The Terri Schiavo Story – 19 Years Later

The Terri Schiavo Story – 19 Years Later March 23, 2024

Terri Schiavo passed away on March 31, 2005. Courtesy of Roba da Donne

 

We are approaching the 19 year anniversary of the death of Terri Schiavo. Doctors considered her to be in a “persistent vegetative state” (PVS) and this led to a very difficult, and very public “Right to Die” legal battle from 1998 through 2005. This tragedy and subsequent legal battle was over her undocumented final wishes.

How Did We Get Here?

For those who are not familiar with the situation, Terri was a 26 year old woman who suffered cardiac arrest in 1990. She was resuscitated, but suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen and was in a coma. Doctors declared her to be in a persistent vegetative state after 2.5 months of care. For the next 2 years, the doctors would attempt occupational, speech, physical, and experimental therapies without any success. Teri never regained any awareness of her surroundings and depended upon machines to keep her alive. In 1998, her husband petitioned the court to remove her life support stating she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Terri’s parents objected stating she was a devout Catholic who would not wish to go against church teachings on Euthanasia. The court agreed with her husband and ordered the life support removed. Terri’s feeding tube was removed in April 2001, but a subsequent court order required it to be reinserted a few days later. The court case continued and involved the state and federal governments. When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, on March 18, 2005 the tube was removed for the final time leading to her death on March 31, 2005.

Where Was God In All This?

This tragedy raised a very important topic that we all must face. There may come a time when we are not able to take care of ourselves, and this will leave the question of what your final wishes are to family members or as in this case, eventually the courts. We have seen this issue become more prominent in the news as I had written previously in the story concerning little Indi Gregory. The situation was a little different in that Indi, as well as Charlie Gard, and Alfie Evans were very young, as opposed to Terri at 26. The important point to remember here is that your end of life wishes must be very clear to avoid being in this situation requiring family members to make a life or death decision. A “living will” allows you to state your final wishes so there is no ambiguity around what you would want if you were incapacitated. Society today believes that you have the right to die if you so choose and some states are actively pushing laws that support euthanasia. The premise is that you have the “right to die” if you are terminal to avoid the suffering and to “die with dignity.”

We are in a situation where machines can keep us alive for much longer than ever before delaying death, and many court systems are supporting the doctor’s view on whether a person will ever recover. I have tremendous respect for doctors, but they’re not God. God teaches us that suffering is a part of life and in fact brings us closer to God. There have been situations like Manura Abdullah’s where she was kept alive in a comatose state for 27 years and suddenly woke up from the coma; or Terry Wallis who spent 19 years in a vegetative state before awakening. While these situations are rare, they have happened. In Terri’s case the manner of death was brutal (she was basically starved to death) and goes against, and conflicts with what we are told in Matthew 25:31-46:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. ’Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me. ’Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

As Catholics, we believe that God gives us life and only God can take it away. God makes the decision as to when we die. Today in society, doctors and courts may make that decision for you while interpreting what they “believe” are your final wishes.

Plan Ahead

These “end of life” decisions are extremely difficult to make for each individual, and especially so for the families left to make the decision when you are incapacitated. I personally have lived in the situation where I had to make such a decision for my mom who became incapacitated. I believe God helped me make the best decision for her, but will admit this was extremely difficult for me. I encourage everyone to have a living will or to document what your wishes are and share with the family to ensure all understand what your end of life decisions are.

As always, comments are encouraged and welcome. I am very interested in your views on such a difficult subject. I will respond as quickly as I can to any comments.

God Bless

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Dennis McIntyre
In my early years I was a member of the Methodist church where I was baptized as a child and eventually became a lector for the church. I always felt I was a very faith-filled person, but that something was missing. My wife is Catholic and my children were baptized as Catholic and this helped me to find what I was looking for - to be part of something so much bigger than myself walking together with Jesus. I was welcomed into the Catholic faith and received the sacraments as a full member of the Catholic Church in 2004. I am a Spiritual Director, and very active in ministry serving as a Lector and Eucharistic Minister in addition to providing spiritual direction. I have spent time working with the sick and the terminally ill in local hospitals and Hospice Care centers and found these ministries to be very difficult, but extremely rewarding. You can read more about the author here.
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