Terri Schiavo

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Theresa Marie "Terri" Schiavo is the Florida woman who "suffered extensive brain damage when her heart stopped briefly [in 1990] due to a potassium deficiency" caused by the eating disorder bulimia. Florida courts ruled that Schiavo had been in "a persistent vegetative state since 1990." Terri "left no written directive," but her husband, Michael Schiavo, "testified that she had told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially." Because he said that "she would not want to be kept alive in her condition" he, in 1998, petitioned to have her feeding tube removed. However, Terri's parents, wanting "to keep her alive," filed suit, maintaining that she was "responsive". [1][2]

A long series of judicial appeals ensued. Videos released by the parents showed Terri appearing to respond to her environment, but most experts asserted that such responses were merely low-level reflexes. The parents chose Randall Terry as their spokesman. On October 15, 2003, Terri's feeding tube was removed and within a week, Florida govenor Jeb Bush signed "Terri's Law", which had been rushed through the State legislature. The feeding tube had been re-inserted, but "Terri's Law" was later found to be unconstitutional. Pro-life factions nationwide united to take on all comers in the political arena as the case continued to wind its way through the courts.

The Schiavo conflict dominated American politics throughout March 2005. On March 18, 2005, Schiavo's feeding tube was removed for the third and final time. President George W. Bush rushed back from vacation to Washington, DC, to sign a bill that would grant him jurisdiction in the matter. It was quickly blocked by the courts. Still off life-support, Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005, "at the Pinellas Park hospice where she lay for years while her husband and her parents fought over her fate in the nation's most bitter — and most heavily litigated — right-to-die dispute." [3]

On June 15, 2005, the results of the autopsy performed by the medical examiner's office on Terri Schiavo was released to the public, which "backed her husband's contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state, finding that she had massive and irreversible brain damage and was blind, ... It also found no evidence that she was strangled or otherwise abused." [4]

Also see Miami Herald archived articles on Terri Schiavo.

Note that although the spelling of Terri Schiavo's nickname is stated as both "Terri" and "Terry", reference is being made to "Terri Schiavo". Internet searches should be made using both spellings to locate media reports.

"And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law." --Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 29, 2005.

The Battle Over Terri Schiavo's Feeding Tube... or was it?

Explaining the Media Frenzy

Not every "human interest" story elicits media reaction, let alone a media frenzy. Professor Laurie King-Irani contrasts the case of Schiavo with that of Rachel Corrie who was killed two years ago in Gaza. [5]. One woman is the focus of a frenzy, the other of media neglect; in one case, the name has become a household word, the name of the other is barely known.

So, the question arises as to why the Schiavo case has received such extreme attention. The legal dispute between Schiavo's parents and her husband and the nature of the issue merited public debate but the intervention of the George W. Bush/Karl Rove team elevated it to national level. The simple fact that President Bush decided to sign papers which had been submitted to Congress on this issue guaranteed that it would be the focus of attention. Furthermore, once Congress was notified, it acted at unprecedented speed.

Secondly, the Schiavo media frenzy emerged around Friday, March 18, 2005, on the eve of the second anniversary of the commencement of the US-Iraq war. A round of war anniversay stories would feature extensive coverage of stories about the number of dead, the cost, the prisoner abuse scandal and the continuing instability in Iraq. The Bush administration's focus on the Schiavo case ensured that the president's "pro-life" actions came to the fore and swamped potentially adverse coverage of Iraq. It was also a pro-active attempt by Bush to regain control of the political and media agenda after being on the defensive for much of the year over controversies including the Armstrong Williams scandal, the Jeff Gannon saga and the use of government-funded video news releases.

