When the feeding tube was removed from Terri Schindler Schiavo in 2005, she swallowed, she laughed, she loved and she was not in a persistent vegetative state as the media indicated, according to her brother, Bobby Schindler. Less than two weeks later, she was gone, having been starved and dehydrated to death.
“If you go back and look at her records, she was starting to form words,” her brother told WND. “It was really encouraging to our family, and to Michael (Terri’s husband) right at first.”
So how did it end up with Terri’s family and husband in court fighting each other, her ultimate death after a court ordered doctors to withhold food and water on her husband’s request, and the still-simmering controversy a decade later?
It’s a tragedy that tore apart relationships and divided the nation.
Terri had collapsed in her Florida home for unknown reason and was taken to a hospital by first responders who feared she was dead. She was comatose for a time, then started responding and was moved to a care center. Her family members say she was getting better.
Then there was a deterioration in Terri’s condition. Bobby Schindler alleges it was after Michael started dating that he cut off Terri’s therapy and then eventually petitioned the court to withdraw medical treatment, which included food and water.
“If you look at the timeline, and you see Michael’s actions, you can see that this was all calculated,” Schindler alleged.
He believes Michael warehoused Terri after he lost interest in her life.
“It was just a tragedy what he did. He violated so many laws, and he got away with every one of them, because he had this judge protecting him,” Schindler claimed.
The case brought to headlines and kitchen tables across America the plight of those who are seriously brain injured, their rights and whether or not they are cognizant of their surroundings. The case generated four requests to the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, and all were rejected.
Jeb Bush, a possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate, was governor of Florida at the time and filed several documents on behalf of Terri. But eventually, according to his press secretary at the time, he concluded the outcome was “in the court’s hands.”
Alarmingly, several similar cases have developed since Terri’s death in which coma patients suddenly awakened, sometimes telling stories of having been able to hear people talking about them while in the coma.
WND reported earlier this year on the case of Martin Pistorius, who in the 1980s fell into a coma. In a vegetative state for 12 years, he now talks, uses a computer and is mobile in a wheelchair. During those 12 years, he was aware of his surroundings and remembers conversations, including one time when his mother said, “I hope you die.”
A few years ago, a woman was in a short coma due to a medical condition, and her husband made the difficult decision after several days to halt her life support. She immediately became restless, woke up and said, “Get me out of here. … Take me to Ted’s and take me to the Melting Pot,” naming two Mexican restaurants.
ABC News reported several years ago when a college student horribly injured in a car pileup and in a coma was being reviewed as an organ donor after months of unconsciousness. Suddenly, one night, he wiggled his fingers, and soon he was moving around in a wheelchair and talking.
Then a new study from Northwestern confirmed that patients in comas “recovered consciousness significantly faster and had an improved recover” when they heard their family members telling familiar stories.
The Schindler family, devout Catholics, stood by their daughter and sister. Numerous photos suggest Terri recognized loved ones, and it was that glimmer of hope that kept them going day after day, year after year.
Michael Schiavo, who could not be reached by WND, declared his wife had collapsed, probably as the result of an eating disorder. But a coroner’s report said there was “no proof” Terri had a disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.
Signs of trauma were inconclusive. But a full examination wasn’t done until after her death, 15 years after her collapse.
No one disputes that whatever led to Terri’s collapse landed her in a disabled condition in a hospital with a brain injury. Some compare the case to the highly publicized cases of Karen Ann Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan. Unlike, Schiavo, however, Quinlan was on a respirator, and Cruzan was on full life support.
Cruzan’s own family fought to have her life support removed. That is what distinguished the Schiavo case in the mind of many. All Terri required to live was food and water.
But since food and water were determined to be “medical treatments,” they ultimately were withdrawn on a court order March 18, 2005, and she died two weeks later, March 31.
The Schindler family alleges Michael Schiavo first helped with Terri’s steps toward recovery but then grew distant and lost interest.
They claim he started dating someone else.
