On March 18, 2005, my sister, Terri Schiavo, began her thirteen day agonizing death after the feeding tube – supplying her food and water – was removed. Terri was cognitively disabled and had difficulty swallowing and therefore needed a feeding tube. Terri was not on any “life support”, nor was she sick or dying. Nonetheless, she received her death sentence ordered by Circuit Court Judge, George W. Greer of Pinellas County Florida.
Greer’s order to remove Terri’s feeding tube was in response to her estranged husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, requesting permission from the court to kill his disabled wife. This was after Schiavo began cohabitating with his fiancée and stood to inherit Terri’s medical trust fund, which at the time was close to $800,000.
However, more disturbing was that the judge ruled to kill Terri, despite her mother and father pleading with Schiavo, and the court, to allow them to take her home. In fact, a guardian ad litem urged Judge Greer to refuse the dehydration request. Instead, this legally-required protector of Terri was dismissed from the original case by Greer and no replacement was ever appointed.
March 31st marks a very sad day; and this year, it will be the ten year anniversary of Terri’s death. Rush Limbaugh described it this way, “the day our country hit rock bottom”.
Terri’s case divided the nation and it will be discussed in high schools and college medical ethics classrooms for years to come. It is the anniversary of the death of a young woman who simply had a disability and needed basic and ordinary care to live, and a family who wanted to love and care for her just as she was.
With it being the 10 year anniversary, calls from the media have increased. Most of the articles are excoriating Governor Jeb Bush for his defense of Terri when he was the Governor of Florida back in 2005. But I have noticed one question has been asked more than others – “What, if anything, has changed since Terri’s death?”
Yes, things have changed – they’ve gotten worse. Exactly how many persons are being killed like Terri every year is difficult to know, although I think the numbers would shock us. What we do know is that we have a very active and aggressive right to die movement.
There are many dynamics involved to successfully convince our general public that it’s “okay” to dehydrate and starve a human being to death. If I had to point to one of the major accomplishments, it is how the right to die forces have been able to reclassify feeding tubes as “medical treatment”. However, just as effective is how they’ve influenced the masses to buy into the notion that some persons are in fact, not persons. Consequently, these human “non-persons” have no “value” and can be killed.
This should be frightening to read. But it is true. Even more frightening is how this ideology has impacted and been accepted in our culture, in particular, our health care community.
This, along with changes in public policies, now puts life and death decisions in the hands of physicians, hospitals boards and ethics committees – basically strangers – in the place of family members.
After Terri died, my family’s experience, contesting this powerful right to die movement, led us to establish the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, which seeks to raise public awareness of the looming culture of death, and to educate the public about care potentialities. Most importantly, however, is to help families in situations similar to what we experienced – loved ones in danger of being killed, like Terri.
Indeed, the calls from families for help have increased, and increased significantly, as the years have passed.
Why is this? How has the right to die agenda been able to efficaciously shift our attitudes to the point that is has become everyday practice to starve and dehydrate a person to death. The issue may see complex, however it seems to me that the answer is very clear. It is because they lie.
I saw it in my sister’s case and I see it in the stories from the families who call us. And one of the most pathetic lies out there is that killing someone by denying them food and water is a “peaceful” and “painless” experience, and the patently absurd notion that it is a “death with dignity”.
It’s important to differentiate that Terri’s condition, and countless others like her, is quite different from a situation where it may be medically appropriate to withhold food and fluids because a person is actively dying and their bodies are shutting down, no longer able to assimilate their food and hydration.
Nonetheless, the never-ending propaganda about the peaceable nature of forced dehydration compelled me to make public this image of my sister created from my memory. This (right) is what Terri looked like just before she died. It was horrible to see.
And yet, Schiavo’s attorney falsely told the public during a press conference, just days before Terri’s death, that she looked “beautiful”. This is what they want you to believe, not the harsh truth about the madness of what we permit in the rooms of hospitals, nursing homes and hospices every single day across this country.
These are the hard facts my family and I will have to live with for the rest of my life: After almost two weeks without food or water, my sister’s lips were horribly cracked, to the point where they were blistering. Her skin became jaundice with areas that turned different shades of blue. Her skin became markedly dehydrated from the lack of water. Terri’s breathing became rapid and uncontrollable, as if she was outside sprinting. Her moaning, at times, was raucous, which indicated to us the insufferable pain she was experiencing. Terri’s face became skeletal, with blood pooling in her deeply sunken eyes and her teeth protruding forward. Even as I write this, I can never properly describe the nightmare of having to watch my sister have to die this way.
What will be forever seared in my memory is the look of utter horror on my sister’s face when my family visited her just after she died.
Those pushing this agenda will certainly deny this, they have to. But there was a reason the court ordered that no cameras or video be permitted in Terri’s room while she was being killed. They claimed privacy issues. My family knows otherwise. And they do too.
So when will this heartlessness end? When will the lies end? When will the American people decide this insanity has to stop?
I don’t know. But I do know this – the lies will never end.