Editor’s note: The following article is by Diana Lynne, whose powerful,
comprehensive book on Terri Schiavo’s life and death, entitled “Terri’s Story: The
Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman,” is now available at
WorldNetDaily’s online store.
Americans have a short attention span, and it’s even shorter for the news
media. Although we’ve stopped talking about Terri Schiavo, the debate over
her fate that gripped the nation for weeks in March didn’t end with
the death of the 41-year-old brain-injured Florida woman.
The discussion over the right to die versus the right to life, and feeding tubes representing extraordinary medical intervention versus basic,
humane care is not over. Every day, families across the country continue to
grapple with this complex issue quietly under the radar screen of inquiring
Proceeding outside of the media spotlight may not be all bad for these
cases, given the track record of news organizations covering the Terri
Schiavo story, and the numerous unreported, under-reported and misreported
facts. Columnist Nat Hentoff called the shoddy and inaccurate reporting the
worst case of “journalistic malpractice” he’d seen in 25 years of covering
At the age of 26, Terri Schiavo mysteriously collapsed at home in 1990.
Her heart stopped, which robbed her brain of oxygen for several minutes,
causing brain damage. Initially, she fell into a coma and was hooked up to
a ventilator to help her breathe. Within the first three months after her
brain injury, Terri came out of the coma and became able to breathe on her
After she failed three swallowing tests, with the last one administered
in 1992, doctors concluded she required a gastric feeding tube to deliver
nourishment to her body directly through the wall of her stomach. Over the
subsequent 13 years, she was denied any follow-up swallow tests to assess
her current condition.
In February, when Pinellas-Pasco County Circuit Court Judge George Greer
affirmed his 2000 ruling ordering the removal of the feeding tube, he also
barred oral nutrition and hydration from Terri. The feeding tube was
removed March 18 and she died of “marked dehydration” 13 days later,
according to the medical examiner who performed the autopsy.
All journalists got the basic fact that both sides of Terri’s family were
embroiled in a seven-year legal tug-of-war over her life, with her husband,
Michael Schiavo, seeking to end her life and the Schindlers, her parents
and siblings, fighting to preserve it.
From there, most news articles accepted the position of Michael Schiavo,
that his wife was no more than a “shell of someone I used to know,” that
prior to her incapacitation she had expressed wishes to not be kept alive
under such circumstances, and “letting her die” was the compassionate thing
to do. Accordingly, the Schindlers, who believed Terri exhibited
responsiveness and attempted to communicate, were portrayed as being in
denial and selfish in wanting to “prolong” Terri’s death against her will.
“The media’s killing us, and they’re killing her, frankly,” Terri’s father, Bob Schindler, lamented at a press conference in October 2003.
In rare agreement with the Schindlers, Michael Schiavo also found the
news reports lacking.
“Once again, you guys don’t divulge any of the truth. I’m sorry, but you
don’t,” Schiavo scolded reporters at a press conference in August 2003.
“Because you don’t have the questions. You sit there and listen to the
Schindlers, and it’s just crazy.”
Even the wall-to-wall coverage on the cable news networks over the final
weeks of Terri Schiavo’s life consistently failed to report salient facts
of the case, including the following:
- Terri Schiavo was not dying but had a life span estimated by the
medical examiner to be another decade.
- Terri Schiavo was not suffering but was relatively healthy according to
her treating physician.
- Although Michael Schiavo, his brother and his brother’s wife testified
Terri made casual statements years prior to her incapacitation that she
would not want to be kept alive by artificial means, the Schindlers claim
their testimony was fabricated and “out of character” for the practicing
Catholic whom they said believed in the sanctity of life.
- Several witnesses, including two former girlfriends, filed sworn
affidavits with the court suggesting Michael Schiavo perjured himself by
testifying his wife told him she would not want to live under her current
- Michael Schiavo didn’t recall his wife’s alleged end-of-life statements
until three years after he started living with another woman referenced as
his “fianc?e,” and with whom he had fathered a child. He would later father
a second child with this woman.