However, what may have been an opportunistic attempt to rebuild political momentum appears to have backfired. The latest CNN poll revealed a slump in Bush's approval ratings from 52% in a poll taken over the weekend of March 19-20 to 45% on Thurdsay March 24. A CBS poll had Bush's rating dropping from 49% to 43%. Aside from the Schiavo case other factors could be fuel price increases and the controversy over Social Security privatization.[6]

"Defending life"

Neil Steinberg said, in response to White House spokesman Scott McClellan's comment that "Everyone recognizes that time is important here. This is about defending life," that McClellan is "exactly right." [7]

In this country, however, "'defending life' has come to mean a specific moral agenda: no abortion, limited stem cell research, no assisted suicide, no death with dignity. ... Like any brand of extremism, the 'defend life' philosophy breeds irrationalities -- the zealot who loves life so much he murders an abortion doctor; the life-affirming protesters holding enormous photos of mutilated fetuses up to cringing pedestrians ...

"The particulars of the Terri Schiavo case are unimportant -- What is important -- frighteningly important -- is that the federal government, caught in the thrall of its religious supporters, is trying to exert its raw power to win a symbolic victory in a religious debate. This isn't about saving one brain-dead woman. This is about wrenching the country back to some imagined Eden." Chicago Sun-Times, March 21, 2005.


  • Bob Herbert said that "While the press and the public are distracted by one sensational news story after another - Terri Schiavo, Michael Jackson, steroids in baseball, etc. - the president and his party have continued their extraordinary campaign to undermine the programs that were designed to fend off destitution and provide a reasonable foundation of economic security for those not blessed with great wealth." New York Times, March 25, 2005.


The media has been a willing accomplice in misleading the public as to Terri Schiavo's true medical condition. The public sees her "eyes avidly follow a shiny Mickey Mouse balloon held over her bed ... [and she] beams when her mother tenderly kisses her forehead."

This poignant image is "driving much of the public reaction," Helen Kennedy wrote. "But," she added, "the tape was created in 2002 "by Shiavo's parents to show the fleeting moments during a four-hour, court-ordered evaluation." It was "carefully edited" and is "cruelly misleading, according to doctors who say people lost in a permanent vegetative state sometimes falsely appear perfectly conscious."

"On the unedited tape, Mary Schindler tries repeatedly to get her daughter to obey a request and prove to the court she mustn't die. ... [and] in the extended versions of the tape, Schiavo looks at her mother only when her gaze is attracted by a sudden movement or when Schindler leans into her face.

"Mostly, Schiavo lies blinking up into space, her jaw slack, her arms curled up to her chest." New York Daily News, March 24, 2005.

It must be noted that eye movement (as well as breathing, heartbeat and even grasping reflex) are controlled by the reptilian brain (i.e. the older lower back parts, not the cortex or limbic system). Thus, eye movement doesn't signify that the patient is conscious or even alive.


  • Joe Conason said to "Never underestimate the Republican leaders in Washington. Whenever they appear to have exhausted the possibilities for cynical abuse of their authority, they can still inflict fresh outrages upon the nation. ... the politicians who claim to be advocating Ms. Schiavo's cause ... has been voided by their own behavior." The New York Observer, March 23, 2005.
  • Terence Samuel wrote that, "Just when you think you’ve seen everything, Congress pushes back the Easter recess, comes back to Washington on a Sunday night, and delves headfirst, along with the president of the United States, into the short and tragic life of Terri Schiavo and her fractious kin. ... And while a close reading of this case suggests that it is about many things (including politics, religion, modern medicine, aggressive weight loss, fertility treatments, medical malpractice awards, and deep moral and ideological beliefs), the moment Congress got involved, you suddenly realized that there are new, unknown depths of amazement yet to be plumbed in Washington." The American Prospect, March 24, 2005.

False Witnessing

"Quack psychiatrists, dubious religious authorities, politicians and radio talk show hosts who have never met Mr. Schiavo insist he's Satan incarnate. Nothing else explains why a 'loving husband' would starve an 'angel' to death and single-handedly usher in a culture of death in America.

"It's one thing when a desperate father insists that his brain-damaged daughter miraculously mouthed the words 'I want to live' during a visit. Decency dictates that we politely look the other way in the face of such grief.

"But when someone from the family's retinue of loose-talking 'spiritual advisers' claims to have witnessed Terri practically reciting Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address during a visit, it is an outrageous lie. So why haven't the media and those with spiritual oversight over such people stepped in to call these liars to account? Talk show hosts may be beyond the pale of empirical truth, but clergy aren't. They must be held to a higher standard." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 29, 2005.


