My thoughts on the Terri Schiavo case

I never knew too much about the case. I just knew that it was a battle between the husband and parents on whether to remove the feeding tube of a woman who was in a vegetative state.

Overall summary

Terri Schiavo collapsed in her home in full cardiac arrest on February 25, 1990. She suffered massive brain damage due to lack of oxygen and, after two and a half months in a coma, her diagnosis was changes to vegetative state. Doctors attempted speech and physical therapy and other experimental therapy, hoping to return her to a state of awareness. In 1998, Michael Schiavo petitioned the Sixth Circuit Court of Florida to remove her feeding tube. He was opposed by her parents who argued that she was conscious. The court determined that she would not wish to continue life-prolonging measures and on April 24, 2001 her feeding tube was removed for the first time, only to be reinserted several days later. On February 25, 2005, a Pinellas County judge ordered the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. President George Bush signed legislation designed to keep her alive. However, the federal court system upheld the original decision to remove the feeding tube. The feeding tube was disconnected on March 18, 2005 and she died on March 31, 2005. She was 41 years old.

Was Terri bulimic?

Upon admission to the hospital, she was noted as suffering from hypokalemia which means she had an abnormally low potassium level.  Vomiting, a self-induced act for many bulimic patients, is a cause of low potassium levels. In 1992 Michael Schiavo filed a malpractice suit against her obstetrician on the basis that he failed to diagnose bulimia as the cause of her infertility. Terri had gone to the doctor because she had stopped menstruating but the doctor failed to take her medical history which might have revealed an eating disorder. One of Terri’s friends testified that she knew Terri was bulimic. In November 1992, Michael won the case and was awarded $2 million.

No one observed Mrs. Schiavo taking diet pills, binging and purging or consuming laxatives, and she apparently never confessed to her family or friends about having an eating disorder.

Would Terri want to die or live?

Terri did not have a living will, so it is hard to know what she would have wanted in this case.Michael claimed that his wife would not want to be kept on a machine where her chance for recovery was minuscule. Her parents claimed that “she was a devout Roman Catholic who would not wish to violate the Church’s teachings on euthanasia by refusing nutrition and hydration.

Terri made “casual statements” to Michael, Michael’s brother and wife before her injury that she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Dianne Meyer, one of Terri’s friends shared her recollection of a conversation she had with Terri after watching the 1982 television movie about Karen Ann Quinlan. Meyer said Terri told her she did not agree with the well-known decision by Quinlan’s parents to take their  comatose daughter off her respirator. Meyer remembers Terri wondering aloud how doctors and lawyers  could possibly know what Quinlan was feeling or what she would want. “Where there’s life,” Meyer recalled Terri saying, according to the The Buffalo News, “there’s hope.”

Schindler family attorney Barbara Weller reported that Terri cried and yelled out that she wanted to live after being told her life-sustaining feeding tube was about to be removed by court order. Weller essentially told Terri Schiavo, “You had better say you want to live or they will kill you. Just say you want to live.” Terri Schiavo responded with a drawn out, “IIIIII,” then screamed out “waaaaaaaa” so loudly that a  police officer stationed outside the room came in.

Testimony from Terri’s nurse

Carla Sauer Iyer, a nurse that was caring for Schiavo claimed that Michael Schiavo said, “When is that bitch gonna die?” and “Can’t anything be done to accelerate her death?” She also witnessed Terri say, “Mommy help me.” and “pain” when she was in discomfort. “I became concerned because Michael wanted nothing done for Terri at all, no antibiotics, no tests, no range of motion therapy, no stimulation, no nothing. Michael said again and again that Terri should NOT get any rehab, that there should be no range of motion whatsoever, or anything else.” Iyer said anytime Terri would be sick, Michael would be visibly excited. He would blurt out, “I’m going to be rich.” “When Michael visited Terri, he always came alone and always had the
door closed and locked while he was with Terri. He would typically be there about twenty minutes or so. When he left Terri would be trembling, crying hysterically, and would be very pale and have cold sweats.”

Actions of Michael Schiavo

1. Ordered caretakers not to clean Terri’s teeth.

2. Refuses to allow Terri to leave her room.

3. Ordered Terri’s shades down at all times.

Some people think Michael tried to strangle his wife and that is what caused her injury. Neurologist Hammesfahr testified that Terri was admitted to the hospital after her collapse with a “suspiciously rigid neck” and that he had only seen “this peculiar constellation of injuries,” referencing her rigid neck and cardiac arrest, in a case of attempted strangulation.

Terri’s friend, Jackie Rhodes said Terri had discussed getting a divorce and moving in with her. She testified the couple had a violent argument on the day of Terri’s collapse.

“If I strangled her to the point of unconsciousness, her trachea would have been crushed,” Michael Schiavo said,  adding that no physician made notations regarding “marks around her neck,” which he said would have  been there if the allegation was true.

Michael told conflicting accounts of what happened the night she collapsed. He states different times and is incorrect about the order of the people he called that night.

Did Terri feel pain when they pulled out the feeding tubes?

In 1995 Kate Adamson was in a similar position as Terri Schiavo. She was in a vegetative state after suffering a stroke. For almost 70 days, she was totally unresponsive. Doctors finally pulled her feeding tube. Kate said that she was totally aware of what was going on around her. She said that she felt pain when the feeding tubes were removed. She said it was “sheer torture.” She began responding on her own and the doctors put the feeding tube back in.

“The process of starving to death seems very barbaric but in actuality is very peaceful,” said Dr. Fred Mirarchi, assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Was there hope for Terri?

William Hammesfahr, a neurologist testified that Terri shows cognitive functions and would benefit from treatments. “She’s very aware. She’s alert. With proper therapy, she will have a tremendous improvement. I think, personally, that she’ll be able to walk, eventually, and she will be able to use at least one of her arms.”

After Terri died, there was an autopsy. According to the Chief Medical Examiner, the damage to the brain was “irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons.”

My Opinion

As you can see, there is so much conflicting information out there. The case becomes more and more confusing as you continue to research.

I would not want to live how Terri Schiavo lived after her injury. That is my personal opinion. Terri may have wanted to live or she may not have.

It’s hard to know the real truth behind this story.

Lessons to learn

1. Get a living will.

2. Talk to your family about your wishes.

3. Assign someone to be your Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.

*Information from Silent Witness, Wikipedia,,,,,

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