, 2005

By March 31, David Nee of West Palm Beach, Fla., his 17-year-old daughter Kira, and his son Evan, 10, had for a week stood vigil outside the Woodside Hospice, praying for a miracle. But that morning, as a trio of news helicopters beat the air overhead, the Nees and about 80 others absorbed the news: Terri Schiavo had died.

Shortly after 9 a.m. EST, Paul O'Donnell, a spiritual advisor to Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, delivered the news to reporters encamped outside the hospice. Then the word filtered across the street, stunning the small group of supporters and protesters, even though they'd been expecting it for days. At first, people wept and milled aimlessly as though lost. Then, Mr. Nee said, "We offered condolences to each other, and prayed together, holding on as we must to the promises and the hope found in God's word."

Mrs. Schiavo, 41, held onto life until the outer limit of the two-week window doctors had predicted it would take to starve her to death. She died as she entered her 13th day without food or water. She also died without her parents and siblings at her side, since her husband, Michael Schiavo, refused their pleas to be allowed to be with their daughter during her final moments.

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"His heartless cruelty continued until the end," said Priests for Life national director Father Frank Pavone, who was among those Mr. Schiavo ordered out of his wife's room about 10 minutes before her passing.

Mrs. Schiavo's case pitted grieving parents against a determined and adulterous son-in-law, lawmakers against each other, Congress against the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and that court against itself. On March 30, in rejecting the Schindlers' last-ditch appeal to the 11th Circuit to rehear their case en banc, Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. chastised Congress for the language in a private relief bill it passed to help Mrs. Schiavo, saying lawmakers had no business telling the court what to do. But Judge Gerald Tjoflat blasted back a dissent, saying the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate the courts. He also wrote that the court should have issued a stay that would have extended Mrs. Schiavo's life while judges gave the Schindlers' claims "the reasoned attention they deserve." Even the Supreme Court, he noted, urges such action on behalf of death-row prisoners.

The courts offered Mrs. Schiavo no such mercy. "The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak," said President Bush in a statement about two hours after Mrs. Schiavo's death. At the Vatican, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins called the removal of Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube "an attack against life" and "an attack against God, who is the author of life."

David Nee said he'll never forget Terri Schiavo or the lesson she helped him teach his children. Her death "gave me the opportunity as a father to show my children the value of life. . . . We know that her life had value and that it will have even more value if we as the church in America are obedient to God's call to protect those who cannot protect themselves."

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