The Homicide of Terri Schindler-Schiavo

Debi Vinnedge - Terri Schiavo


“Why Have You Forsaken Me?” 

As Holy Week begins and we reflect on the passion of Jesus Christ, it is especially appropriate to remember another person who eight years ago at this time was subjected to a tortuous, brutal and heinous death – one whose anniversary falls this year on Easter Sunday: Terri Schindler-Schiavo.

And just as the Church now ushers in our new Pope Francis, I am reminded how two days after Terri’s death we also lost our Holy Father.  As Pope John Paul II lay dying at the Vatican his aides would later tell the Schindlers that when he learned of Terri’s death, it was “the final blow to his broken heart.”

For most pro-lifers following Terri’s case of “legal” murder by her estranged husband Michael and his right-to-die advocate attorney George Felos, the verdict was a haunting reminder of the “lawful” murder of millions of our innocent preborn. In fact, many began calling it the Roe v. Wade of euthanasia.

But in Roe v. Wade few remember that it was actually a legal precedent in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) that set the stage for current abortion laws. In Griswold, the Supreme Court ruled that the denial of contraceptives was unconstitutional under an alleged “right of privacy.” Who would have thought that Griswold, combined with a later alarming Florida legal precedent, would predetermine Terri’s fate?

In 1986, Estelle Browning, an 86-year-old woman, suffered a stroke that left her severely brain-damaged. Unable to swallow, a feeding tube was inserted by attending physicians. Browning, however, had a written advance directive, stating she didn’t want artificial sustenance if she became terminally ill. In 1987, the court denied her cousin’s petition to remove the tube, basing its decision on Florida\’s Life-Prolonging Procedures Act, which allowed patients to refuse medical treatment only under specific circumstances. Browning, the judge ruled, did not qualify.

After Browning’s natural death in 1990 the Second District Court of Appeals overturned this decision based on the “right to privacy,” and the Florida Supreme Court upheld the ruling. According to Justice Rosemary Barkett, who wrote for the 6-1 majority, \”The right to privacy and freedom from intrusion into one\’s own body is rooted in our nation\’s philosophical and political heritage.”

In absence of written directives, the evidence of a patient’s wishes could also be determined solely by the guardian, which is called “substituted judgment.” This “judgment” is supposedly not what the guardian wishes, but what the patient (allegedly) desires. The only necessary qualifier would be “clear and convincing evidence” as simple as an oral statement, claiming that the person would not want to live. Once this is satisfied, the Court ruled, the State can not override the so-called “right to privacy.”

Ten years later, this “clear and convincing evidence” became the entire focus of Terri Schiavo’s case. However, the testimonies given from both the Schiavo and Schindler witnesses were contradicting hearsay, leaving Judge George Greer as the sole and final arbitrator of whom he chose to believe.

Media reports claimed that at least 19 other judges had reviewed the case, but in reality not one other judge heard any testimony whatsoever. The Courts simply rubber-stamped a legal decision, not an evidentiary one. In their view, Greer had acted in accord with the letter of the law, despite that the “clear and convincing” evidence was simple hearsay. The appellate courts only had to ensure that the law was followed—not that the evidence was credible—because hearsay is subject to opinion, not legalese.

During Terri’s final weeks, as the State Department of Children and Families attempted to take Terri into protective custody, attorney George Felos reminded Judge Greer of a startling fact: Even if Michael himself suddenly decided not to remove Terri’s feeding tube, it still had to be done, because the court had determined by “clear and convincing evidence” that this was Terri’s wish.

More appalling was Greer’s reaction to the Schindlers requests for swallowing tests for Terri as he angrily thundered, \”I don\’t want anybody putting anything into that girl\’s mouth!\” Horrifically, this statement would later be used to deny Terri the right to receive Holy Communion. However, food and water given orally is not considered medical care even by Florida’s weak definition.

In addition, sustenance provided artificially or naturally cannot be denied to a disabled person under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It states: \”Nothing in the Act or this part authorizes the representative or guardian of an individual with a disability to decline food, water, medical treatment, or medical services for that individual.\”

But because the Federal Court refused to hear simultaneous lawsuits brought by 26 disability groups decrying these and other violations, Greer’s ruling stood unchallenged. Not only had Terri’s nurses testified that they had fed Terri gelatin and pudding in the past, but Terri also easily swallowed the average one-liter output of saliva healthy people consume daily. That Greer would not allow oral feeding, swallowing tests or therapy simply codified his own intent to mandate Terri’s execution.

The second determination for ordering Terri’s feeding tube removal was the claim that she was in an irreversible persistent vegetative state (PVS) with no hope for recovery. Two of Michael’s and one state-appointed neurologist testified that Terri was in a PVS, completely contradicting 16 other medical professionals who attested she was not.

