Distorting the “aftermath” of the death of Terri Schindler

By Dave Andrusko

If you’re old (like me), you’ll recall the famous line from “Love Story” in which the Ali McGraw character vacuously opines, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Anyone who is or has been married knows that is preposterously absurd.

Likewise, for the major media, and particularly the New York Times, being a big shot opinion-molder means never having to say you’ve bungled a story. All this came rushing back as I read Bobby Schindler’s day-by-day account reminiscing about what happened to his sister, Terri Schiavo, who died March 31, 2005.

His chronology of Terri’s wholly unnecessary and merciless death by starvation and dehydration is a testimony to his faithfulness and the importance of why and how Terri died. (You can follow Bobby’s narrative at bobbyschindler.com.)

If you dial up the New York Times search engine, as I did this morning, there is nothing about Terri after a story that appeared in April 2014, on the ninth anniversary of her death. I am reposting the April 14, 2014, story I wrote in response because Clyde Haberman’s distortion of the “aftermath” of Terri Schiavo is so indicative of how the media elite distorts everything in order to promote their own anti-life agenda.


If you didn’t follow the terribly tragedy that was the unnecessary death of Terri Schiavo, you couldn’t know how many relevant facts did not make their way into Clyde Haberman’s 1,057-word-long Sunday story, “From Private Ordeal to National Fight: The Case of Terri Schiavo.” However, if you did follow Terri’s appalling death (as did National Right to Life), the absent of context and the bundles of misinformation and snarky commentary came as no surprise whatsoever.

Haberman’s narrative twist begins with his two-clever-by -twenty lead paragraph:

“Her surname in Italian means ‘slave,’ and is pronounced skee-AH-vo. Grim as it may be, the word could apply to Theresa Marie Schiavo, even with its Americanized pronunciation: SHY-vo.”

Naturally, as do all those who defend Terri’s 2005 death by starvation and dehydration, Haberman gives the back of his hand to lawmakers in Florida, the then-governor of Florida Jeb Bush, the United State Congress, and President George W. Bush for trying to save a woman from her long-since estranged husband who was adamant that her feeding tube should be withdrawn and that her parents and siblings would not be allowed to take her home to care for her.

To Haberman, it’s just a big [bogus] “national morality play” that cynical politicians foisted on their “slave,” Terri Schiavo. Better her family fight their battle with her estranged husband out of the public eye.

But the Schindlers were made of sterner stuff than Haberman and did everything humanly possible to save Terri.

Three quick points about the article which is accompanied by a video that is part of what The New York Times pompously calls “Retro Report.”

What’s that? It “re-examines leading stories of decades past” as “a thoughtful counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle.”

First, if Haberman wasn’t so bent on turning what happen to Terri into his own morality play, he might have remembered that “Schiavo” is her married name. Her maiden name was Schindler.

That gives a whole new twist, does it not, to his slave metaphor?

Second, “Mr. Schiavo wanted to detach the feeding tube that gave her nourishment. Terri never would have wanted to be kept alive that way, he said. The Schindlers insisted that the tube be kept in place.”

Nothing—not a stray syllable—in the story gives the reader even a passing sense of what it is to be starved and dehydrated to death, or that there was scant “evidence” Terri would have wanted her feeding tube removed.

Third, we’re told the whole point of this series is not only to view the past, but also to see its “legacy” today. Haberman writes

“Larger questions remain, affecting an estimated 25,000 Americans deemed by doctors to be in a vegetative state. Complicating matters are studies like those reported last week by a team in Belgium and earlier by Adrian M. Owen, a British neuroscientist working in Canada. They have found through brain-imaging techniques that residual cognitive capacity may exist in some people classified as vegetative.

“Another issue is what qualifies as death with dignity. Is it allowing a person to go gentle into that good night of Dylan Thomas? Or does providing him or her with tools like a feeding tube allow the person to rage if possible against the dying of the light?”

A major point—perhaps the most important point—of the Lancet study Haberman alludes to is that far too many people are prematurely and incorrectly diagnosed as being in a PVS “and sent to nursing homes where no effort is made to rehabilitate them, and where emerging consciousness might not even be recognized,” to quote from (ironically enough) the New York Times’ coverage of the study. (For our take, see nrlc.cc/1msh0JW.)

For a time Terri did receive rehabilitation. The whole fight between the estranged husband and Terri’s family kicked into overdrive when he decided to stop the rehabilitation therapy.

And, for the record, the family adamantly insists Terri was not in a PVS.

Finally, as for Haberman’s grandiose use of Dylan Thomas’ great poem, it is not about going gently into any night, good or otherwise, but fighting until the very end—exactly what Terri’s parents and siblings did on her behalf.

It would almost be impossible to misrepresent the “legacy” of Terri Schiavo any more completely than has Mr. Haberman.