Terri Schindler Schiavo collapses at home in the early morning hours of February 25, 1990. She was 26 years and 3 months old. Paramedics responded to the scene, and Terri was admitted to Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Initial tests ruled out a heart attack or drug involvement. No diagnosis was made as to the underlying cause of her collapse, but the medical records indicate a discharge diagnosis of hypoxic encephalopathy – brain injury caused by oxygenation starvation to the brain. She was on a ventilator for the first few weeks but ultimately was taken off mechanical life support and had been breathing on her own since that time.
In June of 1990, Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, was appointed her plenary guardian by the courts. This happened without Terri’s immediately family ever being notified. Schiavo was made both the guardian of the person and of her property.
Also in 1990, Michael took Terri to California for experimental brain surgery. He did so without prior court approval, required by Florida’s guardianship statutes. A thalamac stimulator was provided to Terri and she was soon transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Florida.
In 1991, the rehabilitation center recorded notes indicating Terri was speaking during physical therapy sessions, saying things such as “No”, “Stop” and “Mommy.”
In July of that year, Terri was transferred to Sable Palms Nursing Facility in Largo, Florida. For a short time following, she was provided physical therapy. This was all stopped in 1991 and was the last documented therapy ever provided to Terri.
In 1992, Michael Schiavo initiated a medical malpractice suit against Terri’s doctors, a general practitioner and a gynolocologist, claiming that she may have suffered from an eating disorder which they failed to detect. At trial, the Chief of Rehabilitation from Bayfront Medical Center and a second rehabilitation specialist both testified that Terri could expect a normal life span and would require extensive care throughout her life. Michael Schiavo was suing for upwards of $20 million.
Based on that and other evidence, the jury awarded Michael Schiavo $600,000 for loss of spousal consortium and over $1.5 million to Terri. Of this, $780,000 was placed in trust to provide for Terri’s future healthcare and therapeutic needs.
On February 14, 1993, Michael Schiavo and Terri’s parents had a disagreement over the course of her care and the use of her trust to provide therapy. Terri’s parents urged Michael Schiavo to begin therapy for Terri once again. He declined. Schiavo discontinued any contact with Terri’s family and took steps to reduce their access to her.
In August of that same year, Michael Schiavo’s guardianship was challenged in the courts by Terri’s family after he denied antibiotic treatment for a urinary tract infection. He testified at the time that he knew doing so would cause her death and he stated, under oath, that he would not attempt such an action again because “there’s some law out there that says I can’t.”
In 1994, Michael Schiavo took up residence and becomes engaged with Jodi Centzone. He refused to dissolve his marriage to Terri and the couple had two children.
In 1995, Michael Schiavo sought out the services of attorney George Felos, a right-to-die litigator.
In May of 1998, Felos filed a Petition to Withdraw Life Support. The court appointed a Guardian ad Litem to investigate the merits of this petition and he reported to the court that the petition should be denied, based on conflicts of interest by Michael Schiavo. Attorney Felos objected on claims of bias and the court dismissed the Guardian ad Litem without ever appointing a successor.
In January of 2000, the Petition to Withdraw Life Support was heard by Judge George W. Greer in Pinellas-Pasco’s Sixth Judicial Circuit. As support for his petition, Michael Schiavo testified that Terri told him in the mid-1980s that she would not want life support after the couple had watched a movie depicting a patient on a ventilator. Schiavo’s brother and sister-in-law also testified that Terri had made statements to them regarding mechanical life support. Judge Greer found this testimony to be clear and convincing evidence that Terri Schiavo would deny herself the provision of a gastric feeding tube in the event of a profound disability and ordered that her tube be removed.
Terri was admitted to the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast shortly after the conclusion of the 2000 trial. Records on file with Florida’s Division of Corporations show that attorney George Felos acted as the Hospice’s Chairman of the Board at that time and up until his resignation in 2002.
