In court, family members on both sides recounted what Terri said she wanted.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published November 8, 2003
It was a somber family gathering in the days after Michael Schiavo's grandmother died in 1988. Doctors had tried to revive the woman despite her written directive that she not be resuscitated.
As family talked at a luncheon after her death, someone recalled Terri Schiavo speaking her mind.
"Terri made mention at that conversation that, "If I ever go like that, just let me go. Don't leave me there. I don't want to be kept alive on a machine,"' Scott Schiavo, Michael Schiavo's brother, told lawyers years afterward.
As lawyers and the public debate Mrs. Schiavo's life, a look back at hundreds of pages of court transcripts reveals testimony largely forgotten in the national debate about her right to die.
That testimony helped a judge decide in 2000 that Mrs. Schiavo, left severely brain damaged after collapsing in 1990, would not want to be kept alive by artificial means.
Like almost everything in the case, recollections about Mrs. Schiavo's words are disputed. Some remembrances are called outright inventions.
For a woman who left no living will, all that is left are memories, many of which were not revealed until a decade after her collapse.
Two years after Mrs. Schiavo's heart stopped - due to a suspected potassium imbalance - causing the brain damage, her husband fought a medical malpractice battle in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
At the trial, nobody discussed Mrs. Schiavo's wish to die.
Michael Schiavo, fighting tears, told jurors that he wanted to care for his wife as long as he could.
"I believe in the vows that I took with my wife, through sickness, in health, for richer or poorer," Schiavo told jurors. "I married my wife because I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I'm going to do that."
In the end, Schiavo and his wife received a total of about $1-million in a verdict against one doctor who treated Mrs. Schiavo and from a settlement with another doctor.
"Michael didn't say to the jury, "Oh, by the way, I intend to kill my wife next year,"' said Pat Anderson, an attorney representing Mrs. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.
George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, said, "It's true Michael never affirmatively said Terri would never want to be kept alive if there was no hope. Then again, he didn't lie. Nobody ever asked him the question."
In 1993, the year after the verdict, Michael Schiavo's wishes for his wife took a turn.
Schiavo said he had a conversation with a physician about continued infections his wife battled. Schiavo said a doctor, convinced Mrs. Schiavo couldn't regain consciousness, told him to leave a urinary tract infection untreated, allowing her to die.
Schiavo ordered the nursing home where his wife lived to stop treating her, but the nursing home refused and Michael Schiavo backed down.
Schiavo was later asked by lawyers representing his wife's parents, then seeking to remove him as his wife's guardian, why he tried to stop treatment.
"I was trying to make decisions on what Terri would want," Schiavo said in late 1993, adding, "She was my wife. I lived with her. We shared things. We shared a bed. We shared our thoughts. And one incident in particular ..."
He then recounted his memory of a train trip.
The couple traveled to Florida from Pennsylvania for vacation in the mid 1980s. But Mrs. Schiavo was reluctant to go because her grandmother was near death.
The grandmother helped care for Mrs. Schiavo's disabled uncle, a man who suffered severe brain damage in an accident.
On the trip, Michael Schiavo said his wife told him that she didn't want to live like the uncle, dependant on others.
"I would never want to live like that. I would want to just die," Schiavo recalled his wife saying.
Within days of that testimony, a doctor first presented him the idea of pulling his wife's feeding tube.
"This woman died four years ago," Schiavo said a doctor who examined his wife told him.
Schiavo recoiled at pulling the tube. "I couldn't do that to Terri," he said.
Felos said Schiavo still struggled with the idea.
By 1995, Schiavo began setting in motion a plan to have his wife's feeding tube removed, according to his testimony.
But the real catalyst, Schiavo said, was his mother's death in July 1997. His mother wanted no medication or food near the end of her life.
"She gave me that gift that it was okay to die," Schiavo later testified.
The next year, Schiavo filed the petition to remove his wife's feeding tube, leading to an inevitable courtroom showdown with Mrs. Schiavo's parents. A trial came in January 2000.
Schiavo opened the trial by recounting the train trip. Two or three other times in their marriage, Schiavo said, she made her opinions known to him.
"We would be watching TV ... a documentary would come on," he testified. "It would depict, you know, adults, children that are being sustained and kept alive by parents at home. People that had to be on ventilators. People getting tube feedings. Medications throughout. IVs.
"She made the comment to me that she would never want to be like that. Don't ever keep her alive on anything artificial," he said.
Then came Scott Schiavo, his brother, who recounted Mrs. Schiavo's words at the luncheon in Pennsylvania after her husband's grandmother died.
Joan Schiavo, the wife of Michael Schiavo's oldest brother, William Schiavo, was next to take the stand.
Joan and Terri Schiavo had become close friends in the mid 1980s. Joan Schiavo said she told her sister-in-law about a friend who was forced to end life support to an infant after health problems.
Terri Schiavo told her that she would have done the same thing for the baby if its life could not otherwise be saved, Joan Schiavo testified.
Joan Schiavo also heard other comments after she and Mrs. Schiavo saw a movie about someone who had an accident and was in a coma.
"We had stated that if that ever happened to one of us, in our lifetime, we would not want to go through that. That we would want it stated in our will we would want the tubes and everything taken out.
"She did not like the movie. Just the whole aspect of family and friends having to come and see their son or friend like that, she thought it was horrible."
Mrs. Schiavo's parents fought back. Her mother, Mary Schindler, said she discussed with her daughter the famous right-to-die case of Karen Ann Quinlan, back when the legal fight to take Quinlan off a ventilator was front-page news.
"If they take her off, she might die. Just leave her alone and she will die whenever," she said her daughter told her.
Felos introduced newspaper stories showing that the Quinlan case was front-page news when Terri Schiavo was 11 or 12 years old.
Mrs. Schiavo's former friend, Diane Meyer, recalled watching a movie about Quinlan in the summer of 1982 after they graduated high school.
"I remember one of the things she said is, "How did they know she would want this? How did they know she wouldn't want to go on?"' Meyer testified.
Circuit Judge George Greer later ruled that Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube could be removed.
The judge said he was persuaded by testimony by Michael Schiavo. He said that testimony, combined with statements of other family members, was "clear and convincing evidence."
He discounted things Mrs. Schiavo might have said as a child about Quinlan.
In the eyes of the law, Mrs. Schiavo has already instructed family about her wish to die.
"I don't know if that is Terri's intent," Mary Schindler told Greer. "I would like my daughter to live until it's - she dies when God is ready for her."