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USATODAY.com – Terri Schiavo dies in hospice

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2005 at 7:12 pm

USATODAY.com – Terri Schiavo dies in hospice

USA Today has Extensive Coverage of the Terry Schiavo Case

Terri Schiavo dies in hospice

From staff and wire reports

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who became a symbol of a deep legal and ethical division over the care of the severely brain-damaged, died Thursday at a hospice, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed. She was 41.

Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 after her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance.

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Schiavo spent the last 15 years connected to a feeding tube in an epic legal and medical battle that went all the way to the White House and Congress. During that time, her husband and parents split over her care and fought over her in the nation’s most bitter — and most heavily litigated — right-to-die dispute. (Related video: Years in the courts)

The feud between the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and their son-in-law continued even after her death: The Schindlers’ spiritual advisers said the couple had been at their daughter’s bedside minutes before the end came, but were not there at the moment of her death because Michael Schiavo did not want them in the room.

“It is with great sadness that I report that Terri Schiavo has passed away,” Paul O’Donnell, one of the Schindlers’ spiritual advisers, said Thursday morning. Supporters gathered outside of the hospice and sang How Great Thou Art and other hymns. They later held a memorial service.

In Tallahassee, Florida legislators observed a moment of silence marking Schiavo’s death.

“This is not only a death, with all the sadness that brings, but this is a killing, and for that we not only grieve that Terri has passed but we grieve that our nation has allowed such an atrocity as this and we pray that it will never happen again,” said the Rev. Frank Pavone, another spiritual adviser for the Schindlers. (Related audio: Pavone talks of final moments)

An autopsy is planned, with both sides hoping it will shed more light on the extent of her brain injuries and whether she was abused by her husband, as the Schindlers have argued. In what was the source of yet another dispute between the husband and his in-laws, Michael Schiavo will get custody of the body and plans to have her cremated and bury the ashes in the Schiavo family plot in Pennsylvania.

Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, announced the death but had no immediate comment beyond that.

“She’s got all of her dignity back. She’s now in heaven, she’s now with God, and she’s walking with grace,” Michael Schiavo’s brother, Scott Schiavo, said at his Levittown, Pa., home.

Terri Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 after her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance that was believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors ruled she was in a persistent vegetative state, with no real consciousness or chance of recovery.

The feeding tube was removed with a judge’s approval March 18 after Michael Schiavo argued that his wife told him long ago she would not want to be kept alive artificially. His in-laws disputed that, and argued that she could get better with treatment. They said she laughed, cried, responded to them and tried to talk.

By Evan Vucci, AP

Terri Schiavo’s family suffered a final setback in court on Wednesday.

During the seven-year legal battle, Florida lawmakers, Congress and President Bush tried to intervene on behalf of her parents, but state and federal courts at all levels repeatedly ruled in favor of her husband. The case focused national attention on living wills, since Schiavo left no written instructions in case she became disabled.

After the tube that supplied a nutrient solution was disconnected, protesters streamed into Pinellas Park to keep vigil outside her hospice, with many arrested as they tried to bring her food and water. The Vatican likened the removal of her feeding tube to capital punishment for an innocent woman. The Schindlers pleaded for their daughter’s life, calling the removal of the tube “judicial homicide.”

An autopsy is planned, with both sides hoping it will shed more light on the extent of her brain injuries.

Gov. Jeb Bush, whose repeated attempts to get the tube reconnected also failed, said that millions of people around the state and world will be “deeply grieved” by her death but that the debate over her fate could help others grapple with end-of-life issues.

“How we deal with life itself, the beginning and end of life, is something we need to do better,” Bush said. “I wish I could do more. That’s the sadness in my heart.” (Related audio: Bush speaks)

Although several right-to-die cases have been fought in the courts across the nation in recent years, none had been this public, drawn-out and bitter.

But federal courts refused again and again to overturn the central ruling by Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer, who said Michael Schiavo had convinced him that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to be kept alive by artificial means.

REACTION TO THE DEATH

“It is with great sadness that it’s been reported to us that Terri Schiavo has passed away.” — Paul O’Donnell, a monk who acted as a spokesman for the woman’s parents.

“She can finally be at peace after 15 years.” — Sister-in-law Karen Schiavo.

“Today, millions of Americans are saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo. Laura and I extend our condolences to Terri Schiavo’s families. I appreciate the example of grace and dignity they have displayed at a difficult time. I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life.” — President Bush.

“After an extraordinarily difficult and tragic journey, Terri Schiavo is at rest. I remain convinced, however, that Terri’s death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society. For that, we can be thankful for all that the life of Terri Schiavo has taught us.” — Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Their faith in God remains consistent and strong. They are absolutely convinced that God loves Terri more than they do.” — Attorney David Gibbs III, describing her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.

“She was starved and dehydrated to death … Her sickness has triggered a huge national health debate in our country.” — Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“Terri Schiavo is now a martyr. Her death is not in vain.” — Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the bill in the Florida House that aimed to restore her feeding tube.

“Congress in a bipartisan fashion took up Terri’s cause and met in extraordinary session to provide Terri with an opportunity for a new, full, and fresh review in federal court of her right to receive life-sustaining treatment. Regrettably, this effort did not receive the court review the law requires.” — U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr.

“An attack against life is an attack against God, who is the author of life.” — Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican’s office for sainthood.