Later that year, Terri’s family appealed the February 11, 2000 order and the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed Greer’s ruling. The matter was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, who declined to hear the case, and to the Supreme Court of the United States, who also declined to hear the case.
On April 21, 2001, Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed.
After Terri had endured more than sixty hours without nutrition and hydration, Judge Frank Quesada issued an injunction to resume her nourishment. Based on evidence from a former romantic interest of Michael Schiavo’s that he stated he had never discussed Terri’s wishes, Judge Quesada determined that Terri’s case should be reheard.
In October of 2001, Terri’s family filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment before Judge George W. Greer and provided new evidence that Terri’s neurological condition was better than previously speculated and offered numerous affidavits from medical professionals in support of their claim. Judge Greer denied their motion without a hearing and without review of the supporting affidavits. Upon appeal, the case was remanded back to Judge Greer for a medical evidentiary hearing.
In October of 2002, Greer’s court held the medical evidentiary trial. Six physicians testified. Of those, one was a noted right-to-die advocate and another was a business partner to Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos. Videotapes of Terri were admitted into evidence and, though Florida’s statutes state that persistent vegetative state is the total absence of awareness and ability to communicate, Judge Greer – instead – based his ruling on the consistency of Terri’s reactions. He found her to be in a persistent vegetative state and reaffirmed his earlier ruling that she would want to die. The Second District Court of Appeals affirmed Greer’s ruling and mandated that he set a date for the removal of Terri’s feeding tube.
Judge Greer ordered that Terri’s enteral nourishment be removed on October 15, 2003. At that time, hundreds of people had gathered outside the Hospice where Terri resided. At least 180,000 signed a petition to Governor Jeb Bush of Florida to invoke Florida’s Adult Protective Custody statutes based on allegations of neglect and thousands more maintained a grassroots network of communication throughout the United States and abroad.
On October 20, 2003, a special session of the Florida Legislature was called and the House and Senate both considered and passed a bill into law, known as “Terri’s Law.” This new law afforded Governor Bush the authority to order the reinstatement of Terri’s nutrition and hydration and the appointment of an independent Guardian ad Litem.
Attorney Felos immediately filed suit, on Michael Schiavo’s behalf, challenging the constitutionality of the new law. On May 5, 2004 Judge Baird of the 6th Circuit court ruled that ‘Terri’s Law’ was unconstitutional. On September 23, 2004 the Florida Supreme Court affirmed Judge Baird’s ruling that ‘Terri’s Law’ was unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court refused review of the appeal.
In January of 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States again refuses to hear Terri’s case.
On February 25, 2005, Judge George W. Greer sets feeding tube removal date for March 18, 2005. He further orders that Terri may not receive hydration or nutrition by mouth.
On March 18, 2005, Terri Schiavo’s gastric feeding tube is removed at approximately 1.40 p.m. ET.
During the late night of March 20 and through March 21, 2005, Congress enacts Terri’s Law II, authorizing Terri’s parents to seek federal court review of whether Terri’s federal rights have been protected. The couple file a request for an emergency injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Middle Distinct in Tampa, Florida that same day.
March 22, 2005 US District Court Judge James Whittemore denies Robert and Mary Schindler’s request to have Terri’s feeding tube reinserted, pending the court’s acceptance of a Writ of Habeas Corpus.
On March 24, 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States again declined review of the case and declines to grant certiorari. Judge Greer issues an injunction denying the Florida State government’s right to have the Florida Department of Children & Families take over Schiavo’s care.
On March 31, at approximately 9:05 am, after almost 14 days without nutrition or hydration, Terri Schindler Schiavo dies from severe dehydration.
Terri Schiavo’s Story
- Who was Terri?
- What was Terri’s wish?
- Who was Terri’s family?
- What was the timeline of Terri’s fight?
- What were the professionals’ opinions?
- What was the public’s opinion?
- What are some frequently asked questions?
- Why did Congress get involved?
- Why did Pope John Paul II get involved?
- What books are available?
- What video is available?