Terri’s death: Was it ‘God’s will’ or ‘murder’?

By Diana Lynne

Editor’s note: The following article is by Diana Lynne, author of a powerful, comprehensive book on Terri Schiavo’s life and death, entitled “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.”

One year ago today, 41-year-old Terri Schiavo succumbed to 13 days of forced dehydration and starvation, following the court-ordered removal of her feeding tube. Her impending death raised a clamor among millions, including a president and a pope, and deepened a cultural fault line in America. On the first anniversary of her death, the din has muted, but the voices of a divided family continue the debate in dueling books released this week.

In “Terri: The Truth,” Michael Schiavo seeks to settle some scores.

“After all these years of people vilifying me, hanging me out to dry, I said to myself ‘It’s my turn,'” he said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times last week.

Schiavo, who sought the removal of his brain-injured wife’s feeding tube over the objections of her parents and siblings, pulls no punches, dishing dirt on Schindler family members and every lawyer, activist and politician – including President Bush – who advocated keeping Terri alive. He comes out swinging in the preface of the book, blaming Terri’s still-unexplained 1990 collapse on her father.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Terri was suffering from bulimia nervosa,” Schiavo writes with newfound confidence in a theory he admits lacks evidence and which was debunked by the medical examiner in his report of Terri’s autopsy released June 15, 2005.

Schiavo states that experts believe verbal abuse can trigger the eating disorder, and fingers Bob Schindler for such verbal abuse.

“Terri told me that from the time she was in seventh or eighth grade through high school, her father ridiculed her about her weight. The older she got, the worse the ridicule. It was so intense, she often ran to her room in tears and cried herself to sleep,” he writes.

“That is so offensive,” Bobby Schindler responded to CNN host Nancy Grace Tuesday night. “If people knew how much Terri loved my father – all of us.
If they knew how much she loved him … That is a totally ridiculous and, as
I said, offensive statement to think that my dad would ever, ever belittle

In purporting to link Terri’s collapse with her father, Schiavo attempts to turn the tables on the Schindlers. Since their 2002 discovery of the report of a full-body bone scan done on Terri a year after her collapse that indicated she’d sustained several broken bones and led the interpreting radiologist to conclude she was the victim of abuse, the family publicly has wondered whether it evidenced violence on the night of Terri’s collapse.

On Monday, Schiavo told NBC’s Matt Lauer the allegations of abuse and strangulation are “the biggest lies.” Yet, while he offers thorough rebuttals of other Schindler claims throughout his book, Schiavo fails to provide details about or explanation for the bone scan.

Schiavo later accuses the Schindlers of causing Terri’s August 2003
hospitalization for pneumonia, from which she nearly died. He surmises that
because the Schindlers were claiming at the time that Terri could eat
Jell-O, they must have fed her some and caused her to develop aspiration
pneumonia. In fact, the Schindlers were quoting sworn affidavits filed by
two of Terri’s caregivers at her nursing home who confessed to having fed
Terri Jell-O years earlier, and noting she was able to swallow it and
enjoyed it.

In anticipation of flack, Schiavo unapologetically states in his book: “If you’re looking for me to cut a bereaved father some slack, you’re going to be on a long and futile search.”

In “A Life That Matters,” Bob and Mary Schindler and Terri’s siblings, Bobby Schindler and Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo, introduce us to the fun-loving and compassionate Terri Schiavo, comparatively few people had the pleasure of knowing prior to her injury than after.

“Bob and I believe that God put Terri on earth to serve as a beacon, that she was taken from us so that others who suffer Terri’s plight will not be taken from those who love them. That is why we’ve written this book,” writes Mary Schindler.

While confessing they’re struggling to move beyond anger into forgiveness, the Schindlers offer more details they consider incriminating evidence against Michael Schiavo. Mary Schindler states Terri confided in her that her sex life with Michael was deteriorating. She also describes explosive temper tantrums on Schiavo’s part.

“He was almost always polite, but his words and behavior toward us seemed rehearsed, as though he was holding something in, something he didn’t want us to see,” Mary Schindler recalls of her early impression of Schiavo, whom they nick-named “Mr. Charm.”

“He doesn’t seem real,” Bob Schindler added. “We didn’t know which Michael Schiavo would show up on any given day.”

WND has reported Michael Schiavo’s testimony about Terri’s collapse also varied from day to day. While telling the police he found her body lying face down, he later testified he found her on her back. He has stated in interviews over the years she collapsed at around 5 a.m., but told the medical examiner it was 4:30 a.m. In some versions of his account, he was awakened to the thud of Terri hitting the floor, in others he was already awake and getting out of bed “for some reason.” In his book, Schiavo offers a fresh set of details of the mysterious event that set the stage for her death.