'Following the money' reveals that a host of right-wing organizations, many of which are affiliated with the Philanthropy Roundtable -- a consortium of right-wing foundations and philanthropists -- have been copiously funding the Terri Schiavo case. --Team Schiavo's Deep Pockets.


Polling the Public

  • March 27, 2005: "Most Americans, even those who call themselves born-again or evangelical Christians, support the decision to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube." Time.com, April 4, 2005, issue.
  • March 26, 2005: A poll of "600 likely voters by phone in Florida" conducted this week by Research 2000 for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union "say nearly two out of three Floridians say Congress and President Bush should have stayed out of the battle over Terri Schiavo's fate. ... Among Democrats and independents, 67 percent and 68 percent disapproved respectively. ... Sixty-two percent questioned Congress and the president's motives." AP.
  • March 24, 2005: "An overwhelming 82 percent of the public believes the Congress and President should stay out of the matter." CBS.
  • March 23, 2005: Four out of five people opposed the federal intervention in the Schiavo case, "with levels of disapproval among key groups supporting the GOP almost that high," and more than two-thirds of the "people who describe themselves as evangelicals and conservatives disapprove of the intervention by Congress and President Bush." See Bush administration approval ratings.


  • "With court after court ruling against restoring Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, demonstrators holding vigil outside her hospice ... called for intervention from God, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother President George W. Bush." Reuters, March 24, 2005.


"Another day, another polling controversy. The latest involves a survey released on Monday [March 21, 2005,] by ABC News that shows 63 to 28 percent support for removal of Terry Schiavo's feeding tube. The survey drew intense interest in Washington and immediate allegations of biased question wording from the blogosphere's right-wing. Captain's Quarters called it a 'push poll for euthanasia.' Wizbang adds another adjective, calling it a 'bogus push poll for euthanasia'." See Max Blumenthal's on-going posting at Mystery Pollster.


Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer, "a conservative Christian and longtime Republican known for an easy manner ... has been under the protection of armed guards, and friends say his family also is protected. ... Death threats have been made against him for allowing Michael Schiavo to remove the feeding tube that has kept his 41-year-old wife alive for the past 15 years, and the Southern Baptist church that Greer belonged to for years has asked him to leave the congregation." The State (NC), March 26, 2005.

Congressional (Republican) Opportunism

The "Fake" "Talking Points" Memo

The "Real" "Talking Points" Memo

  • Brian Darling, "former lobbyist for the Alexander Strategy Group on gun rights and other issues" and "legal counsel to Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) admitted ... that he [Darling] was the author of a memo citing the political advantage to Republicans of intervening in the case of Terri Schiavo," Martinez said in an interview April 6, 2005. Darling "offered his resignation" and it was "immediately accepted." New York Times, April 7, 2005.
  • In the same interview, "Martinez said he earlier had been assured by aides that his office had nothing to do with producing the memo." Martinez said that "he had not read the one-page memo" but had "inadvertently passed it to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who had worked with him on the issue. After that, other Senate aides gave the memo to reporters for ABC News and The Washington Post."
  • Included in the "talking points circulated among Senate Republicans explaining why they should vote to intervene in the Schiavo case" is that it not only was "an important moral issue and the 'pro-life base will be excited'" but that it was also "a 'great political issue" which is "a tough issue for Democrats.'" ABC News, March 21, 2005.

"Connecting the Dots" to DeLay

  • Jerome Armstrong wrote April 7, 2005, "Now that Brian Darling of the Alexander Strategy Group has been penned as the author, it connects the dots to why Tom DeLay also used the talking points. The Alexander Strategy Group is a firm created by former DeLay chief of staff Ed Buckham (and yet another place from where DeLay's wife has cashed checks). Tom DeLay used the talking points at least on three occasions..." mydd.com.