- Michael Schiavo didn’t recall his wife’s alleged end-of-life statements
until six years after he testified under oath in court that he needed
millions of dollars in order to be able to take care of Terri at home for
the rest of his life, and after receiving more than $1.5 million from the
courts for that purpose.
- Six months after receiving the $1.5 million, Michael Schiavo attempted to
end Terri’s life by ordering doctors to not treat her for a urinary tract
infection that would have developed into the fatal condition of sepsis.
- When a doctor reportedly suggested to him in 1993 he should remove
Terri’s feeding tube Michael Schiavo replied: “I couldn’t do that to Terri.”
- After taxes and other debts were paid, $776,254 was put into a trust fund
to cover Terri’s future medical care and rehabilitation. Michael Schiavo
spent 59 percent of this sum on attorneys’ fees in his effort to end
- Within the first three years after Terri Schiavo suffered her brain
injury, Michael Schiavo admits to melting down her wedding and engagement
rings in order to make a ring for himself.
- The very first guardian ad litem appointed by the court in 1998 to
represent Terri Schiavo in the court case raised concern over Michael
Schiavo’s conflict of interest due to his status as heir of Terri’s money
upon her death. He recommended the feeding tube not be withdrawn. The judge
ignored his findings and ordered the apparatus removed.
- In 1998, when Michael Schiavo filed his petition to remove Terri’s
feeding tube, Florida statutes did not allow it. State legislators working
in conjunction with the hospice industry and other special interest groups
changed the law a short four months before the court hearing on Schiavo’s
motion, paving the way for the feeding tube to come out.
Writer and attorney Wesley Smith suggests these basic facts consistently
ignored by the mainstream media amounted to a “conspiracy of silence.”
“By siring two children with another woman, Michael effectively estranged
himself from this marriage. Surely, thinking people would want to know this
fact,” Smith commented in the Weekly Standard.
reported an analysis conducted Oct. 25, 2003, by this reporter found
network news outlets across the board — ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NPR — as
well as prominent newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
Baltimore Sun, Cincinnati Enquirer, Miami Herald, New York Times and
Washington Post — misreported the facts of the Terri Schiavo case.
Specifically, news outlets repeatedly and erroneously referred to Terri as
being “in a coma” or “comatose,” and one even asserted she was “brain dead,”
which subtly endorsed the right-to-die position that Terri’s life
pointlessly was being maintained wholly through artificial means.
The term “life support” was also routinely used, which misled readers and
viewers to believe Terri was hooked up to a respirator or ventilator. Terri
Schiavo was not hooked up to any machines but could breathe and maintain
blood pressure on her own. She relied on a feeding tube for nourishment in
the same way as approximately 125,000 other American adults and 10,000
children who continue to lead what they consider to be normal lives.
A survey of news coverage six months after her death reveals continued
usage of “comatose,” “brain dead,” and “life support.”
Among the other distortions and misreporting of the mainstream media’s
coverage of the Terri Schiavo case are the following facts:
- Contrary to media reports, Terri’s collapse was not due to a heart
attack and the medical examiner debunked the unproven theory it came as a result of a low potassium level induced by an eating disorder such as
bulimia. The cause of Terri’s collapse remains a mystery to even the medical
- Doctors believed she remained in a vegetative state. But her parents,
siblings and several witnesses outside her family — including some of her
caregivers — testified she exhibited awareness to the extent that she
recognized the presence of her loved ones and attempted to communicate,
forming the words “yes,” “no,” “stop that,” “pain,” “mommy,” “momma” and
“help me” over the years.
- Although it was reported by the mainstream media that doctors had all
concluded Terri Schiavo was in a permanent vegetative state, or PVS, the
court determination made in 2002 was based on the testimony of two
neurologists hired by Michael Schiavo — one of whom is a renown
right-to-die activist — and one court-appointed, independent neurologist
who testified he relied, in part, on Michael Schiavo’s attorney for information and assistance with his testimony. Some 40 medical experts from
across the country, including neurologists, rehabilitative therapists,
speech pathologists and a brain surgeon filed sworn affidavits disputing the
PVS ruling and questioned whether the more accurate diagnosis was MCS, or
minimally conscious state. The distinction is important because Florida law
does not provide for the removal of feeding tubes from MCS patients.
