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Legal Case - Theresa Marie Schiavo: a Violation of Human Rights?

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Legal Case Paper
The Case of Theresa Marie Schiavo: A Violation of Human Right?
The Case of Theresa Marie Schiavo: A Violation of Human Rights?
Evolution of the Case In the early morning hours of February 25th, 1990, Theresa (Terri) Marie Schiavo suffered cardiac arrest at her home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her husband awoke to the sound of her collapsing in the hallway and quickly called 911. Terri was found in full cardiac arrest and taken to Humana Northside Hospital. Unfortunately, the then twenty-six year old Terri had suffered irreversible damage due to prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain. Terri is left in a persistent vegetative state and has a feeding tube and requires total care (Schindler v Schiavo, 2005). The next three years consist of her husband, Michael, and her parents Robert and Mary Schindler working together to take care of Terri. During this time Michael was appointed as Terri’s legal guardian without objection from her parents. In February of 1993 Michael Schiavo and the Schindler’s began to disagree about Terri’s care and the Schindler’s attempted to remove Michael as her legal guardian (Cerminara & Goodman, 2005). In May of 1998, Michael Schiavo made his first attempt to petition the court for the removal of Terri’s feeding tube. Michael believed that there was no hope for any sort of recovery or changes in Terri’s persistent vegetative state and had stated that his wife told him that she would not want to live like that (Quill, 2005). The next several years consist of a series of court cases and appeals based on Michael Schiavo’s push to have the feeding tube removed and Terri’s parent’s insistence to keep her alive. The tube is actually removed and reinserted twice during this time. On March 18th, 2005 the feeding tube is removed for the third time in accordance with the court order. This proved to be the final removal and despite the effort put forth by the Schindler’s to gain the court’s support to reinsert the tube; Theresa Marie Schiavo died 13 days later on March 31st, 2005 (Cerminara & Goodman, 2005). The Terri Schiavo case was a seven year battle between Michael Schiavo and his wife’s parents to
discontinue life support for Terri which was provided through the feeding tube that provided life-sustaining nutrition.
Positions of Major Parties Involved in the Case The major parties involved in the Terri Schiavo case include Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo and her parents Robert and Mary Schindler. Michael, as Terri’s legal guardian, ascertained that she would not have wanted to be kept alive in a persistent vegetative state. His position was to fight for removal of the feeding tube that would subsequently end Terri’s life. Terri’s parents on the other hand fought tirelessly to keep Terri alive and were strongly opposed to the removal of her feeding tube. They argued that Terri was conscious and that death by dehydration/starvation violated her rights on a number of levels. They argued that Terri was a devout Catholic and her religious beliefs would have prevented her from denying life-sustaining nutritional support (Marker, 2004). Her parents also remained unconvinced that her situation was hopeless and believed that she responded to them on several occasions (Marker, 2004). There were numerous supporters on both sides of the controversy and this case was followed by the media up to and following Terri’s death in 2005.
Nursing’s Involvement in the Case The Terri Schiavo case although not focused on nursing care, had some serious indications for nursing care and ethical issues in nursing related to human rights. A registered nurse, Carla Sauer lyer, who cared for Terri Schiavo at the nursing home where she resided, gave a sworn affidavit about Terri’s condition and the care she received (Offenheiser, 2004). Nurse Iyer cared for Terri from April 1995 until August 1996 when she was fired for reporting Terri’s case to the police. In her affidavit she told the