“Sometime after 5:30 a.m., I woke up because I needed to go to the bathroom,” he writes, “… I could see Terri on the floor, sort of on her left side facing the closet door, in the hallway outside the bathroom.”

Pinpointing the time of collapse at 5:30 a.m. answers an investigation Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ordered in June into the apparent time lapse between Schiavo’s reported time of discovery at 4:30 a.m. and 5:40 a.m., when his 911 call was placed. Schiavo feels vindicated by the fact that local prosecutors came up with no evidence of a crime 15 years after the fact. Nor did the medical examiner, who admitted he wouldn’t expect to after more than a decade delay.

Terri’s money

In their 232-page book, published by Warner Books, the Schindlers also reveal suspicions over Schiavo’s handling of money raised during a variety of fund-raisers to pay for Terri’s rehabilitation.

“In the spring of 1991, we discovered that Michael had acquired a safe-deposit box at a First Union bank in St. Petersburg, in which he placed $10,000 in cash. We figured it probably came from the money raised in St. Petersburg, but Michael never said anything about it. From then on, we never got an accurate accounting of what he spent either on himself or on Terri.”

Schiavo provides a case in point, claiming this week in an interview with
CNN’s Larry King he spent 98 percent of the monies a jury awarded Terri on
her care.

“After all legal costs and medical costs were paid, $750,000 went into Terri’s trust fund, Schiavo relayed Monday night. “From there, for the last 15 years, that money has been used for Terri’s medical care, paying for her nursing home care. … Yes, it did pay for the legal fees. But I’d say 98 percent of that money went to Terri’s medical care.”

In fact, as WND has reported, court records show he spent $456,816, or 59 percent, of the $776,254 placed in a trust fund to cover the expense of Terri’s medical care for the rest of her life on the attorneys pursuing her death.

In his book, Schiavo admits the 1992 malpractice trial “drove” the Schiavo case.

“If we hadn’t sued and won a substantial judgment … no one outside the family would have ever heard the name Terri Schiavo.”

The $2.25 million garnered from the lawsuit Schiavo filed against two of
Terri’s treating physicians, he argued should have prevented her collapse,
remains a key bone of contention between the families. Schiavo casts Bob
Schindler as “obsessing” over how much money he and Mary would personally
receive. The Schindlers counter it was Schiavo’s behavior following the jury
award they take issue with. Specifically, instead of continuing to seek
Terri’s rehabilitation to the maximum extent possible, he transferred her to
a nursing home in July 1991 and denied her any further rehabilitative

“The time I spent working with Michael to help Terri improve would soon seem a facade,” Mary Schindler writes. “What Michael wanted was to favorably influence the malpractice jury that he was a dedicated husband. When I realized this, I cried so much I can still taste the tears.”

Terri’s wishes

Schiavo explains his apparent flip-flop – telling a jury in November 1992
he needed $20 million dollars so he could take care of Terri for the rest of
her life, and then pursuing her death through the removal of her feeding
tube beginning in 1998 – wasn’t really a flip-flop. As he did during his
testimony during the 2000 trial, Schiavo paints a picture of consistency in
always knowing Terri would not want to be kept alive in her condition, but
being unable to bring himself to “let go” of her until after he witnessed
his mother dying in mid-1997. He admits to being “selfish” and trying to
“keep Terri alive for me.”

“It wasn’t that Mike suddenly remembered what Terri wanted, it was just a psychological thing for him,” explains Jodi Schiavo, Michael’s fianc?e of 12 years with whom he fathered two children and married in January. “Now that he’d walked through it with his mom, he felt it was okay to walk through it
with Terri. Claire [Schiavo] had made him see that it was okay. She gave him
the courage and strength to finally do what he needed to do for Terri.”

The timeline of events doesn’t support this explanation, however. Six months after collecting the malpractice-award monies, Schiavo attempted to kill Terri by ordering her doctors to not treat a urinary tract infection. This was in June of 1993 – four years before his mother’s death.

“I’d thought long and hard about the times Terri had said, in one way or another, that she wouldn’t want to be kept alive by extraordinary means, and while I couldn’t bring myself to order her feeding tube removed, I’d reached a decision about letting her go,” Schiavo writes in reference to the 1993 incident.

“As a result, I issued an order to the staff at Sabal Palms that her UTI (urinary tract infection) wasn’t to be treated, and entered a DNR – do not resuscitate – order on her charts.”

