In Memory of Terri Schindler Schiavo

By Dave Andrusko

When your life revolves around trying to stem the anti-life tide that has swept away 54 million unborn lives, you might think that the power of individuals cases—instances where the fate of one human life hangs in the balance—would be diminished. You would be wrong.

I had been at National Right to Life only few months when the case of an Indiana baby—“Baby Doe”—became a topic of intense debate. As the letter to the Movement that we reprint from President Reagan explains, when this little boy was born in 1982 he needed only  routine surgery to unblock  his esophagus which would allow him to eat. No problem, except Baby Doe had Down syndrome.

“[A] doctor testified, and a judge concurred, that even with the physical problem corrected, Baby Doe would have a ‘non-existent’ possibility for a ‘minimally adequate life,’” the President wrote back in 1984. “The judge let Baby Doe starve and die, and the Indiana Supreme Court sanctioned his decision.”

As I wrote at the time, “Up until the time that tiny newborn baby died of starvation I took my pro-life commitment very seriously but impersonally. Baby Doe’s unnecessary death forever changed that for me, and I’m sure for many other as well.”

I did not learn of Baby Doe’s plight until near the very end of his very brief life. That was not the case with Terri Schindler Schiavo. When Terri died on March 31, 2005, after being denied nourishment for 13 agonizing day, the 41-year-old’s starvation death brought to an end—in one sense, at least—a tumultuous,  eleven-year battle between the Schindler family and Terri’s estranged husband.

The Schindler family waged their courageous fight in multiple courts, in the Florida legislature, in the halls of Congress, until January 24, 2005, when the United States Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Florida Governor Jeb Bush. The justices refused to reinstate “Terri’s Law.” The law had been passed by the Florida legislature in an emergency session in October of 2003, signed into law by Gov. Bush, and protected Terri Schindler-Schiavo from a painful death by starvation and dehydration.

“Many across our state and around the world are deeply grieved by the way Terri died.” Gov. Bush said. “I feel that grief very sharply as well. I remain convinced, however, that Terri’s death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society.”

It is enough to say that if, as the saying goes,  truth is “the first casualty in war,” then long before the campaign to starve and dehydrate Terri to death succeeded, all the important details had been thoroughly distorted. Virtually nothing—her true medical condition (Terri was falsely described as being a “persistent vegetative state” and/or “brain dead”), what she alleged would have “wanted” (to die this horrible death), her condition after 11 days (described by her estranged husband’s attorney as “peaceful,” “beautiful,” and/or “free of pain”)—was within hailing distance of the truth.

Terri’s memory lives on in the work of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network (www.terrisfight.org). You can learn more about the second annual Life & Hope Concert at www.lifeandhopeconcert.org.

Maybe the best way to end these remarks is to quote from pro-life President George W. Bush who worked hard on the Schindler family’s behalf.

“The essence of civilization,” he said, “is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak.”

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