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Remembering Terri Schiavo

Web Extra | It's been one year since Terri Schiavo's death, but the debate rages on

A year ago on March 31, Terri Schiavo, passed away. But not before her case polarized the nation in a debate over the right to die versus medical killing. At the center of the battle: Mrs. Schiavo's husband, Michael, who fought to end her life and her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, who fought to save her.

This week, on March 30, the Schindlers, along with Mrs. Schiavo's sister, Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo, and her brother, Bobby Schindler, gathered outside the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., to launch the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation. According to its website, the nonprofit group is "dedicated to ensuring the rights of disabled, elderly and vulnerable citizens against care rationing, euthanasia and medical killing."

Five days earlier, on March 27, Terri: The Truth, hit bookstores. In it, Michael Schiavo said his longtime fiancé, Jodi Centonze, had early last year persuaded him to give up the fight to end his wife's life. But his lawyer, right-to-die advocate George Felos, talked him into going all the way.

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"(Felos) reminded me that we had to realize that it wasn't just about Terri anymore," Mr. Schiavo wrote. "It was about the rest of the people who didn't want the government telling us how we could die and when we were allowed to decide that we didn't want further medical treatment. And it was about who has the right to make decisions between a husband and wife."

Kate Adamson, whose feeding tube was removed then reinserted after she suffered a double brainstem stroke that blinded and paralyzed her, mocked Mr. Schiavo's reasoning. "You don't love someone by starving them to death," she said in a statement released to mark the anniversary of Mrs. Schiavo's death. "I know what it feels like to have a feeding tube removed and be without food for more than a week. The difference between Terri Schiavo and I? Our husbands."

In 1990, Mrs. Schiavo collapsed in her home, suffering oxygen deprivation that left her brain-damaged. In early 1993, after pleading with a medical malpractice jury for money to care for his wife "for the rest of my life," her husband, Michael Schiavo, collected nearly $2 million. Four months after receiving the money, he made his first attempt to end his wife's life: He asked her doctors to withhold antibiotics, which they refused to do, but which Mr. Schiavo later admitted he knew might cause his wife to develop sepsis and die.

For 12 years, Mr. Schiavo battled Mrs. Schiavo's parents, the Schindlers. Mr. Schiavo insisted that his wife was in a "persistent vegetative state" (PVS) and that, while healthy, she had once stated that she would not want to live that way, a claim Pinellas County Judge George Greer agreed with in 1997. As Mr. Schiavo fought to have his wife's feeding tube removed, her parents fought to save her life. They obtained the testimony of doctors who said Mrs. Schiavo was not PVS, and who documented her laughing, crying, and responding to her parents. The Schindlers also charged that Mr. Schiavo wanted their daughter dead so that he could inherit her medical trust fund and marry the woman with whom he'd long had an adulterous affair-and children.

Pinellas County Judge George Greer repeatedly ruled in favor of Mr. Schiavo. Judge Greer in 2001 and 2003 ordered Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube removed, but it was twice reinserted after another court, then Florida lawmakers, intervened. On Feb. 25, 2005, following two years of legal wrangling, the judge again ordered the tube removed. On March 18, doctors removed Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube. And in the end, even the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Schindler's appeal. As dehydration sapped her life away, Mrs. Schiavo's skin clung to her bones, her tongue cracked, and her eyes receded into dim hollows. Finally, she passed into eternity.

In his book, Mr. Schiavo wrote that he cradled his wife as she died. "Tears were streaming down my face and I was sobbing as I tried to tell Terri that it was okay now, it was finally over," he wrote. "I remember saying, 'You can be at peace now. I love you.'"

Lynn Vincent
Lynn Vincent

Lynn is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and the best-selling author of 10 non-fiction books.


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