Editor’s note: Diana Lynne is one of two reporters who broke the story of the struggle over Terri Schiavo’s life – both of them with WND. Lynne’s coverage eventually brought the story to the attention of international media.
If Terri Schiavo had been able to speak for herself, she most likely would be alive today. Her name would not be associated with the barbarous, 13-day, court-ordered death by dehydration to which she succumbed on March 31, 2005 – 10 years ago. The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on her body days after her death estimated the severely brain-injured, but otherwise healthy, 41-year-old would have lived another decade if not for being killed through the denial of food and water.
On the very day her death sentence was to be carried out Terri reportedly screamed, “Ahhhhh Waaaaaaa” before breaking down in apparent frustration, in response to an attorney’s pleading: “Terri, if you could only say ‘I want to live’ this whole thing would be over.” Although the outburst startled the armed guard outside the door to her hospice room, it wasn’t articulate enough for those already convinced she needed to die.
In short, Terri’s cognitive disability rendered her vulnerable to judicial homicide by those who reject God as Creator of all things and seek to undo the Judeo-Christian underpinning of America. This horrific triumph of judicial tyranny emboldened the Godless, who have only become more brazen and overt in their efforts in the decade since.
Yet the more disturbing aspect of Terri’s death is the overwhelming acquiescence among, and approval of, the God-fearing. Countless self-professed Christians yawned a “ho-hum” and even applauded openly, or in secret, the killing of an innocent, defenseless, disabled woman who was not suffering from a terminal illness. Public opinion polls conducted by mainstream-media outlets – albeit fueled by rampant distortion, bias and misreporting of facts – consistently showed a majority in favor of her death.
Ten years later, this glaring hypocrisy among the faithful remains an open wound in the soul of America. If left untreated, this festering sore could turn into a sepsis of apathetic, totalitarian atheism.
‘To be, or not to be?’
In William Shakespeare’s iconic revenge tragedy, “Hamlet,” the dark prince of Denmark, grieved by the death of his father and tortured by the betrayal of his mother, contemplates suicide and poses the ultimate, existential question, “To be, or not to be?”
Fast forward four centuries and modern man in the throes of familial dysfunction grapples with an even darker question, “Should we allow him or her … to be, or not to be?” Judicial courts and hospital-ethics boards across the country daily are tasked with the duty of making such determinations.
They use neurological labels like “Persistent Vegetative State,” or PVS, as judicial tools and triggers. In essence, the labels – proven by one study to be erroneous 43 percent of the time – serve as moral justification for venturing to assume the immoral job of arbiter of life and death.
In Terri’s case her estranged husband, Michael Schiavo, asked a probate court to decide whether she should be allowed “to be.” He claimed she no longer wanted “to be” and preferred Hamlet’s “sleep” of death after mysteriously, and still inexplicably, suffering cardiac arrest and associated brain damage at the age of 26.
Paramedics resuscitated the Florida woman, and weeks later she metamorphosed from a comatose state to minimal consciousness, or MCS, according to 33 court affidavits filed by medical experts. She could breathe on her own and had no need for artificial, life-support machinery. As is typical with incapacitated individuals, she relied on caregivers to feed her through a gastric feeding tube.
Michael Schiavo won the means to care for his brain-disabled wife till age 55, her estimated life span, through the award of $1.5 million in two medical-malpractice lawsuits. Ironically, he argued for Terri’s right “to be” and tearfully pledged in court to keep his wedding vow of “… in sickness and in health.”
In the first two years of Terri’s incapacitation, Schiavo lived that commitment. Terri received experimental brain-stimulator treatment in California and benefited from field trips to the local mall and elsewhere to provide environmental stimulation. She was groomed and well-dressed for these outings. Her appearance reflected the hope for her recovery held by loved ones and caregivers.
According to medical records, Terri progressed in rehabilitation to the point of saying, “Yes,” “no” and “stop that” in response to therapists’ manipulations of her limbs. Inexplicably, however, her husband soon thereafter moved her to a nursing home and ordered she be given no therapy.
As her court-appointed legal guardian, Schiavo had complete control over Terri’s life. He made repeated attempts to cause her death, through his denial of the treatment of her infections. He was rebuffed, however, by courageous and conscientious nurses.
That’s when Schiavo petitioned the court for permission to legally kill his wife through the removal of the feeding tube. Having argued for Terri’s right “to be” when millions were at stake, he now vociferously hollered for her right “not to be.”
Perhaps he lost hope for her recovery. Her appearance certainly reflected a loss of hope. Gone were the make-up, hair color and pretty clothes.
Schiavo claimed this flip-flop stemmed from his belated recollection of statements Terri allegedly made 20 years prior to her incapacitation when she hypothetically opted out of being “hooked up to machines,” which, again, she was not.
Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, whom Schiavo shut out of any treatment decisions, staunchly opposed Schiavo’s characterization of their daughter. They recalled her stating, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Together with Terri’s siblings they argued the practicing Catholic still desired “to be” and offered to facilitate her desire themselves in every way possible for the rest of her life.
The Schindler family even told Schiavo he could keep the medical-malpractice lawsuit award, and they would find their own means for her care. They asked only to be allowed to continue to love and care for her, after Schiavo himself had moved on to another woman he called his “fiancée” and with whom he lived and fathered two children.
They suspected the truth was he was the one who no longer wanted Terri “to be.”
Partnered with a pro-death, activist attorney whose fees were paid for with the lion’s share of the $750,000 earmarked for Terri’s care, Schiavo grew defiant against the Schindlers’ pro-life, pro-God stance. He ridiculed the family’s entreaties that he divorce Terri and relinquish his authoritarian control over her destiny.
