The Terri Schiavo case represents a hallmark legal battle that stretched from 1990 to 2005 over the right to, or the right to refuse, end-of-life care in the United States which involved Theresa Marie “Terri” Schiavo, a woman who was languishing in an irreversible persistent vegetative state.
Michael Schiavo, Mrs. Schiavo’s husband and legal guardian, argued that Terri would not have wished to have prolonged artificial life support if there were no prospect of recovery, and ultimately decided to have her feeding tube removed. Terri’s parents – Robert and Mary Schindler – argued vigorously for the continuation of artificial nutrition and hydration and repeatedly challenged Terri’s hopeless medical diagnosis.
What followed was a highly publicized media frenzy covering a protracted succession of legal challenges presented by her parents. Their legal battle progressed and would ultimately involve both state and federal politicians all the way up to then-President George W. Bush and created seven years of delays before Terri’s feeding tube was finally removed.
Terri Schiavo suffered what was believed at the time to be a cardiac arrest while she was at her home on February 25, 1990 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Firefighters and paramedics found her face down on the floor, unresponsive and without a heartbeat or pulse. She was ultimately resuscitated, but due to an extended lack of oxygen to her brain, she suffered massive brain damage and she was left comatose.
After she had lingered for 2 ½ with no improvement, doctors changed her diagnosis to “persistent vegetative state”. For the following 2 years her doctors made multiple attempts at physical therapy, speech therapy and a variety of other experimental therapies in the hopes that she would return to a state of awareness. Unfortunately all attempted therapies ended without any notable success.
In 1992, Michael Schiavo filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Terri’s obstetrician. He claimed medical malpractice – failure to diagnose – based on the claim that he failed to diagnose bulimia as the root cause of Terri Schiavo’s infertility. Terri initially went to her doctor complaining that she had stopped menstruating. The doctor had failed to take into account Terri’s medical history which possibly could have revealed the possibility of an eating disorder.
During the trial, a friend of Terri’s testified that she knew Schiavo to be bulimic. In November 1992, Michael Schiavo won his case and the jury awarded him $6.8 million, although on appeal Terri was found partly to be at fault for her condition so the judgment was reduced to $2 million. At any time during the case, Michael could have requested a lawsuit loan on his case. Michael ultimately received $300,000 after attorneys’ fees and other expenses and the remaining $750,000 was placed in a trust to pay for Terri’s ongoing medical care.
In 1998 Terri’s husband, Michael, filed a petition with the Sixth Circuit Court of Florida and requested that her feeding tube be removed pursuant to Florida law. Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, adamantly opposed the petition and instead argued that Terri was conscious. The court decided that Terri, had she been capable of making the decision herself, would not have chosen to continue receiving her life-prolonging measures.
On April 24, 2001, Terri’s feeding tube was removed, but was subsequently reinserted a few days later.
On February 25, 2005, a Pinellas County judge once again authorized and ordered that Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube be removed. Several additional appeals were filed and the federal government finally intervened by way of President George W. Bush signing legislation that had been written with the intention of keeping her alive.
After all legal remedies were exhausted, appeals filed through the federal court system were upheld and the original order to disconnect and remove Terri’s feeding tube was carried out by staff at the Pinellas Park hospice facility on March 18, 2005.
As the world looked on, Terri Schiavo, a perfectly healthy disabled woman, lingered for 13 days without food or water and died on March 31, 2005.
Terri’s ordeal lasted 5,513 days.