The Republican Congress

  • "Of all the twists and turns in the Terri Schiavo case over the years, the most ridiculous is the grandstand play by Congress to issue subpoenas for her. It was a gross misuse of power by conservative Republicans who have no respect for the law, the courts or the rights of individuals." The St. Petersburg Times, March 19, 2005.
  • "So, like, the AP story [dead link], the CNN story, the Fox "News" story and others all say that the Senate 'unanimously' passed the thank-Christ-we're-not-talking-about-Social-Security Terry Schiavo bill."
"Technically, this is true. But all these articles fail to mention what the Miami Herald does distinctly note: Only three members were on the floor and the bill's prime sponsor, Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, served as presiding officer ... And those three members proudly raised their voices, and yes, technically the bill passed unanimously, just as technically Terri Schiavo is still 'alive'." The Rude Pundit, March 21, 2005. [archived article; emphasis added].

"The Savage Carnival"

"America has become a savage carnival of freak show religiosity and circus clown politics.

"Let’s call them what they are: Ghoulish Obscene Panderers. How else to describe Tom Delay, and Bill Frist et al. as they crawl into bed with a brain-dead woman to pose for a political Polaroid?" --John Cory, March 27, 2005, for Hoffmania.

Tom Delay: "Saving Terri Schiavo"

On March 19, 2005, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas said "We should investigate every avenue before we take the life of a living human being" and pledged to "continue working to save Terri Schiavo." [8][9].

  • "Here's Tom DeLay, ready to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. Tom DeLay, the former small-town Texas exterminator. Tom DeLay, the most powerful man in Congress today. Tom DeLay, the feared Republican enforcer seemingly on the verge of criminal indictment for fund-raising abuses. Tom DeLay, a legislator so famously hard-hearted that he is known around Washington, with both trepidation and respect, as 'The Hammer.'" Newsday, March 20, 2005.
  • According to Tom DeLay:
  • "This act of barbarism can be, and must be, prevented." March 18, 2005.
  • "'Right now, ... murder is being committed." March 18, 2005.
  • "Mrs. Schiavo's life is not slipping away; it is being violently wrenched from her body in an act of medical terrorism." March 18, 2005.
  • "When this tragic episode is resolved, the Supreme Court will have some serious questions to answer about its silence and arbitrary interpretation of federalism." March 19, 2005. Note: all emphasis added.
  • "So the question will remain: having framed the Schiavo case as murder and barbarism and medical terrorism, does Tom DeLay now just say, 'Well, the family had its day in court,' and forget about it? Or will the culture-war implications of the case make it escalate? ... Guess you can tell which way I think the wind will blow." --Ed Kilgore March 22, 2005.
  • "Now, as public attention shifts away from Schiavo, DeLay's political calculations seem to have backfired. In the past weeks, as many Americans were introduced to DeLay for the first time, the House leader has been exposed as the very picture of political opportunism and hypocrisy." March 28, 2005.

Bill Frist: An Opportune Moment

  • "For Bill Frist, Terri Schiavo came along at an opportune moment. After inspecting some videotapes made by her parents, the doctor announced that the examinations by court-appointed physicians were erroneous in concluding that Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state for the past 15 years. He may also have concluded that if getting the jump on the 2008 Republican presidential field required issuing a preposterous diagnosis, that was a small price to pay. Frist isn't running for Neurologist in Chief, after all." Washington Post, March 23, 2005.
  • Sarah Posner wrote March 25, 2005: "Now that Bill Frist has deemed himself sufficiently expert in neurology to conclude that Terri Schiavo could have been misdiagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, let's hold him to the Code of Professional Conduct of the American Medical Association's American Academy of Neurology. ...
  • "By turning an individual patient's case into a political issue, Frist has disrespected Terri Schiavo's autonomy and confidentiality, and has violated the provision of the Code prohibiting publicizing the patient's life and illness. Moreover, Frist, who is not even trained as a neurologist, and has not engaged in continuing education in neurology, cannot represent the prevailing standards of neurologic practice.' So he's not only publicizing her case in violation of the Code, but also misrepresenting his expertise, thereby publicizing Schiavo's case in a misleading way, in further violation of the Code," she writes. And that's just for starters. --The Gadflyer

Phil Gingrey Makes Long Distance Diagnosis

Failure to perform a physical examination of the patient before rendering a medical diagnosis is an obvious departure from good medical practise. Physicians who give medicial advice in this fashion may be guilty of violating medicial ethics. In March 2005 several members of the United States Congress who are also physicians offered medical opinions about the medical condition of Terri Schiavo. Congressman Phil Gingrey, who is trained in obstetrics and gynecology, stated that, "The tragedy of the situation is that with proper treatment, now denied, Terri's condition can improve." See Hilary Roxe. "Doctors in Congress Criticized on Schiavo". Associated Press. March 22, 2005.

