« Another Texas Hospital Plans To Stop Treating Critically Ill Baby | Main | UK's Healthcare Setup Partly Blamed in 'Baby Charlotte' Saga »

May 2, 2005

The public never learned about Terri Schiavo's true condition

Topics: Commentary

Joel Belz authored a recent World Magazine article about an interview with David Gibbs, the attorney who represented Terri Schiavo's parents "in their fruitless quest to have her life." Gibbs speaks openly about his own personal sense of failure:

"I wish," Mr. Gibbs said simply, "that we'd been able to show the American public how very alive Terri was."


He keeps returning to a collective failure much earlier to dramatize what he calls the "liveliness" of Terri's life--even in the context of her profound disability. You can tell that Mr. Gibbs takes that failure personally. His inability to convey to the American public the personality of Terri Schiavo clearly weighs more heavily on him than any legal mistakes he may have made.

However, Belz notes that Gibbs was up against a system that, by careful design, would not allow Terri to be heard.

More critical even than the various courts' final rulings that her feeding tube be withdrawn was their previous determination that any personal exposure to Terri would be limited to a tiny group of professional experts. No jury of peers got to hear or see Terri face to face. News reporters were officially excluded. The judges themselves never met or saw her--in spite of Mr. Gibbs's pleading that they do so. "She was altogether capable of coming to their courtrooms in a wheelchair," he insists now. "They turned down all my efforts to make that happen."
The media played a role as well. Belz writes,
As a newsman, I understand Mr. Gibbs' sense of failure--for I share it painfully. Why couldn't we in the media have done our job more diligently? Why couldn't we have increased the wattage of our searchlight, forcing Michael Schiavo and his complicit judges to let the public see what Terri Schiavo's situation really was?
Indeed... we all could have done more. However, there were many in the media had a different agenda in mind. Pamela comments,
"Call me paranoid, but I don't think the media's handling of Terri's case was ever accidental. Reading Terri's obituary (three days prior to her death) from CBS News where they stated she died in Michael's arms, and reading the push polls from ABC News is pretty good evidence to me that the media had it in for her from the beginning."

Posted by tim at May 2, 2005 11:48 PM

Articles Related to Commentary:


You now, I wasn't being ghoulish, but I wrote to the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation within days of her death, and suggested they work with a professional sketch artist as to exactly what they had seen, particularly of her starvation death. "Beautiful" Auschwitz victim indeed. Because it was quite obvious to ME that this shameful deceitful "Cloak of Invisibility" was SO important to Michael Schiavo AND Judge Greer. Her own MOTHER was "forbidden" from ever taking her picture? God, gimme air.

I never heard back from the Foundation (of course, I didn't expect to), but perhaps now is the time that we all start chanting

"Sketch Artist,

Sketch Artist,

Sketch Artist,

Sketch Artist..."

I was clear in my letter to them that I did not intend to be ghoulish, but was writing because I want Justice for Terri, and if Gibbs is now kicking himself over his "personal" failure to get Terri seen (my God, he shouldn't, he couldn't have done much better than tripping a Congressional Subpoena!!), it is still not too late for Justice.

Another chant:

"Justice for Terri,

Justice for Terri,

Justice for Terri,

Justice for Terri..."

Posted by: Suzanne. at May 3, 2005 11:34 AM

Hey, Suzanne,

Your suggestion was fantastic. A couple of things to add --

First: I sent the foundation a check around that time, and it took them about a month to cash it. I think they might have been too overwhelmed to process all the mail and messages they received.

Second: There probably wasn't a sketch artist on the "Approved Visitor" list, so Michael could prohibit any from seeing Terri. Certainly, the police officers wouldn't have allowed drawing materials into Terri's room. Thank God for Fr. Frank Pavone giving verbal descriptions of Terri to counter the "peaceful" fantasies being spun by George Felos.

Justice for Terri !!! Amen.

Posted by: guitarmom at May 3, 2005 9:32 PM

Actually, I wasn't suggesting they bring a sketch artist into Terri's room. I was suggesting that now that it's over, they each work with a sketch artist after the fact, like crime victims and witnesses do, to show us Terri's deathbed face. Michael Schiavo, Felos, & Greer can't order them to erase their memories. Too bad they just didn't think of blindfolding them too, as they strip searched them for cameras on the way in.

Posted by: Suzanne. at May 4, 2005 3:43 PM


I think your idea is great.

I always thought it would have exposed what was really being done to Terri, to have a sketch or picture of her appearance at the end. The truth about what she was going through. I wish they'd do it.

