- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who spent 15 years connected to a feeding tube in an epic legal and medical battle that went all the way to the White House and Congress, died yesterday, 13 days after the tube was removed. She was 41.

Cradled by her husband, Mrs. Schiavo died a “calm, peaceful and gentle death” at about 9 a.m., with a stuffed animal under her arm and flowers arranged around her hospice room, said George Felos, the attorney for her husband, Michael Schiavo.

No one from her side of the family was with her at the moment of her death. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, were not at the hospice, Mr. Felos said. Her brother had been barred from the room at Mr. Schiavo’s request moments before the end came.

In yet another dispute between Mrs. Schiavo’s husband and his in-laws, Mr. Schiavo will get custody of his wife’s body and will have it cremated.

Michael Schiavo’s brother, Scott Schiavo, said the ashes will be buried in an undisclosed location near Philadelphia so that her immediate family cannot attend “and turn the moment into a press spectacle.” A funeral Mass, sought by the Schindlers, tentatively was scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Mr. Schiavo’s overriding concern here was to provide for Terri a peaceful death with dignity,” said Mr. Felos, who also was present at the death.

But the Rev. Frank Pavone, one of the Schindlers’ spiritual advisers, called her death “a killing,” adding: “And for that we not only grieve that Terri has passed, but we grieve that our nation has allowed such an atrocity as this and we pray that it will never happen again.”

Mrs. Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 and fell into what court-appointed doctors called a persistent vegetative state, with no real consciousness or chance of recovery, after a chemical imbalance caused her heart to stop. She had left no written instructions in the event she became disabled.

Her husband argued that she told him long ago that she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents disputed that, and held out hope for a miracle recovery for a daughter they said still laughed with them and struggled to talk.

Outside the hospice — where during the past few weeks more than 50 protesters were arrested, many for trying to symbolically bring Mrs. Schiavo food and water — demonstrators wept, prayed and sang hymns. Some threw down their signs in protest.

“You saw a murder happening,” said one demonstrator, Dominique Hanks.

Mrs. Schiavo’s body was taken in an unmarked white van with police motorcycle escort to the Pinellas County medical examiner’s office, where an autopsy was planned that both sides hoped would shed light on the extent of her brain damage and whether she was abused by her husband, as the Schindlers have argued.

The ill will between Michael Schiavo and his in-laws became plain in other ways: The Schindlers’ advisers complained that Mrs. Schiavo’s brother and sister had been at her bedside a few minutes before the end came, but were not there at the moment of her death because Mr. Schiavo would not let them in the room.

“And so his heartless cruelty continues until this very last moment,” Father Pavone said.

Mr. Felos disputed the Schindler family’s account. He said Mrs. Schiavo’s siblings had been asked to leave the room so that the hospice staff could examine her, and her brother, Bobby Schindler, started arguing with a law-enforcement official.

Mr. Schiavo feared a “potentially explosive” situation, and would not allow the brother in the room, Mr. Felos said. “Mrs. Schiavo had a right to have her last and final moments on this earth be experienced by a spirit of love and not of acrimony,” the attorney said.

Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, said that Mrs. Schiavo’s death “is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society. For that, we can be thankful for all that the life of Terri Schiavo has taught us.”

Before she was stricken, Mrs. Schiavo had recurring battles with her weight, and her collapse at age 26 was thought to have been caused by an eating disorder. Her parents, who visited her nearly every day, reported their daughter responded to their voices, and video showed her appearing to interact with her family. But the court-appointed doctors said the noises and facial expressions were reflexes.

Both sides accused each other of being motivated by greed over a $1 million medical-malpractice award from doctors who failed to diagnose the chemical imbalance.

Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed briefly in 2001. It was reinserted after two days when a court intervened. In October 2003, the tube was removed again, but Mr. Bush rushed Terri’s Law through the Florida Legislature and had the tube reinserted after six days. The Florida Supreme Court later struck down the law as unconstitutional interference in the judicial system.

The case prompted many people to ponder what they would want if they, too, were in such a desperate medical situation, and many rushed to draw up living wills. The case also led to a furious debate over the proper role of government in life-and-death decisions, and whether the Republicans in Congress violated their party’s principles of limited government and deference to the states by getting involved.

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