Terri Schiavo Follow Up

We have experienced a larger than usual response to our NCLL article on Terri Schiavo’s death in 2005. One of the questions readers have asked is: What evidence did you have that Terri was aware of what was going on around her? So, we thought everyone might like to know our answer to that question. Many Americans saw the TV video where Terri was following a balloon while being examined by one of the doctors who determined that she was not in a persistent vegetative state and that she could very likely be helped to improve with therapy. In addition to the video, Atty. Gibbs III and Atty. Barbara Weller, who assisted with the case, witnessed or heard about the following interactions with Terri:

  • The first day that Atty. Gibbs III met Terri Schiavo, she took great interest in him—probably because of his very deep voice. She was seated in her lounge chair (where she spent most of her days). To determine how reactive Terri was, before he agreed to take her case, Gibbs walked around the back of her chair, and Terri twisted in her seat to try to follow his movements.
  • Terri’s mother was trying to help her speak. She would lean in close to Terri and say, “Terri, say ‘I Iove you’; Terri, say, ‘I.’” And Terri would say “ahhhh.” Mary Schindler (her mother) would say, “Terri, say, ‘love,’” and Terri would say “uuuuuuuv.” Then Mary would say, “Terri, say ‘you,’” but Terri couldn’t say most consonants or y’s, so she could not repeat that word.
  • Whenever Terri’s father, Bob (who had a mustache), would kiss Terri on the cheek, she would scrunch up her face, laugh, and try to pull away from him. It was their own private little joke.
  • One day when the attorneys and family were in Terri’s room at the hospice facility, they were joking about how interested Terri always was in Atty. Gibbs when he visited her. Gibbs was standing on Terri’s right, across the room near her window, and her father was standing just next to Terri on her left. As people were joking about that, Terri’s father said, “So what am I now, Terri? Chopped liver?” At that point, Terri laughed and maneuvered herself in her lounge chair so that her back was to her father. She was deliberately looking at and smiling at Atty. Gibbs. Everyone had a good laugh over that.
  • One day, when Atty. Weller was visiting Terri with Mary, her mother, and other family members, when it was time for her mother to leave, Terri began to cry (as she often did whenever her mother left her room). Weller stayed behind and leaned close to Terri’s ear (Terri was a bit hard of hearing) and said, “I’m so sorry we need to leave, but just remember that Jesus is always here with you.” At that point, Terri stopped crying and laughed a sweet little laugh that she always had whenever Weller would mention the name “Jesus” to her.
  • Terri’s previous attorneys told Gibbs and Weller that Terri always had a very joyous reaction to music and especially to Christmas carolers who would stroll through the hospice facility. Terri and the carolers were never able to actually see each other, because the judge had ordered no visitors for Terri other than family or attorneys.
  • When a doctor brought in from the Mayo Clinic observed Terri in the final month of her life, he said that she was very aware of him and followed him with her eyes around the room. He said that he was not comfortable recommending that the court should order her to die.
  • When Weller was with Terri’s sister Suzanne and other family members on the day Terri’s feeding apparatus was discontinued (it was not a feeding tube, but a direct port to her stomach), Weller and Suzanne were talking about taking Terri to testify to Congress in Washington, DC. A congressional subcommittee had issued a subpoena for her to appear—one the judge should have been prosecuted for refusing to obey, and they talked about taking her in a wheelchair to the mall there. Terri’s smile was so broad that, for the first time, Weller noticed that she had dimples. When Weller leaned over her and said, “Terri, if you could just say, ‘I want to live,’ this could all be over.” At that point, to Weller’s amazement, Terri fixed her eyes on Weller and said very loudly (so that the armed guard outside her door heard the noise), “Ahhhhh waaaaa.” Then she started to cry because she could not say consonants. This information was communicated at a news conference called immediately after and was presented to the judge in an affidavit on Good Friday, so it is part of the court record. But the judge agreed with Michael Schiavo’s attorney that, like following the balloon in the TV video, this was just the spontaneous reaction of a PVS patient.
  • When Terri was going through her thirteen days of court-ordered dehydration and starvation (while a well-watered vase of roses sent by Michael Schiavo, her husband, sat on her bedside table), one of her old friends went to visit her. She told Gibbs and Weller that when she talked with Terri about their days going out dancing together, Terri actually lifted her arms and moved them in a dance-like motion.
  • The last time Mary saw Terri, the day before she died, Atty. Gibbs III was with them. As Mary talked softy with Terri and kissed her, although Terri’s tongue and cheek were peeling away from the dehydration, Gibbs saw a tear roll down Terri’s cheek.

Other stories could be shared, but this list is a representative one. For more information about this tragic perversion of American justice, Atty. Gibbs III has written a book about the case called “Fighting For Dear Life.” It is available at amazon.com.