- Studies have shown the error rate in the diagnosis of PVS is as much as
43 percent. Eminent neurologist Dr. Bryan Jennett, who co-coined the phrase
“vegetative state” back in 1972, emphasizes PVS is a difficult diagnosis to
make and that no one can ever be completely certain of the level of
awareness of another person.
- PVS is purely a clinical diagnosis and there is no radiological
appearance that is diagnostic of this state. Thus, it is erroneous to
assert, as most in the press did, that the autopsy of Terri Schiavo
“confirmed” the diagnosis of PVS. The medical examiners stressed this fact,
while merely stating their post-mortem findings were “consistent with” a PVS
diagnosis. They also stated the findings didn’t rule out a diagnosis of MCS.
- It was commonly reported in the mainstream media that 19, 40 or “dozens”
of judges looked at the case and all concluded that Terri was in PVS and it
was her wish to not be kept alive under these circumstances. In fact, 36
judges adjudicated a variety of aspects of the case begun when Michael
Schiavo filed his petition to remove the feeding tube in 1998. However, only
four judges specifically addressed the core issues of Terri’s wishes and
her medical condition. Of those four, only one trial judge had access to
the witnesses and evaluated the evidence in the case and the other three
appellate judges essentially rubber-stamped his ruling according to the
standard of appellate review, which holds that rulings get overturned on
appeal only in instances where the trial judge abuses his discretion.
- Right-to-die advocates promote death by dehydration as free of pain and
“peaceful,” but this characterization is predicated on the assumption that
the patients are sedated, and also because they slip into a coma before
death. Terri was minimally sedated, likely because of the media scrutiny.
- The Schindlers, their attorneys, and their spiritual adviser described her
as suffering, being in deep distress, panting and struggling to breathe,
with her eyes oscillating wildly back and forth.
Public opinion outside the courtroom matters in high-profile legal
battles. Polls ostensibly measuring the pulse of American hearts on
controversial topics give elected officials direction. Following the release
of a string of media polls indicating the majority of the public disapproved
of the federal government’s intervention in the case in late March, former
ABC News anchor and NPR political commentator Cokie Roberts declared
politicians were “stunned into silence by the polls.”
Most polls, however, used leading questions that contained loaded terms
like “life support.” For example, a March 23 CBS News poll determined just 9
percent felt the federal government should decide life-support cases, while
75 percent indicated they want the government to “stay out.”
The poll question was laid out as follows:
Role of Government in Deciding Life Support Cases:
- Federal government should decide
State government should decide
Government should stay out
The way this was posed distorted the reality of what the unprecedented
“Terri’s Law” sought to accomplish. The poll question implied members of
Congress and President Bush actually attempted to make the decision
themselves whether Terri should live or die. In reality, lawmakers merely
gave the Schindlers the opportunity to ask a federal judge to conduct a
fresh review of the facts of the case before the trial court’s order was
carried out. The requested de novo review resembled the habeas corpus
process afforded convicted capital murderers awaiting execution.
“I was puzzled by these poll results expressing anger at the government
involvement,” recalls Schindler attorney Pat Anderson. “But then I started
thinking about this. To those who don’t know anything more about the case
than what they’ve read in a local newspaper, which is going to be some
truncated version of a wire story, the government was interfering with a
loving husband who was carrying out his wife’s wishes. Cast that way that
would make me mad too. But that’s not the facts of the case. People need to
understand, they were manipulated by the media.”
WorldNetDaily has been reporting on the Terri Schiavo story since
2002 — far longer than most other national news organizations — and
exposing the many troubling, scandalous, and possibly criminal, aspects of
the case that rarely surfaced in news reports. Just released from WND Books,
the definitive book on the Terri Schiavo saga, titled “Terri’s Story: The
Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.” Author Diana Lynne tells a
powerful, insightful and ultimately heartbreaking story. This eye-opening
book provides the background and depth missing in most of the national news
coverage of the pitched battle over the life of Terri Schiavo.
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