Schiavo accuses the Schindlers of being in denial.

“After years of no progress and doctors telling us that ‘this is all there is,’ I had to believe them. Perhaps if the Schindlers had gotten some help dealing with the grief and loss, they might have come to accept it,” he writes, adding that Mary Schindler “knew deep in her heart” removing the feeding tube would be “the best thing for Terri.”

Mary Schindler’s explanation for their fight to keep Terri alive counter’s Schiavo’s claim.

“This was an injured girl, not a comatose one,” she writes. “Terri was responsive to everything around her. She would laugh at our jokes, smile when we sang to her. She was a presence in our lives, interacting with us as best she could.”

Michael’s ‘two loves’

Schiavo portrays himself as racked with guilt over falling in love with Jodi Centonze, and maintains that even after getting engaged with her in 1994, Terri was still his first priority. He describes his new wife as his “rock” and one of “the two loves of my life.”

“Mike had a wife and her name was Terri. She came before me, and I knew that,” Jodi Schiavo writes. “That was just that. Not that there weren’t issues here or there. Not like there wasn’t anger. Sometimes I was mad at her, because I felt she did this to herself, and look at what she left Mike to deal with.”

Schiavo paints himself and Jodi as the victims of the saga. The promotional blurb on the dust jacket of the book, co-written by author Michael Hirsh and published by Dutton reads: “A religious zealot offered $250,000 to anyone who would kill me. My two babies were threatened with death. I was condemned by the president, the majority leaders of the House and Senate, the governor of Florida, the Pope, and the rightwing media, all because I was doing what Terri – the woman I loved – wanted.”

Jodi Schiavo suggests it’s what God wanted, as well.

“We were in this situation because medical science has butted in on God’s
territory. In my opinion, it clearly was God’s plan to take Terri that
February morning in 1990. But medical science was able to intervene and give
her back a heartbeat,” she writes. “We have to ask whether it was her time,
and we – society – did the wrong thing. We interrupted God’s plan.”

Right-to-life vs. right-to-die

While incessantly taking swipes at the Schindlers’ faith and ridiculing pro-life advocates over the course of 332 pages, Schiavo echoes the conspiracy theory espoused by one of his attorneys, Jon Eisenberg, in his book, “Using Terri.” (A WND analysis published earlier this week exposed the hypocrisy of the book’s central theme and the lack of documentation supporting it.)

“There are forces in our country who believe it is their right to tell you how to live, how to behave, and what to believe,” Schiavo asserts. “These are the zealots who believe that our country has got to be a Christian nation – but they don’t concern themselves with being Christ-like. In his epilogue, he urges readers take action: “These fanatics need to be stopped, and the only way to do that is by electing politicians who are not beholden to the extremists.”

As WND reported, Schiavo set up a political action committee called “TerriPac” to raise funds to defeat the “Bible-thumping politicians” who tried to intervene in the court battle over Terri. Schiavo called Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., primary targets of the effort.

The Schindlers, meanwhile, established the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, as a resource to help families who find themselves in their shoes in the future.

“Terri’s brutal death, a legally sanctioned killing of an innocent disabled person, revealed in the most glaring way the face of the so-called right-to-die agenda, an agenda that pervades the medical industry,” Mary Schindler writes in the epilogue. “The diagnosis of persistent vegetative state was invented by proponents of euthanasia within the medical industry to dehumanize the severely brain-injured, making it easier to kill them.”

On the anniversary of her death, two starkly different characterizations of Terri Schiavo’s final moments remain.

“Terri was gasping for breath, with long periods between breaths,” Schiavo writes. “She wasn’t in any distress and still looked peaceful.”

“The sight of Terri was awful. Her skin was discolored, and there was blood pooling in her eyes, which were darting wildly back and forth,” Bobby Schindler writes. “Her cheeks were hollowed out, and her teeth were protruding. She looked like a skeleton from a horror movie.”

The Schindlers will observe the anniversary at a private mass. Michael
Schiavo plans to visit Terri’s gravesite.

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Be sure to get your copy of “Terri’s Story: The Court-Ordered Death of an American Woman.”

Related articles:

Zimbabwe mom: U.S. exporting euthanasia

Will you be the next Terri?

Part II: Will you be the next Terri?

Media ‘malpractice’ exposed in Schiavo coverage

Was autopsy the final word?

Michael Schiavo’s political foray panned

Michael Schiavo wades into political arena

Related columns:

Religious Right ‘using Terri’? – Part II

Religious Right ‘Using Terri’? – Part I

The Silence over Terri

Nov. 10, 1984, set stage for Terri’s death