Terri Schiavo, 1963-2005

Terri Schiavo, the brain-injured Florida woman at the center of an intense euthanasia battle played out on a national stage, died shortly after 9 a.m. Eastern time.

The news came after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected yet another appeal by her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler.

The Schindlers had pleaded with son-in-law Michael Schiavo to allow them to be with their daughter in her final hours, but according to family spokesmen, they were not present when she died.

The decision by the Supreme Court last night to not intervene was the sixth since 2000. The emergency request argued the federal courts did not consider whether there was enough “clear and convincing” evidence that Terri Schiavo had expressed a wish to not live in her current condition. The trial court in Pinellas County, Fla., determined she was in a persistent vegetative state. The Schindlers countered that assessment with statements from neurologists who claimed she was in a “minimally conscious state,” able to respond to stimuli.

Terri Schiavo’s life-sustaining feeding tube was removed by court order March 18 after a decade of bitter legal wrangling between Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers, who insisted their daughter had a strong will to live.

Her body was taken to the Pinellas County medical examiner’s officer for an autopsy. It then will be cremated and interred in Pennsylvania, according to Michael Schiavo’s wishes.

Fr. Frank Pavone, a family spiritual adviser, told reporters he was in Terri’s room at Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., about 15 minutes before she died.

But Pavone said he was instructed to leave 10 minutes before her death by order of Michael Schiavo, who was with Terri when she died.

“His heartless cruelty continues until this very last moment,” Pavone said of Terri’s estranged husband, who for 10 years has lived with another woman with whom he has two children.

After Terri died, immediate family members were allowed in the room, the priest said.

“This is not only a death, with all the sadness that brings, this is a killing,” Pavone charged. “We not only grieve for Terri, we grieve that our nation would allow such an atrocity as this, and we pray it will never happen again.”

Brother Paul O’Donnell, another spiritual adviser for the Schindlers, said the couple was with their daughter’s body and praying.

Prior to Terri’s death, O’Donnell said her parents and two siblings were “begging to be at her bedside … but are being denied.”

Pavone later told Matt Lauer on the “Today Show” he was in Terri’s room with her brother Bobby Schindler and sister Suzanne Vitadamo, singing hymns and praying the rosary.

Terri, he said, “was obviously in deep distress and suffering.”

Pavone said he told Terri they were in “solidarity” with her and “brought her the love and prayers of everyone across the nation” who has supported her.

The priest said that at about 8:50 a.m. Eastern time, they were told it was time for an assessment of Terri’s condition. Shortly after that, Pavone learned Michael Schiavo would be making a visit.

“At that time it was clear she was near death, and the family wanted to be there, [but] Michael refused that opportunity,” Pavone said.

The Schindlers’ lead attorney, David Gibbs, told Lauer he was called to the hospice this morning to help ensure the family could have access to Terri’s room.

“We believe we had every legal right to be there at the same time,” Gibbs said.

The attorney said he was working on securing access, “but unfortunately our friend and sister Terri Schiavo stepped into eternity.”

Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, announced the death but had no immediate comment.

Speaking from his Levittown, Pa., home, Michael Schiavo’s brother Scott Schiavo said, “She’s got all of her dignity back. She’s now in heaven, she’s now with God, and she’s walking with grace.”

Outside the hospice, protesters sang hymns and prayed.

One woman said, according to the Associated Press, “Words cannot express the rage I feel.” She added, “Is my heart broken for this? Yes.”

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who promoted state and federal legislation to save Schiavo, said Terri Schiavo’s death was “heartbreaking.”

“I wish I could have done more; that’s the sadness in my heart,” he told reporters. “… For the last year and a half, this has been a front-burner issue … in this office.”

But Bush said, “in the end, there were limitations on what we could do.”

Some legal analysts, while respectful of Bush’s efforts, criticized the governor for not using the executive powers they believe he had to take Terri Schiavo into protective custody.

Bush filed a motion to that end with Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer, who had presided over the case for seven years, but was rejected.

The governor’s critics maintain, however, he did not need judicial permission to act.

President Bush, who rushed back to Washington during a vacation last week to sign a bill giving federal courts jurisdiction in the case, addressed Terri Schiavo’s death at the beginning of a press conference:

“Today millions of Americans are saddened by the death of Terri Schaivo. Laura and I extend our condolences to Terri Schaivo’s families. I appreciate the example of grace and dignity they have displayed at a difficult time. I urge all those who honor Terri Schaivo to continue to work to build a culture of life, where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others. The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak. In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in the favor of life … .”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who helped lead the legislative effort in Congress, said Schiavo’s death “is a moral poverty and a legal tragedy.”

“This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change,” he said. “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schindlers and with Terri Schiavo’s friends in this time of deep sorrow.”

Editor’s note: “Life and Death in America” – a stunning special investigative report that will start with the Terri Schiavo story, but will go on to expose as never before America’s rapidly expanding euthanasia/”right-to-die” movement – will be the focus of an upcoming issue of WND’s acclaimed monthly Whistleblower magazine.

For background on the 15-year saga, read “The whole Terri Schiavo story.”

WorldNetDaily has been reporting on the Terri Schiavo story since 2002 – far longer than most other national news organization – and exposing the many troubling, scandalous, and possibly criminal, aspects of the case that to this day rarely surface in news reports. Read WorldNetDaily’s unparalleled, in-depth coverage of the life-and-death fight over Terri Schiavo, including over 150 original stories and columns.

Court documents and other information are posted on the Schindler family website.

Links to all “Terri briefs” regarding the governor’s defense of Terri’s Law are on the Florida Supreme Court website, public information.

Editor’s note: “Life and Death in America” – a stunning special investigative report that will start with the Terri Schiavo story, but will go on to expose as never before America’s rapidly expanding euthanasia/”right-to-die” movement – will be the focus of an upcoming issue of WND’s acclaimed monthly Whistleblower magazine.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.