Judge Greer later admitted he didn’t bother reading any of those statements because he simply didn’t find them credible. Never mind that one of Michael’s witnesses, Dr. Ronald Cranford is an advocate for “End-of-Life Choices,” a group promoting euthanasia. Or that the court appointed witness, Cleveland neurologist Peter Bambikidis, a colleague of Felos, spent only 30 minutes examining Terri. In truth, Greer’s mind was set.

During subsequent hearings in early 2005, 33 others – including 14 physicians (6 who are neurologists) submitted testimony declaring Terri had been misdiagnosed, while none were submitted by Felos to contradict their findings. Again, Judge Greer refused to consider the growing and glaring evidence. Consider what neurologist Dr. James Gabel, M.D., M.S., F.A.H.A, reported:

“Terri Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state. The parts of Terri Schiavo’s brain which would allow her to perceive pain, her thalami, were clearly intact and visible on her CT scan images shown by her own husband, Michael Schiavo, on national television. The parts of Terri Schiavo’s brain, which would allow her to swallow on her own, were also intact, and, in fact, she did not suffer from medically significant dysphagia (swallowing difficulty). If she had, she would have been dead long ago from a condition known as aspiration pneumonia, an infection in the lungs which is the result of inhaling one’s own saliva.”

In short, Terri was not dying. She was not suffering or receiving any type of life support. She was simply disabled and unable to feed herself.

Terri could have been fed orally and by law she should have been. Granted, she might have needed swallowing therapy to stimulate the muscles in her throat that had not been used for many years, but this would have been a relatively short and simple treatment. Yet Judge Greer refused to even consider it, incredibly noting that “Terri might aspirate food into her lungs and die a cruel and painful death.”

The day before the scheduled removal of Terri’s feeding tube on March 18, 2005, the Senate Health Committee and the House Government Reform Committee issued congressional subpoenas requiring both Michael and Terri to appear before Congress for a March 28 hearing. That morning, while Hospice was being served with Congressional letters instructing them not to remove Terri’s feeding tube, Attorney Barbara Weller and Terri’s sister Suzanne were happily explaining the upcoming trip to an elated Terri. But unbeknownst to them, the opposition was quickly moving to seek Greer’s intervention. As the 2:00 PM deadline approached, Greer made an unprecedented ruling to ignore the Federal subpoenas and ordered Hospice to proceed with the tube removal according to the court mandate.

This would be the first instance of Congress’ utter failure to legally preserve Terri’s life. It is a federal crime to obstruct or prevent such witnesses from appearing and while members of Congress appeared outraged and threatened to charge Greer with Contempt of Congress, they did nothing to enforce the subpoena, nor did they punish Greer for his judicial misconduct.

In the final week before Terri’s death, Congress passed legislation that was immediately signed into law by President Bush requiring the Federal Court to do a “de-novo” review of the entire case. Yet once more, they did nothing to enforce the very legislation they passed.

Clearly, Judge Greer violated several Federal Laws and stretched the interpretation of Florida statutes as well. But in the end, it would be the appalling court precedent of Estelle Browning’s case that allowed him to do so. In truth, one relatively insignificant district judge usurped the authority of the State Legislature, the State Executive office, Congress and the President of the United States. He succeeded in condemning an innocent woman to death for no other “crime” than that of being disabled.

Eight years ago this might have been simply viewed as “the perfect storm”.  Timing is everything, they say.  But frighteningly enough with Obama-care looming, it is now an inevitable “climate change” – a mere glimpse of the government-mandated “futile care policies” descending upon us.

Without question, such laws, the courts, and tyrannical authority must be stopped. For if our society becomes one that judges on the basis of a “quality of life” ethic, that society will selfishly seek any means to rid itself of any imperfections or burdens—at any cost. In the words of Clemens Von Galen, the Bishop of Munster, Germany, who fought fiercely against Hitler’s euthanasia policies in 1939, “Once we admit the right to kill unproductive persons, then none of us can be sure of our own life.”

© 2013. Debi Vinnedge. All Rights Reserved.

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21 thoughts on “The Homicide of Terri Schindler-Schiavo”

  1. Pingback: Oh What A Tangled Web They Weave : Catholic Stand

  2. Designer babies, gender specific abortions, reviving extinct species and the hits just keep on coming.
    Our Hope is in Our Holy Lord Jesus.
    This Good Friday please ask him to; “forgive us brother Jesus, for we truly do not know what we are doing.”
    We mimic Jesus’ prayer that He prayed to Our Father from the cross on good Friday.
    Peace be with you.

  3. Obamacare is coming, and people in situations like Terri Schiavo will not be cared for long term. Lose weight now, folks, because Michelle Obama will insist that the Soylent Green be nice and lean.

  4. John, you are so accurate in your assessment. In fact, if you and everyone reading this message has the time, you should read Robert Bork’s book entitled “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline.” Brilliant assessment written in 1996. The chapter “Killing for Convenience” is chilling. How any human being can actually fail to see the obvious that is occurring and is not outraged is beyond me.