Source: Associated Press

Six times, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. Schiavo’s fate was debated on the floor of Congress and by President Bush, the governor’s brother, who signed an extraordinary bill March 21 that let federal judges review her case.

“Today, millions of Americans are saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo. Laura and I extend our condolences to Terri Schiavo’s family,” said the president. As he has in recent weeks, the president referred for the need to create a “culture of life” to address such cases. (Related story: Reaction in Washington)

“The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak,” the president said.

In Rome, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican’s office for sainthood, called the removal of the feeding tube “an attack against God.” (Related story: Reaction at the Vatican)

Described by her family as a shy woman who loved animals, music and basketball, Terri Schindler grew up in Pennsylvania and battled a weight problem in her youth.

“And then when she lost all the weight, she really became quite beautiful on the outside as well. What was inside she allowed to shine out at that point,” a friend, Diane Meyer, said in 2003.

She met Michael Schiavo at Bucks County Community College near Philadelphia in 1982. They wed two years later. After they moved to Florida, she worked in an insurance agency.

But recurring battles with weight led to the eating disorder that was blamed for her collapse at age 26. Doctors said she suffered severe brain damage when her heart stopped beating because of a potassium imbalance. Her brain was deprived of oxygen for 10 minutes before she was revived, doctors estimated.

Because Terri Schiavo did not leave written wishes on her care, Florida law gave preference to Michael Schiavo over her parents. But the law also recognizes parents as having crucial opinions in the care of an incapacitated person.

Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers jointly supervised care for Terri after she collapsed. For the first 16 days and nights that she was hospitalized, Schiavo never left the hospital. Over the next few years, as she was moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, to a nursing home, to Schiavo’s home and finally back to a nursing home, Schiavo visited Terri daily.

Schiavo and the Schindlers even sold pretzels and hot dogs on St. Pete Beach to raise money for Terri’s care. But everything seemed to change on Valentine’s Day 1993 in a nursing home near here.

In 1992, Schiavo had filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against two doctors who had been treating his wife before she was stricken. Late that year came a settlement: Schiavo received $300,000 for loss of consortium — his wife’s companionship. Another $700,000 was ordered for Terri’s care.

Mary Schindler later testified that Schiavo had promised money to his in-laws. They had helped him and Terri move from New Jersey to Pinellas County, let them live rent-free in their condominium and had given him other financial help.

“We all had financial problems” after Terri’s crisis, she testified. “Michael, Bob. We all did. It was a very stressful time. It was a very financially difficult time. He used to say, ‘Don’t worry, Mom. If I ever get any money from the lawsuit, I’ll help you and Dad.’ ”

By February 1993, Schiavo had the money from the lawsuit.

On Valentine’s Day that year, he testified, he was in his wife’s nursing home room studying. He wanted to become a nurse so he could care for his wife himself. He had taken Terri to California for experimental treatment. A doctor there had placed a stimulator inside Terri’s brain and those of other people in vegetative states to try to stimulate still-living but dormant cells.

According to Schiavo’s testimony, the Schindlers came into Terri’s room in the nursing home, spoke to their daughter, then turned to him.

“The first words out of my father-in-law’s mouth was how much money he was going to get,” Schiavo said. “I was, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, you owe me money.’ ”

Schiavo said he told his in-laws that all the money had gone to his wife — a lie he said he told Bob Schindler “to shut him up because he was screaming.”

Schiavo said his father-in-law called him “a few choice words,” then stormed out of the room. Schiavo said he started to follow him, but his mother-in-law stepped in front of him, saying, “This is my daughter, our daughter, and we deserve some of this money.”

Mary Schindler’s account of that evening is far different. She testified that she and her husband found Schiavo studying. “We were talking about the money and about his money,” she said. “That with his money and the money Terri got, now we could take her (for specialized care) or get some testing done. Do all this stuff. He said he was not going to do it.”

She said he threw his book and a table against the wall and told them they would never see their daughter again.

The accounts of that confrontation came in testimony during a January 2000 hearing on a petition Schiavo filed to discontinue his wife’s life support. Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer ruled the next month that the feeding tube could be removed.

Despite the row over money, Schiavo and the Schindlers agreed on one major point in the 2000 testimony: the extent of Terri’s brain damage, according to additional court documents cited by The Miami Herald. In the documents, Pamela Campbell, then the Schindlers’ lawyer, told the court that “we do not doubt that she’s in a persistent vegetative state.” Campbell could not be reached to confirm the statement.

At this point, however, the gulf between Schiavo and the Schindlers could not be bridged.

“On Feb. 14, 1993, this amicable relationship between the parties was severed,” Greer wrote. “While the testimony differs on what may or may not have been promised to whom and by whom, it is clear to this court that such severance was predicated upon money and the fact that Mr. Schiavo was unwilling to equally divide his loss of consortium award with Mr. and Mrs. Schindler.”

Schiavo’s feeding tube was briefly removed in 2001. It was reinserted after two days when a court intervened. In October 2003, the tube was removed again, but Gov. Jeb Bush rushed “Terri’s Law” through the Legislature, allowing the state to have the feeding tube reinserted after six days. The Florida Supreme Court later ruled that law was an unconstitutional interference in the judicial system.

Nearly two weeks ago, the tube was removed for a third and final time.

Contributing: USA TODAY’s Larry Copeland and Jill Lawrence, USATODAY.com’s Randy Lilleston and The Associated Press.

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