4 court that Terri communicated with her and was able to tell her when she was in pain. She also stated Michael Schiavo made many statements about Terri’s death and even asked, “When is that bitch gonna die?” (Marker, 2004). She believed that Michael Schiavo was injecting his wife with regular insulin during his private visits with her and could recall at least five occasions when she suffered an extremely low blood sugar right after a visit from her husband (Marker, 2004). Heidi Law, a nursing assistant from the same nursing home also gave a sworn affidavit in the Schiavo case. She reported that Michael Schiavo had refused to allow range of motion exercises for his wife. These exercises could help reduce or prevent contractures of the limbs and would have contributed to Terri’s quality of life. Mrs. Law admitted that she and another nursing assistant did this anyway, although they feared being caught by Mr. Schiavo (Marker, 2004). Mrs. Law also stated that she had fed Terri liquids and jello by mouth which she tolerated without difficulty. She also concurred with Mrs. Iyer about Terri’s ability to communicate and even use words like “mommy” and “help me” (Marker, 2004). The judge ruled that these affidavits did not represent credible testimony and no rulings or decisions considered this testimony.
Some nurses were appalled by the course of events and the ultimate outcome of this case while others believed that Terri had a right to die and not be forced to live in a persistent vegetative state (Annas, 2005). Many articles and publications about the Schiavo case talk about this case in terms of right to life issues and how that relates to the care she received (Offenheiser, 2005). Others say this case is not about right to life because Terri Schiavo was not about to die, she was forced to die via starvation – this was murder (Offenheiser, 2005). Nursing was not directly involved in this case, but for the last fifteen years of her life, nurses provided primary care for Terri Schiavo and were likely experts about her condition, her care and the case itself. As nurses, we must provide safe and ethical care to our patients and often put personal opinions aside.
Court Decision
Beginning in 1998 with Michael Schiavo’s first petition to remove Terri’s feeding tube this case was riddled with appeals, motions, petitions and hearings in the Florida courts. Also, federal legislation such as Terri’s Law (a petition which allowed Governor Jeb Bush to intervene in the case) and the Palm Sunday Compromise (discussed below) shaped the court’s involvement in the case (Felos, 2005). The seemingly endless battle between Michael Schiavo and Robert and Mary Schindler over whether or not to remove Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube drew to a close in early 2005. Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed for the third and final time on March 18th, 2005 in accordance with a court order from Florida Circuit Judge George Greer handed down on February 25th, 2005 (Schindler v Schiavo, 2005). Terri’s parents continued to fight for re-insertion of the tube and petition the courts based on Terri’s right to life but these efforts were futile. On March 22nd, 2005 the Palm Sunday Compromise bill was passed “for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo” (S. Res 686, 2005). This bill gave the Florida federal court jurisdiction over this matter and granted these courts the right to review “alleged violations of Terri Schiavo’s rights under the Constitution or laws of the United States” (S. Res 686, 2005). The Schindler’s presented their case about the violation of Terri’s Constitutional rights to the federal court and that court ruled that the feeding tube should not be replaced. This took place on March 22nd, 2005 and the appeals court upheld the decision on March 23rd, 2005 (Schindler v Schiavo, 2005). The Schindler’s continued to petition the courts and file motions, which were all denied, through March 30th, 2005. Theresa Marie Schiavo died at 9:05 a.m. on March 31st, 2005 (Cerminara & Goodman, 2006). Ultimately the court’s decision was to allow Michael Schiavo, Terri’s legal guardian, to remove her feeding tube and end her life based on her persistent vegetative state.
Preferred Solution and Rationale
The case of Theresa Marie Schiavo was highly publicized in the media. My opinion at that time took shape because of my own wishes. I have always told my family that if I were in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for recovery, I would not want to live that way. Before learning more about the details in this case, I firmly agreed with Michael Schiavo’s decision to remove Terri’s feeding tube. He had told the courts and the public at large that this is what his wife wanted and she would not have wanted to live like that. I could sympathize with that because of my personal feelings. I understood how Terri’s parent’s felt, but Terri was married to Michael and he was her legal guardian.
As I read more about the case and even watched videos of Terri Schiavo, my opinion became blurred by the ethical issues. Removing the feeding tube meant death by starvation, death for Terri who was in no danger of dying. Many people believed and testified to the fact that Terri was not in a persistent vegetative state. I could not help but be torn about what I believed. When you love someone so much, you want to have hope and exhaust all possibilities before deciding to give up.
In the end, I still agree with the outcome of this case. Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state and had been for 15 years. The autopsy after her death proved that her brain was severely damaged and there was no chance she would have recovered. I believe and hope that I am right in saying that Theresa Marie Schiavo died peacefully and her husband fulfilled a promise to her when he petitioned the courts to remove her feeding tube.

Annas, George J. (2005). “Culture of life” politics at the bedside-the case of Terri Schiavo. New England Journal of Medicine, 352 (16), 1710-1715.
Felos, George J. (2005). Respondent Michael Schiavo’s opposition to application for injunction. Case No: 04A-825. Blue Dolphin Publishing.
Marker, Rita L. (2004). Terri Schiavo and the Catholic connection. The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, 4(3), 555-569.
Offenheiser, M. J. (2005). Symposium: interjurisdictional recognition of civil unions, domestic partnerships and benefits: note: is the right to private property more sacred than the right to life? Ave Maria Law Review. 3 Ave Maria L Rev 705.
Quill, Timothy E. (2005). Terri Schiavo – a tragedy compounded. New England Journal of Medicine, 352 (16), 1630-1633.
Schindler v Schiavo, 544 U.S. 957 (2005).
S. Res 686, 109d Cong. Cong. Rec. 3104 (2005) (enacted).

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