  5. The fruits of Hitlers policies have been adapted and put to use in a more subtle and seductive way..a clean holocaust.Judge Greer and all involved should be arrested and charged with murder.Our nation has chosen to turn from God and walk the sliperry slope towards hell.That is where this nation is headed now.

  6. Phil…you stated above that the coroner report clearly showed she is in PVS – it does not state that. But again, if you want the neurologist reports or any additional TRUTHFUL information please email me and I will provide the files.

    1. So when you say: “The atrophy in her brain by the way, was caused by the dehydration.” -Debi Vinnedge

      You mean sometime between 2002 when CT scans were submitted as evidence and when the autopsy was performed that the cerebral cortex reappeared but then disappeared again due to dehydration?

      “Well it shows extremely severe atrophy. Where those black areas are, that should be white. That should be cerebral cortex, and so really there is no cerebral cortex left. It’s just a shrinkage of the cerebral cortex. It’s a thin band of white on the outside and any neurologist or any radiologist looking at those CT scans will tell you that her atrophy could not be more severe than it is. So even if she were mentally conscious, which she’s not, she’s irreversible. She’s been like this for 15 years, Dan, and that CT scan shows the most extreme severe atrophy of the higher centers of the brain.” – Dr Ronald Cranford

    1. “persistent vegetative state” has also been shown to be ‘unpersistent’ on many occasions. What’s to say it was a permanent state? Assuage your conscience how you like, but history teaches that it’s hardly a permanent state.

    2. Phil

      P Lease don’t tell me you believe everything you read in the mainstream media……I am retired Police Officer and now an Investigator for the courts……….

  7. Pingback: Viri Selecti: Who Can Have Their Feet Washed? - Big Pulpit

  8. While there are many legitimate arguments and set of circumstances on both sides of the right to die issue, the author of this well researched position paper fails to include two critical facts:

    (1) The autopsy clearly indicates that Schiavo was in an irreversible persistent vegitative state, that no rehabilitation was possible, that despite claims of parents Terri was cortically blind, that every area of her brain was extensively damaged and had actually atrophied to 50% the size of a typical brain.
    (2) Any attempt to orally introduce foods or liquids, even in very small amounts were gravely harmful and dangerous because of the likelihood aspiration pneumonia. I am very familiar with aspiration pneumonia and know that even a few drops of liquid can be easily aspirated and result in aspiration pneumonia which for a bedridden patient can readily mean certain death.

    Of course you should not take my word, so I attach the full coroner’s autopsy (11 pages) attended by several specialists.

    My response does not stake a position, but presents more data.

    1. Phil,
      The document you cite at the Smoking Gun is completely erroneous, beginning with their claim that Terri was blind. There are hundreds, if not thousands who would refute that, including medical staff, priests, her parents, her husband, Hospice nurses, pictures and videos of Terri’s eyes following objects as she turns her head to watch and interact with her mother. In addition, the link for the coroner’s report does not state ANYWHERE that Terri was in a PVS (persistent vegetative state). I have all 39 pages of the Coroner Report – unlike Smoking Gun where they only link to one page and would be glad to share them with you if you would like to email me at As I stated in the article there were far more physicians and neurologists who confirmed she was most certainly not in a PVS than the 3 who testified for her husband. The atrophy in her brain by the way, was caused by the dehydration.

    2. My Dad died last week because a brain bleed cost him the ability to swallow; this despite the fact that many (if not most) of his higher brain functions were still intact and he was on a feeding tube (He lasted about a week). As Ms. Vinnedge clearly pointed out, had Terry Shiavo lost the ability to swallow the saliva we naturally produce would certainly have killed her long before her feeding tube was removed.

      Ultimately, the question of her blindness is moot. And the description of her brain’s state may give us clues to her condition, but since the phenomena of consciousness still is not understood scientifically, nor can the soul be even understood by science, it would be impossible for science to definitively say what Terry Shiavo experienced. Morally I think it is clear that we have an obligation to err on the side of caution especially since there is some evidence that she was in fact able to eat normally

    3. If Terry was in a vegetative state she would not had smiled or blinked her eyes when asked questions or when her mom came into the room. A man was in a Coma 23yrs and his wife too was told he was brain dead.She took him home , took care of him and 23yrs later he came completely out of the coma. He said he could hear and see everything going on around him. He could not speak or get attention. He was trapped in his own body. The bottom line is: IF OUR LORD WANTS TO TAKE A LIFE HE WILL DO IT IN HIS TIMING FOR THAT SOUL. TERRI DIDNT DIE AT THE TIME OF HER ACCIDENT, NOT GODS WILL. A PERSON NEEDS TO LIVE UNTIL GOD TAKES THEM HIS WAY NOT OUR WAY. THAT IS MURDER.

  9. Pingback: The Homicide of Terri Schindler-Schiavo - CATHOLIC FEAST - Sync your Soul

  10. We will become the society of the Houyhnhnms, incapable of tolerating that which is not us, incapable of accepting anything but the destruction of those deemed no longer of use.

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