Posted by: juleni at May 4, 2005 7:21 PM

You know, I've been rather horrified to discover how little difference it made--legally--whether Terri was PVS or not. Scarily little difference. I don't know if you guys know this, but a woman named Marjorie Nighbert was dehydrated to death several years ago by court order when she had been conscious enough to be asking the nurses for food and water. She'd given a DPA for healthcare to her brother, and he ordered it. The judge concluded that she wasn't fully competent to resume her own healthcare decisions (which may have been in one sense true) and therefore to revoke the power of the DPA, so he ordered that the brother's orders continue to be followed. It's crazy, but true. You can be conscious enough to talk and still have this done to you legally, under the proper circumstances.

I've also been struck in some recent research to discover how this exact same thing--with high-profile cases, the courts, the whole deal--was done under similar public scrutiny in a couple of other cases: Nancy Cruzan and Hugh Finn. In Nancy's case, a policeman has been quoted as saying that he knows how "rough" it was on the policemen with Terri (po' babies), because he remembers coming into Nancy's room and seeing her look at him, panicked, and thinking that she was hoping he as a policeman would help her! "But," he said, "We couldn't do that." Instead, just like with Terri, they arrested several members of Operation Rescue who they thought (probably correctly) were trying to get into the hospice to help her.

Hugh Finn is reported to have said, "Hi" to a visitor not long before he died and to have smoothed his hair in response to her presence. He cried when someone told him his wife was planning to remove his feeding tube.

The way was well-paved for Terri's murder. Very well-paved indeed. I don't see how we'll ever dig up the asphalt or build a different road. We can only try in individual cases to save people.

Posted by: Lydia at May 4, 2005 9:50 PM

Lydia - I heard about Marjorie N. too, in the wake of Terri's death and was horrified. I hadn't heard of the other two. But I was aware that this same thing was going on all over the place. And with Marjorie's story, became aware that this was being done even to those who could speak for themselves and even could ASK FOR FOOD!

For a while I have been thinking, that this is very deep and broad an evil, and we may not be able to uproot it.

It's made me think a couple of things: one, that there must be a reason though, that God allowed Terri's case to come to the front in such a clear way - even more publicly than those who went before her. Terri's case became a truly nationally known issue, and I think greatly, because of the blogs. God allowed this for some reason. Is it so that we may save a few?

Is it so that we may expose the depths of the corruption? And the actors in it?

Only God knows, but as we press on, and if we do not fall by the wayside, I think the purpose of why Terri was so precious to God and allowed to be so publicly known about will be clearer and clearer to us.

My other thought was that, like you, I think we may in individual cases save people, and as Sherri says, "one starfish at a time" from the story of the man throwing back starfish caught on a beach. "To that starfish, it mattered that I threw him back", even if the man could not throw back all the thousands on the beach.

Posted by: juleni at May 5, 2005 8:34 AM

Juleni--I see several good things that have come from the publicity around Terri's death. One is organizations like this on the Internet that can mobilize in individual cases and put pressure.

Even more important, perhaps, is a changed attitude among Christians about dehydrating people to death. One of the things that happened while many of us weren't looking was the increasing acceptance in the Christian community of this practice and the increasing negative opinions about feeding tubes. Many Christians thought that refusing a feeding tube and dehydrating someone to death is just "letting God's will happen," "letting the person go home to Heaven," and they made statements to family members that they didn't want "any artificial means of life support" as a pious way of showing submission to God's will when it came "time" to die.

I think Terri's case has been a rude awakening for such people. They've had to confront the fact that dehydrating someone to death is killing him, that not everyone who needs a feeding tube is dying immediately, that feeding tubes aren't extraordinary means. Some of them have dug in their heels. I saw this a lot on some blogs I participated in. Christians who wanted to keep their rosy picture of not having a feeding tube as just "submitting to God" tended to accept lies about Terri's condition.

But I think some people have changed their minds. I know that my mother-in-law was horrified by what happened to Terri and has asked for a copy of our "Will to Live." Previously, she had made those same noises about "no extraordinary means," apparently meaning a feeding tube as well. Her own mother, my husband's grandmother, began sleeping a great deal in the nursing home at the end of her life and wasn't getting enough to drink because she was asleep so much. Because they had "talked about it," and she had said she "didn't want any artificial means," they didn't have a nose tube inserted or any other means of hydration, like an IV. She was, thank God, at least given small amounts of fluid--a small glass of orange juice--by mouth when she woke up occasionally. They didn't _want_ to kill her. But no doubt dehydration contributed to her death. Because of that it hadn't been possible to discuss these matters with my in-laws until Terri's death. Now I think they may be better protected later on from death by dehydration themselves.

I hope that sort of thing is happening all over the country.

Posted by: Lydia at May 5, 2005 12:18 PM