By MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press Writer
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman
who spent 15 years connected to a feeding tube in an epic legal and
medical battle that went all the way to the White House and Congress,
died Thursday, 13 days after the tube was removed. She was 41.
Schiavo died at 9:05 a.m. at the Pinellas Park hospice where she lay
for years while her husband and her parents fought over her in what
was easily the longest, most bitter and most heavily litigated
right-to-die dispute in U.S. history.
The feud between the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and their
son-in-law continued even after her death: The Schindlers' advisers
complained that Schiavo's brother and sister had been at her bedside a
few minutes before the end came, but were not there at the moment of
her death because Michael Schiavo would not let them in the room.
"And so his heartless cruelty continues until this very last moment,"
said the Rev. Frank Pavone, a Roman Catholic priest. He added: "This
is not only a death, with all the sadness that brings, but this is a
killing, and for that we not only grieve that Terri has passed but we
grieve that our nation has allowed such an atrocity as this and we
pray that it will never happen again."
Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, announced the death but had
no immediate comment beyond that. Michael Schiavo's whereabouts were
not immediately known.
"She's got all of her dignity back. She's now in heaven, she's now
with God, and she's walking with grace," Michael Schiavo's brother,
Scott Schiavo, said at his Levittown, Pa., home.
Outside the hospice, a small group of activists sang hymns, raising
their hands to the sky and closing their eyes. After the tube that
supplied a nutrient solution was disconnected, protesters had streamed
into Pinellas Park to keep vigil outside her hospice, with many
arrested as they tried to bring her food and water.
Dawn Kozsey, 47, a musician who was among those outside Schiavo's
hospice, wept. "Words cannot express the rage I feel," she said. "Is
my heart broken for this? Yes."
Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 after her heart stopped
because of a chemical imbalance that was believed to have been brought
on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors ruled she was in a
persistent vegetative state, with no real consciousness or chance of
She left no written instructions, but her husband argued that his wife
told him long ago she would not want to be kept alive
artificially. His in-laws disputed that, saying that would have gone
against her Roman Catholic faith, and they contended she could get
better with treatment. They said she laughed, cried, responded to them
and tried to talk.
Over and over, Pinellas County Circuit Judge George W. Greer said that
Michael Schiavo had convinced him that Terri Schiavo would not have
wanted to be kept alive under such conditions. The feeding tube was
removed with the judge's approval March 18 the third time food
and water were cut off during the seven-year legal battle.
Florida lawmakers, Congress, President Bush and his brother Gov. Jeb
Bush tried to intervene on behalf of her parents, but state and
federal courts at all levels repeatedly ruled in favor of her husband.
The case focused national attention on living wills, prompting perhaps
thousands of Americans to discuss their end-of-life wishes with their
loved ones and put their instructions in writing. The dispute also
stirred a furious debate over the proper role of government in such
life-and-death decisions. And it led to allegations that Republicans
in Congress were pandering to the religious right and violating their
own political principles of limited government and states' rights.
In Washington, the president said he was saddened by the death.
"The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect
the weak," Bush said. "In cases where there are serious doubts and
questions, the presumption should be in favor of life."
In Rome, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican office for
sainthood, called the removal of the feeding tube "an attack against
An autopsy is planned, with both sides hoping it will shed more light
on the extent of her brain injuries and whether she was abused by her
husband, as the Schindlers have argued. In what was the source of yet
another dispute between the husband and his in-laws, Michael Schiavo
will get custody of the body and plans to have her cremated and bury
the ashes in the Schiavo family plot in Pennsylvania.
A funeral Mass, sought by the Schindlers, was tentatively scheduled
for Tuesday or Wednesday.
Gov. Jeb Bush said that millions of people around the world will be
"deeply grieved" by her death but that the debate over her fate could
help others grapple with end-of-life issues.
"After an extraordinarily difficult and tragic journey, Terri Schiavo
is at rest," he said. "I remain convinced, however, that Terri's death
is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved
in our families and in our society. For that, we can be thankful for
all that the life of Terri Schiavo has taught us."
Although several right-to-die cases have been fought in the courts
across the nation in recent years, none had been this public,
drawn-out and bitter.
Six times, the Court declined to intervene. As Schiavo's life ebbed
away earlier this month, Congress rushed through a bill to allow the
federal courts to take up the case. President Bush signed it March
21. But the federal courts refused to intervene.
Described by her family as a shy woman who loved animals, music and
basketball, Terri Schindler grew up in Pennsylvania and battled a
weight problem in her youth.
"And then when she lost all the weight, she really became quite
beautiful on the outside as well. What was inside she allowed to shine
out at that point," a friend, Diane Meyer, said in 2003.
She met Michael Schiavo, pronounced SHY-voh, at Bucks County Community
College near Philadelphia in 1982. She worked for a short time for the
Bell Telephone Company in Pennsylvania. They wed two years
later. After they moved to Florida, she worked in an insurance agency.
But recurring battles with weight led to the eating disorder that was
blamed for her collapse at 26. Doctors said she suffered severe brain
damage when her heart stopped beating because of a potassium
imbalance. Her brain was deprived of oxygen for 10 minutes before she
was revived, doctors estimated, while waiting for an ambulance and
in transit to emergency care.
Because Terri Schiavo did not leave written wishes on her care,
Florida law gave preference to Michael Schiavo over her parents. But
the law also recognizes parents as having crucial opinions in the care
of an incapacitated person.
A court-appointed physician testified her brain damage was so severe
that there was no hope she would ever have any cognitive abilities.
Still, her parents, who visited her nearly every day, reported their
daughter responded to their voices. Video showing the dark-haired
woman appearing to interact with her family was televised
nationally. But the court-appointed doctor said the noises and facial
expressions were reflexes.
Both sides accused each other of being motivated by greed over a
$1 million medical malpractice award from doctors who failed to
diagnose the chemical imbalance.
However, that money, which Michael Schiavo received in 1993, has all
but evaporated, spent on his wife's care and the court fight. Just
$40,000 to $50,000 remained as of mid-March.
Michael Schiavo's lawyers suggested the Schindlers wanted to get some
of the money. And the Schindlers questioned their son-in-law's
sincerity, saying he never mentioned his wife's wishes until winning
the malpractice case.
The parents tried to have Michael Schiavo removed as his wife's
guardian because he lives with another woman and has two children with
her. Michael Schiavo refused to divorce his wife, saying he feared the
Schindlers would ignore her desire to die.
Schiavo lived in her brain-damaged state longer than two other young
women whose cases brought right-to-die issues to the forefront of
Karen Quinlan lived for more than a decade in a vegetative state
brought on by alcohol and drugs in 1975 when she was 21; New Jersey
courts let her parents take her off a respirator a year after her
injury. Nancy Cruzan, who was 25 when a 1983 car crash placed her in a
vegetative state, lived nearly eight years before the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that her parents could withdraw her feeding tube.
Schiavo's feeding tube was briefly removed in 2001. It was reinserted
after two days when a court intervened. In October 2003, the tube was
removed again, but Gov. Jeb Bush rushed Terri's Law through the
Legislature, allowing the state to have the feeding tube reinserted
after six days. The Florida Supreme Court later struck down
the law as unconstitutional interference in the judicial system by the
Nearly two weeks ago, the tube was removed for a third and final time.
Associated Press reporters Allen Breed, Vickie Chachere, Mark Long,
Mitch Stacy and Ron Word contributed to this story.
This message to TELECOM Digest was prompted by friends of Terri Shiavo
from her college days at Bucks Community College.
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