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Gary Younge
Terri Schiavo dies 13 days after feeding tube is removed - but the arguments go on

News of her death prompted wailing and praying from supporters of her parents, who wanted to keep her alive, as both the US president, George Bush, and the Vatican expressed their concern at the circumstances of Ms Schiavo's death.

"Today, millions of Americans are saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo," said Mr Bush. "The essence of civilisation is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak. In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in favour of life."

The head of the Vatican's office for sainthood condemned her death as "an attack against God". Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins described Ms Schiavo's death as "an unjust death sentence to an innocent in one of the most inhuman and cruel forms."

Florida's governor, Jeb Bush, delivered stern criticism of the legal rulings in favour of her husband.

Mr Bush, the president's brother, said millions of people would be "deeply grieved" by her death.

"After an extraordinarily difficult and tragic journey, Terri Schiavo is at rest," he said. "I remain convinced, however, that Terri's death is a window through which we can see the many issues unresolved in our families and in our society."

Mr Schiavo's lawyer announced the death but otherwise made no comment.

The bitterness that has elevated the battle over Ms Schiavo's case from a family row to a national drama, continued right until the end. Her brother and sister were ordered to leave her Florida hospice room 10 minutes before she died to allow Michael Schiavo, her husband and legal guardian, to be with her.

The personal and political controversy is set to continue with a family feud deepening over whether she should be buried or cremated and politicians in both main parties set to use the case as a benchmark in confirmation hearings over key, impending judicial appointments.

Many among the hundreds of Christian activists and right-to-life supporters, who had maintained a mostly peaceful vigil outside the hospice, were in tears and prayed as David Gibbs, her parents' lawyer, and Father Frank Pavone, a family friend, announced that Ms Schiavo, 41, had died at 9.05am (local time).

"This is not only a death with all the sadness that brings, it is a killing and for that we grieve," Father Pavone said. "We grieve not only that Terri has passed away, but we grieve that our nation has allowed such an atrocity as this and we hope this will never happen again."

After the announcement, a bugler played Amazing Grace and protesters began laying flowers at the driveway leading to the Woodside hospice, Pinellas Park. Dozens of armed police maintained a tight ring of security around the hospice as demonstrators continued to parade banners protesting at her death on her 13th day without food or water.

More than 50 arrests have been made, mostly for trespass, since Ms Schiavo's feeding tube was removed.

Ms Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 after her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance that was believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors ruled that she was in a persistent vegetative state, with no real consciousness or chance of recovery.

Ms Schiavo had left no living will but her husband and legal guardian, Michael, claims she had told him she would not want to live on in such a condition. Ms Schiavo's parents, Mary and Robert Schindler, disputed that, arguing that as a Catholic she would have wanted to live and that better treatment was possible.

The rift between them grew after a medical malpractice payout ignited a dispute over money.

During the seven-year legal battle, Florida lawmakers, Congress and President Bush tried to intervene on behalf of her parents, but state and federal courts at all levels repeatedly ruled in favour of her husband.

The feeding tube was removed with a judge's approval on March 18, triggering a final desperate round of legal and political challenges as Christian conservatives sought to exert their influence in Congress. In a dramatic flurry of legislative activity the Republican Congress passed a measure that would empower a US judge to order the reinsertion of the feeding tube which Mr Bush rushed back to Washington DC from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to sign it into law.

Shortly afterwards Mr Schiavo criticised Congress, arguing: "It is a sad day for everyone in this country because the US government is going to come in and trample all over your personal family matters."


Polls suggest most Americans agreed with him, suggesting that both Mr Bush and the Republican congress may have overplayed their hand.

Surveys reveal that while the issue has divided the country, the split has not been even or predictable, with most of the public, including Christian conservatives, opposed to the involvement of both Mr Bush and Congress. Meanwhile civil rights leader Jesse Jackson earlier this week entered the fray to voice his support for the Schindler family.

An ABC news poll taken on the day that Congress passed a measure that would empower a US judge to order the reinsertion of the feeding tube, found that 63% of the public supported removing it against 28% against.

The poll also found that the public opposed congressional involvement in the case by a huge 70% to 27%.

The vote was carried with a significant amount of support from Democrats. Nonetheless, most Americans doubted the political motives of the Republican-controlled Congress, with 67% believing that they had focused on the Schiavo case for partisan political advantage.

However, polls show that opposition to the congressional measure and support for removing the tube has had bipartisan support. The ABC poll showed that 54% of conservatives and 61% of Republicans back Ms Schiavo's widower, in his decision to allow her to die.

Meanwhile Mr Bush's ratings have taken a sharp plunge. A Gallup poll last week showed support had dropped from from 52% to 45% in seven days. The largest fall was among men, self-described conservatives and churchgoers, which form the core of Mr Bush's electoral base.

A spokesman for Gallup argued that "the timing of the seven-point drop suggests that the controversy over the Terri Schiavo case may be a major cause".

"Public reaction to Congress's intervention in the Schiavo case may well test whether [Christian conservatives] have enough standing to run against public opinion on end-of-life issues," argued Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Centre, an independent polling organisation, in a recent New York Times article.

He added: "Potentially arrayed against conservatives are elderly people, who vote heavily, as well as baby boomers, who always have numbers on their side. These voters, increasingly concerned about these issues in their own lives, may well be wary of political constraints on the tough choices they or their families may face."

Fight for life: The 15-year struggle

February 1990

Terri Schiavo collapses at home, the flow of oxygen to her brain is interrupted for five minutes, causing permanent damage.


Michael Schiavo and wife's parents fall out over care she is receiving. The parents later try and fail to have Michael removed as Terri's guardian.

May 1998

Mr Schiavo files petition to remove feeding tube, but nothing is done until April 24 2001. Two days later medical evidence compels an appeal court to insist feeding begins again.

November 2002

A court agrees that Mrs Schiavo will not recover and orders her feeding tube to be removed again. This happens the following October. Florida governor Jeb Bush uses new legislation, Terri's Law, to demand that the tube be put back.

September 2004

Florida's supreme court rules Terri's Law unconstitutional. Appeal court sets March 18 2005 as day the tube will be removed.

March 18 2005

Judge orders the tube to be removed. Congress rushes through emergency bill which president signs - forcing a federal court to review decision.

March 22

Florida court stands by its judgment, so Mrs Schiavo's feeding tube will not be reconnected.

March 24

The US supreme court refuses another request to review the Schiavo case.

March 25

US district court turns down parents' request for an emergency order to force doctors to feed their daughter.Soon afterwards Florida supreme court turns down an emergency appeal.

March 30

Late Wednesday night, the US supreme court refuses for the sixth time to hear an appeal on Terri's plight.

March 31

Attorney David Gibbs announces that Terri Schiavo died at 9:05 Thursday morning (local time).

Jason Rodrigues

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