In February of 2000, Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer ruled Terri was in a persistent vegetative state, according to his own definition of PVS. Using this neurological trigger, he determined she should be allowed to die and that it was her wish to die. He ordered the removal of the feeding tube.
As an interesting aside, hospice associates of Schiavo’s attorney and a panel of other medical and political experts worked behind the scenes of the Schiavo case and concurrently updated Florida law to codify the neurological trigger of PVS in time for Greer’s adjudication.
Following Greer’s ruling, the heretofore sleeping mainstream media awoke, and the court battle intensified. Various appellate-court judges rubber-stamped Greer’s original ruling, even as voluminous, contradictory evidence piled up. This included the signed affidavits from 33 experts stating Terri was not in PVS, but in MCS, and medical records suggesting Terri was a victim of abuse. Greer refused to admit any of these documents as testimony.
The judicial tyranny provoked public outrage, which galvanized the intervention of Florida lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003, and then federal lawmakers and President George W. Bush on Good Friday in 2005. But there was no derailing this bullet-train of judicial homicide.
Children of God
In court, Schiavo’s attorney likened Terri to a “house plant” whose leaves turn toward the sunshine beaming through a window seeking photosynthesis. After moving Terri to hospice, Schiavo denied his “house plant” even life-giving sunlight by ordering the shades be kept shut on the window in her room.
Terri stayed in this hospice room cut off from the world for 1,815 days prior to her death, again, despite suffering no terminal illness. She was considered “terminal” because her legal guardian wanted her dead.
As evidenced by the statements of good, tenderhearted people sprinkled throughout the wall-to-wall news coverage of the drama in the final days, the “house-plant” analogy and the accompanying mantra, “There are fates worse than death,” succeeded in desensitizing the God-fearing and convincing them that killing is merciful.
Over and over, morally upright people said – and continue to hold the opinion – “I wouldn’t want to live like that; we need to let her go.”
But Terri was not physically suffering. She was happy. She only consistently cried when her mother’s visits necessarily came to an end. Terri conversely “lit up like a Christmas tree” each time her mother returned.
Terri was well cared for and healthy. The medical examiner considered it a “miracle” she had lived 15 years in her incapacitated state. She clearly exhibited a will to live. What’s more, her Creator – the true, almighty arbiter of life and death – clearly exhibited His will for her to live.
The trap pro-death Christians and Jews fall into is defining identity as something external, rooted in abilities, material possessions and environments. Did Terri cease “to be,” as Michael Schiavo would have us believe, simply because she lost the ability “to do?”
An alarming number of the God-fearing in America would answer, “Yes.” For them, “quality of life” trumps “sanctity of life.” Put another way, selfishness and convenience hold sway over sacrifice and trust in an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good God.
As human beings we have bodies and souls. We live exterior lives as well as interior. Two kinds of time correspond with these two modes of existence. As author Jacques Philippe elegantly delineates in his book titled “Internal Freedom,” psychological time is the “time of the head,” which we measure, manage and fill with productivity. Interior time is “time of the heart” during which we experience joy, grace and “communion with eternity.”
Our true identity is internal. We have unique value and dignity as children of God no matter what we do in our external lives. God loves us simply because we are, and He wants to be happy with us forever in heaven. He has a plan of salvation for every individual and continuously directs us toward that plan here on earth.
Through revelation and the writings of saints like Teresa of Avila, who belong to the mystical tradition of the Catholic Church, God has given us a roadmap to follow in our spiritual journeys, our interior lives.
In the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus urges us to “die to self.” This is not to be taken literally as a call for suicide, assisted or otherwise. Rather, He seeks to liberate us from our false, external identities to allow our true, internal selves to blossom.
Theologians instruct that this dying, or abandonment, of self produces internal freedom and satisfies the deepest need of human beings, which is the need to love and be loved. All other needs, such as the need to be productive, pale in comparison.
“Free” is likely the last word most would use to describe the incapacitated Terri Schiavo holed up in her hospice room prior to her death. Yet, losing her external self through the brain injury allowed her internal self to emerge, her interior life to grow. Looking at her situation theologically, living an interior life in communion with God, “sanctity of life” trumps “quality of life.”
This likely explains Terri’s apparent will to live: She loved and felt loved, not just by the loved ones who visited, but by God who resided in her. All believers are called to this fullness of Christian life.
The bronze gravestone Schiavo installed over Terri’s buried, cremated remains reads in part:
Theresa Marie Schiavo
Born December 3, 1963
Departed this Earth February 25, 1990
At Peace March 31, 2005
In reality, Terri was at peace once she was liberated from her external self on Feb. 25, 1990. She was more truly alive than any of us between 1990 and 2005. Then she departed this earth, body and soul, on March 31, 2005.
This week Christians commemorate the agony felt by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and then during His scourging, crowning of thorns, carrying of the cross and, ultimately, the crucifixion. He suffered the most over the lukewarm souls – those who profess belief but fail to act upon it; those who love God, but are not in love with Him; those who see an incapacitated Terri Schiavo and believe she needs to be put to death.
It is this lukewarmness among the God-fearing that poses the greatest threat to the heart and soul of America.
God allows evil because in His infinite power and love He turns everything for good.
Through the death of Terri Schiavo, God is calling us all to greater holiness. He desires that we work on our interior lives, abandon ourselves to His will, and by His grace allow our hearts to be transformed into hearts of perfect love.
This perfect love will stand up for the lives of all the future Terri Schiavos. It will combat judicial tyranny of the Godless and thwart all other efforts throughout society to remake the country into the United States of Atheism.
This perfect love will heal that open wound in America and, God willing, save her.