Family Fights for Terri Schiavo's Life as Feeding Tube Set for Removal Oct. 15
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Thirty-nine-year-old Terri Schiavo will be dehydrated and starved to death beginning Oct. 15 if a hearing five days earlier does not halt the court-ordered scheduled removal of her feeding tube.
In late September, U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara ordered a hearing in the case for Oct. 10. Schiavo's parents filed a lawsuit challenging Florida's Health Care Advance Directives law and accusing their daughter's husband, Michael Schiavo, of depriving her of her rights to equal protection and due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution.
Schiavo's case is an emotion-filled one. In 1990 she collapsed, apparently due to a heart attack. The incident left her brain-damaged and unable to function on her own.
But not everyone agrees that is the way her life has to be. Her parents and siblings argue that she can be rehabilitated. But her husband, who is her legal guardian, does not.
Michael Schiavo, who argues that Terri is in a “persistent vegetative state,” wants the feeding tube to go. For Michael Schiavo — who, advocates for Terri Schiavo point out, is engaged to be married to another woman and has had a child with her — this latest appeal is just another delay of the inevitable. His lawyer, George Felos, has told reporters, “I would hope that the federal judge looking at this realizes this is just an attempt to rehash what has gone on before.”
But Terri Schiavo's parents, siblings and friends disagree, and have been fighting Michael Schiavo in court to keep Terri Schiavo alive.
“Michael may say that Terri 'died' a long time ago,” said Christina Brundage, a nurse and volunteer with the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation (www.terrisfight.org). “When someone smiles when you come in the room — as Terri does with her family and some staff members [as stated in one of the affidavits] — laughs when music is played, follows commands, etc., the argument that she 'isn't there' is meaningless.”
Video available on the terris-fight.org Web site shows her reacting to her family and to others. More than 10 doctors, including a Nobel Prize nominee, have testified that Terri Schiavo is not unconscious and not in a vegetative state.
“[T]here is no moral reason to remove her feeding tube, and it is morally wrong to directly starve her to death,” said Sister of Providence Marian Brady, adjunct assistant professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “We seem to be developing a culture in which we think that others can hold the power of life and death over an afflicted individual who requires therapeutic care. Rather, we should be developing a culture that respects the suffering person enough to give the therapeutic care the person needs.”
Bob Schindler, Terri's father, said faith has been essential to his family's struggle to keep his daughter alive.
“Terri comes from generations of devout Catholic families,” he said. “Our family prays daily to God the Father, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Mother Mary, the Holy Spirit, Terri's guardian angel, St. Jude, [St. Padre] Pio and in particular to St. Theresa, Terri's patron saint.”
Wesley Smith, author of The Culture of Death, sees the Schiavo case as a terrible cultural milestone.
“Terri's case demonstrates the length we will now go to make the most defenseless among us dead,” he said. “Not only is she to be denied food and water, but she is also being denied medical care and rehabilitative therapy that doctors and therapists have testified would make it likely that she could relearn to eat and drink by mouth. If a horse or pig were dehydrated to death, the perpetrator would probably go to jail. Do it to human being who has a feeding tube and it is called 'medical ethics.'”
Florida's Catholic governor, Jeb Bush, issued a letter in late August asking a state circuit judge to appoint a guardian to “independently investigate the circumstances of this case and provide the court with an unbiased view that considers the best interests of Mrs. Schiavo.”
The courts have not acted on Bush's recommendation. He is likely Terri Schiavo's last line of defense; advocates for Schiavo have been urging supporters to write to the governor on their behalf.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
- October 12-18, 2003