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End of Life Decisions: A Legal Reflection on the Schiavo Case

published April 15, 2023

( 3 votes, average: 3.4 out of 5)

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Terri Schiavo is a name that many in the United States have heard of, as it has been a hot topic in the legal world and public consciousness since 1990. Terri Schiavo was a woman in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) who was kept alive by means of a feeding tube. After a long legal and court battle between her husband and her parents, she was eventually disconnected from the feeding tube, allowing her to pass away in 2005.

Terri Schiavo became the center of a long legal battle that began in 1990 when she went into a coma due to complications from bulimia. From then until her death in 2005, her legal status was characterized by a never-ending series of appeals, litigation, and debates between her husband, Michael Schiavo, and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.

The legal battle began in 1998 when Michael Schiavo filed a petition to have her feeding tube removed, citing her alleged wishes to die if she ever became permanently unconscious. Her parents argued that she was not in a persistent vegetative state, and that removal of the feeding tube was against her wishes. The dispute ended up in court, with the judge ruling in favor of her husband. The Schindlers then filed a series of appeals, but all were unsuccessful.

The legal case made its way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately declined to hear the case. This decision allowed the lower court's ruling to stand, and the feeding tube was removed in 2005, ultimately leading to her death.

The Terri Schiavo case sparked debate among many Americans, as it raised important questions about the right to life, the right to die, and the role of the courts in deciding these matters. It also brought to light the need for a clear legal framework governing end-of-life issues. The case has had a lasting impact on the legal landscape, as it has spurred many states to pass laws governing end-of-life decisions.

In conclusion, the Terri Schiavo case is an example of how the legal system deals with complex end-of-life issues. The case raised questions about the right to life and the right to die, and the role of the courts in deciding these matters. The case has had a lasting impact on the legal landscape, as it has spurred many states to pass laws governing end-of-life decisions. Terri Schiavo's case demonstrates the importance of having a legal framework that sets out clear guidelines regarding end-of-life decisions.

The Right to Die and Terri Schiavo

In March of 1990, a young woman named Terri Schiavo suffered a massive heart attack, leaving her a disabled woman in a persistent vegetative state. This event, along with a legal battle that soon ensued, would become one of the most talked about legal cases in the United States. The court battles between her husband and her parents dealt with the right of Terri Schiavo to die, or if the right to die was only applicable to those who can make decisions themselves.

The legal case of Terri Schiavo and her right to die ended in March of 2005, when her life support was removed in the presence of her husband, Michael. The case served to help define the right to die in the United States and the ethical ramifications of such an action. Underlying the entire dispute was the oft argued topic of the sanctity of life and the concept of a living will.

The Right to Die and The Law

The legal case of Terri Schiavo raised important questions concerning the right to die. Is the right to die an inalienable right for all persons, regardless of the condition of their cognitive abilities? Is the right to die something justifiable from a legal and moral perspective? Such questions are difficult to answer and often create heated debates amongst those involved.

The law in the United States states that a person has the right to refuse medical treatment and to choose death if they wish. The right to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment is protected by the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees all persons the right to due process and the right to privacy. This right is further protected by the court decision in Cruzan vs. Director of the Missouri Department of Health.

The Right to Die and Ethical Implications

The legal case of Terri Schiavo brought to the forefront the ethical implications of the right to die. While the law states that a person has the right to choose death, is this really a moral decision? Can a person make a moral choice when they are unable to think for themselves? Does the right to choose death override the religious beliefs of those close to the person in question? These issues are complex and often lead to passionate debates on both sides.

No matter what side of the debate one may hold, it cannot be denied that the court case of Terri Schiavo was a landmark in the debate of the right to die. It is a defining moment in the right to die movement and it serves as a reminder to us all that life is precious and each moment should be appreciated. The Schiavo case also serves to remind us that the right to die is an important right, which should be respected and honored.

By this time, every sentient American is familiar with the facts. Theresa "Terri" Schindler was born in Pennsylvania on Dec. 3, 1963. In November 1984 she married Michael Schiavo. In 1986 the couple moved to Florida. On Feb. 5, 1990, their lives irrevocably changed. She suffered a form of cardiac arrest and lapsed into unconsciousness. For the next three years her parents and her husband enjoyed an amiable relationship, but eventually that collapsed into bitter recriminations. Terri's fate has been in litigation ever since, as her parents have sought to keep her technically alive, and Michael has asked the courts to let her die.

Florida judges so far have sided with the husband. In 1996, a guardianship court explained:

"The evidence is overwhelming that Theresa is in a permanent or persistent vegetative state. She has cycles of apparent wakefulness and apparent sleep without any cognition or awareness. ... CAT scans of her brain show a severely abnormal structure. Much of her cerebral cortex is simply gone and has been replaced by cerebral spinal fluid.

"Medicine cannot cure this condition. Unless an act of God, a true miracle, were to re-create her brain, Theresa will always remain in an unconscious, reflexive state, totally dependent upon others to feed her and care for her most private needs. She could remain in this state for many years."

The parents appealed. More litigation ensued. In October 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush and the state legislature intervened with orders effectively commanding a hospice to continue providing Theresa with food and vital fluids. Six months later, a trial court ruled that the lawmakers and the governor had overstepped their powers. Last September, Florida's Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that decision. Speaking through Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, the court found clear and convincing evidence that Theresa is in a persistent vegetative state. If she were competent to make her own decisions, "she would elect to cease life-prolonging procedures." Neither the governor nor the legislature could set aside the court's decree.

Said the chief justice: "The continuing vitality of our system of separation of powers precludes the other two branches from nullifying the judicial branch's final order. If the legislature, with the assent of the governor, can do what was attempted here, the judicial branch would be subordinated to the final directives of the other branches ...

"Also subordinated would be the rights of individuals, including the well-established right to self-determination, No court judgment could ever be considered final and no constitutional right secure, because the precedent of this case would hold to the contrary. Vested rights could be stripped away based on popular clamor."

With Monday's emergency legislation in Congress, this sad chronicle presumably will enter its final chapter. The act just signed by the president, titled, "An Act for the Relief of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo," is a legislative abomination. The bill was cobbled together without hearings. It is a throwback to the bad old days of legislative privilege. It gives standing to the parents to bring suit on her behalf in the U.S. District Court in Tampa. On what meat does this our Congress feed?

This jerry-built act gives the U.S. District Court power to rule "without delay," regardless of state proceedings, on the merits of the case as a whole. However, "Nothing in this act shall be construed to create substantive rights not otherwise secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States." This is hokum. Neither may the act be construed "to confer additional jurisdiction on any claim related to assisting suicide." Finally, "Nothing in this act shall constitute a precedent with respect to future legislation, including the provisions of private relief bills." This is worse than hokum. Of course a precedent has been created, and a bad one it is.

To some of us old states'-righters, the life or death of Terri Schiavo is simply no proper business of Congress or the federal courts. Congress doubtless has power to regulate the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, but it has no power to overrule the orders of a state supreme court. Florida's judges have listened compassionately to the parents' dramatic appeal, and they have found in the husband's favor. No substantive federal question remains. Let the curtain fall.

(Letters to Mr. Kilpatrick should be sent by e-mail to

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( 3 votes, average: 3.4 out of 5)
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