“The worse thing you can do to a person with that type of brain injury is what Michael did to her,” Schindler said of his sister’s husband. “He basically neglected her. That’s what was so frustrating! He would go in front of the press … and say: ‘Look at Terri. She wasn’t going to get better. Who would want to live that way?'”
Schindler believes Michael was responsible for her declining condition, having discontinued her therapy and rehabilitation.
“The fact that Terri was as responsive as she was given that she had been neglected for so long was quite remarkable,” he said. “She was at times still very responsive. It is a tragedy.”
A LegalZoom analysis of the case said Michael appeared conflicted.
“It appeared to the American people that Michael Schiavo’s decision was complicated by a conflict of interest. While he claimed that a part of him had moved on, he also claimed to love Terri so much that he was willing to fight to carry out her wishes.
“It was still difficult for many to resolve his commitment to Terri with his new life, which included a long-time girlfriend and two children. … For his opponents, it was difficult to understand why he would withstand such hostility not simply from members of the Schindler family but from the public, if not for his desire to expedite his wife’s death.”
Michael Schiavo did comment recently to Politico, saying the situation was a “living hell” for him, and he blames Jeb Bush, whom he described as vindictive and untrustworthy.
Michael told the publication: “He should be ashamed. And I think people really need to know what type of person he is. To bring as much pain as he did, to me and my family, that should be an issue.”
The judge in the case, George Greer, rejected most of the evidence that the family tried to present in defense of her life, such as evidence of her swallowing and testimony of nurses talking about her responses.
Complicating the case was an $800,000 medical trust fund from a settlement with a doctor who treated Terri and a guardian ad litem investigation of the husband, Schindler reported. He said the report questioned some of the issues and recommended leaving the feeding tube in place, but the judge eventually decided against doing so.
The Schindlers say they have had no contact with Michael since Terri’s death.
Schindler told WND, “In recent interviews, it has become pretty clear that he is still very vindictive and very angry.”
But Terri’s brother hasn’t given up on a day when Michael will come around.
“I would be very open to talking with him if he wanted to,” he said. “(I am) hoping that he would want to apologize for what he did to his wife.”
Since Terri’s death, Bobby and the family have continued to fight for those who are disabled and can’t fight for themselves. His sister, Suzanne, lives in Florida. His father died in 2009, and his mother still helps with the foundation in Terri’s memory.
Each year, they host a memorial mass around March 31 to commemorate her life.
Three years ago, they launched an award dinner for those who have survived similar events. Sarah Palin spoke the year before last, and Glenn Beck will speak this year. They auction off Terri’s artwork – about 20 drawings of animals they carefully framed just for the purpose of selling and raising money to help other families in the position they remember too well.
Schindler said he is frustrated that medical ethics classes are using Terri’s case with a bias against Terri’s life, and he says the institution of Obamacare is one of the most frightening developments.
The definition of “medical care” was fundamentally changed, and that definition jeopardizes people like Terri, he said.
“How can you look at an administration that does not value life at any stage and think that they are going to … protect people that they are targeting to kill?
“It’s just common sense here,” Schindler said. “Look at the progression of this ‘right to die’ agenda. This culture is killing our most vulnerable. How can we expect them to look out for people … like Terri when they are looking out for their best interest, which is money, cost.”
He continued: “This is happening every day. We talk about Terri’s case 10 years later because we have to learn from it, but we are talking about this today because what happened to Terri is happening every single day. People don’t realize that what happened to Terri … She wasn’t terminal, she wasn’t sick, she wasn’t dying.”
Schindler said food and water through feeding tubes has been redefined as medical treatment.
“Because of that, it can be taken away from people. All she needed was food and water.”
The New York Daily News said the divide between Michael Schiavo and the Schindler family was “as wide as a canyon.”
Bobby Schindler runs a Pennsylvania-based group called Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network working for families of incapacitated individuals, and Michael Schiavo started the TerriPac organization.
WND 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 to this day rarely surface in news reports. Read WND’s unparalleled, in-depth coverage of the life-and-death fight over Terri Schiavo, including more than 150 original stories and columns.