Notes from talk by Terri Schaivo’s lawyer

The following are my notes from a public talk and private 20 minute conversation with Terry Schiavo’s lawyer.

Terry Schiavo was not dying, was not PVS.

1. Terry would lurch forward and make squeeling noises whenever she saw her mother.
2. Terry would cry whenever her mother would leave.
3. Terry would cock her head and kiss her mother (small nibbling movements with her lips) whenever her mother kissed her.
4. A radio played continually in Terri’s room during the day. One day a nurse changed the station to music Terry did not like and Terri protested until her favorite station (classical) was tuned in again.
5. Terry felt pain. She would complain by making noises. When nurses the left the noises would stop. When they entered Terry would complain again. Complaints stopped when nurses located the source of the pain and corrected it.
6. Terry’s responses entirely appropriate to her level of injury.
7. Terry’s functioning corresponded to the nature of her injury and debilitation.

Terry showed rehabilitative progress until her therapy stopped in the early 1990’s.
1. Terry was relearning how to walk in the early 1990’s and could support herself walking along two parallel bars.
2. In 1994 her therapy stopped. What changed? Michael Schiavo won a two million dollar settlement. He got a new girlfriend, ordered the therapy stopped, and moved towards a court ordered death.

Move forward to 2000.
The decision to pull Terri’s feeding tube was made by a probate judge. The appeal in 2003 was procedural, i.e. whether or not the probate judge had the authority to make the decision.

Two themes emerged in the national debate that ultimately brought the decision to Congress.
1. Republicans were very uncomfortable with the fact that the state decided who could live and die.
2. Judges more concerned with the challenge to their own authority than the content and merits of the case.

Behind the scenes, two issues drove Congress.
1. The horror of dehydration.
Death by dehydration occurs with an explosion of the heart. When the body dehydrates, the heart enlarges and eventually explodes. The inside of the mouth dries and the tissue forms scales and flakes off. The skin becomes as thin as paper and tears away.

It’s a crime to treat animals and prisoners in this way. The law prohibits such treatment even for terrorists. If a terrorist goes on a hunger and water strike, the law mandates he be force fed.

2. Unfairness.
Every person sentenced to capital death is allowed a Federal Court review. Terri Schiavo was denied this request. Killers get this. Why not Terri?

The Supreme Court
1. Terri Schiavo case only case in US history to go before the Supreme Court twice in 10 days.
2. Events so rapid that briefs were emailed to Justice’s homes not even spell checked.
3. Briefs flew every three to four hours.

How did Terri Schiavo die?
1. Two hundred television networks from all over the world were present at the hospice where Terri lay dying. More media present then protestors.

2. A police office would accompany Mary Schindler (Terri’s mother) and Mr. Gibbs (Terri’s lawyer) on every deathbed visit. They were searched thoroughly before each visit to make sure no food or water was being carried in.

a. Mrs. Schindler was prohibited from wiping Terri’s brow.
b. Mrs. Schindler was prohibited from giving Terry any ice chips.
c. Terry’s face became skeletal as dehydration continued.
d. Terry’s skin turned a bright red and began to peel off.
e. The roof of Terri’s mouth peeled.
f. Mrs. Schindler continually prayed, “God, please don’t let my daughter feel this.”
g. Mrs. Schindler counseled Terri, “Don’t fight this.”

Mr. Gibbs: “They called her a vegetable, but then why did they have to give her morphine?”
Mrs. Schindler: “Why did they have to kill my little girl?”

Response of the world media on the scene.
Mr. Gibbs approached by every foreign media and was asked by all but American media: “Why did she have to die?”

Australian media: “This is the day that America divorced itself from its founding fathers.”
German media: “America stopped the Nazi’s. How is this any different than what the Nazi’s did?”
European media: “America entered Afghanistan because it was right. What happens to their moral authority when killing Terry Schiavo?”

Lesson of Terry Schiavo
We (Americans) cannot properly protect life unless we protect a less than perfect life.


3 thoughts on “Notes from talk by Terri Schaivo’s lawyer”

  1. I have a living will that states that if I am ever diagnosed with a state of permanent unconsciousness (coma, PVS, etc.), I will refuse all artificial nutrition and hydration. Would it be the position of Schiavo’s lawyer (more accurately, Schiavo’s parents lawyer) that the government should force me to accept such medical treatment against my will?

  2. MM,

    I didn’t think Ms. Schiavo had a living will. I thought Michael’s decision to refuse nutrition and hydration to his wife was based on an alleged conversation he had with her many years prior that was undocumented and had no witnesses. No?

  3. Note 1. M.M. writes:

    I have a living will that states that if I am ever diagnosed with a state of permanent unconsciousness (coma, PVS, etc.), I will refuse all artificial nutrition and hydration.

    Something you may not know: Living wills are statements of intention, not documents with any legal force. They help a family decide how to deal with end of life issues, but they cannot compel anyone to act in a certain way.

    As for “permanent unconciousness”, we have no way short of the most extreme trauma, whether or not unconciousness is ever permanent. There are cases of people coming out of what were classified as “permanent” comas.

    Also, while your desire might be to die by starvation and dehydration, the fact is that someone will have to make this decision for you — and carry the moral responsibility for the decision. That’s one reason why these issues are so difficult. You desire might be to die, but the task is left to others to determine the time and manner of your death.

    Note 2. Correct.

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