George W. Bush

President George W. Bush and the "Right to Life"

President George W. Bush, while vacationing on his Crawford, Texas, ranch, cut his vacation short March 19, 2005, to sign the bill passed by Congress to allow Schiavo's feeding tube to be reinserted. [10]

Governor George W. Bush and the "Right to Die"

However, in June 1999, it was then-Governor George W. Bush who "returned from a campaign trip just in time to sign" Senate Bill 1260, which "allows doctors to remove patients from life support if the hospital's ethics committee agrees, but it requires that the hospital give families 10 days to find another facility." The bill, otherwise known as the Texas Futile Care Law, passed both houses of the Texas legislature. "Governor Bush was required to veto or sign it before June 20, 1999." The bill's effective date was September 1, 1999. [11][12][13]

President Bush: "Missing in Action" ... again

"He flew halfway across the country in a vain effort to save her life, but in the week since, President Bush has retreated back to his ranch and remained largely out of sight as the nation wrestled with the great moral issues surrounding the fate of Terri Schiavo.

"The president has said nothing publicly about the bitterly contested case since Wednesday, when reporters asked about it and he said he had exhausted his powers to intervene. On Saturday, as he used his weekly radio address to express condolences to the victims of a school shooting in Minnesota and extol a 'culture that affirms life,' he did not mention the most prominent culture-of-life issue in the public eye." Washington Post, March 27, 2005.

Which harkens us back to days of yore when George W. Bush was "missing in action."

Jeb Bush

"We have a duty to act"

  • "Gov. Jeb Bush said he still held out hope that the House and Senate would resolve their differences over Schiavo legislation. ... 'We have a duty to act here....," Bush said. Orlando Sentinel, March 23, 2005.
  • Gov. Jeb Bush "ordered his legal team to scour state laws for a way to reconnect Schiavo's feeding tube." AP, March 25, 2005.

Not-so-"divine intervention"

"Only hours after a judge ordered that Terri Schiavo was not to be removed from her hospice, a team of state agents were en route to seize her and have her feeding tube reinserted -- but they stopped short when local police told them they would enforce the judge's order," The Miami Herald learned from "three different sources involved" in the event.

"Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told police in Pinellas Park, the small town where Schiavo lies at Hospice Woodside, on Thursday [March 24, 2005,] that they were on the way to take her to a hospital to resume her feeding. ... For a brief period, local police, who have officers at the hospice to keep protesters out, prepared for what sources called 'a showdown.' ... In the end, the squad from the FDLE and the Department of Children & Families backed down, apparently concerned about confronting local police outside the hospice."

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, it "also shows that agencies answering directly to Gov. Jeb Bush had planned to use a wrinkle in Florida law that would have allowed them to legally get around the judge's order. The exception in the law allows public agencies to freeze a judge's order whenever an agency appeals it." The Miami Herald, March 26, 2005.

  • Ironically, the incident preceded the statement March 25, 2005, made by George Felos, attorney for Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo: "Absent a kidnapping, Terri Schiavo is going to remain in the hospice." Washington Post.

Cementing "social conservative" credentials

"Gov. Jeb Bush's last-minute intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, even after the president had ended his own effort to keep her alive, may have so far failed in a legal sense, but it has cemented the religious and social conservative credentials of a man whose political pedigree is huge and whose political future remains a subject of intense speculation." New York Times, March 25, 2005.

Judicial Filings & Rulings

SeeTerri Schiavo: Key Legal Arguments Timeline.

Political, Social & Judicial Implications

See Terri Schiavo: Political, Social & Judicial Implications.

SourceWatch Resources

External links

*Terri Schiavo: External Links