Public opinion and activism in the Terri Schiavo case
||This article may contain original research. (September 2011)|
There was a great deal of public opinion and activism in the case of Terri Schiavo, including many polls, and frequent fractious protests some even leading to arrests.
 Public opinion
Articles relating to the
Two polls conducted in the days following the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube on March 18, 2005, showed that a large majority of Americans believed that Michael Schiavo should have had the authority to make decisions on behalf of his wife, Terri Schiavo, and that the United States Congress overstepped its bounds with its intervention in the case.
According to an ABC News poll from March 21, 2005, 70% of Americans believed that Schiavo's death should not be a federal matter, and were opposed to the legislation transferring the case to federal court. In the same poll, when ABC said "Terri suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible," 63% said that they support the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube. Sixty-seven percent agreed with the statement that "elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive are doing so more for political advantage than out of concern for her or for the principles involved." 
A poll by CBS News reported on March 23 showed that 82% of respondents believed Congress and the President should stay out of the matter, while 74% thought it was "all about politics." Only 13% thought Congress acted out of concern for Schiavo. Furthermore, the approval ratings of Congress sank to 34%, its lowest since 1997.
A poll commissioned by the Christian Defense Coalition and completed by Zogby International after Schiavo's death found that, among likely voters, 44% said the tube should remain in place when asked, "[w]hen there is conflicting evidence on whether or not a patient would want to be on a feeding tube, should elected officials order that a feeding tube be removed or should they order that it remain in place?" Thirteen percent said the tube should be removed. Forty-four percent said the person should be allowed to live when asked, "[i]f a person becomes incapacitated and has no written statement that expresses his or her wishes regarding health care, should the law presume that the person wants to live, even if the person is receiving food and water through a tube?" (23% disagreed). These results were featured in many newspapers. Critics of the poll contend that the questions were leading and that the questions were not related to the Schiavo case.  The raw poll data are available online.
After complaints that the polls were not actually asking questions that pertained to this case, or asked leading or confusing questions, Zogby did a very specific poll This poll asked people if they agreed with starving and dehydrating to death a person who was in exactly the same position as Terri. The exact question was "If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water," The results were very dramatic. 79% said the patient should not be denied food and water, while just 9 percent said the patient should. This is the poll that is cited by the people who are on the side of Terri's family. However, this poll question could be seen as leading itself, as it made no mention that Terri had been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state.
Two CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls on the case also showed public support for removing Schiavo's feeding tube, but by smaller margins. In response to the question, "Based on what you have heard or read about the case, do you think that the feeding tube should or should not have been removed?", 56% of respondents agreed and 31% disagreed when polled between March 18-20. When respondents were asked the same question on an April 1-2 poll, conducted after Schiavo's death, 53% agreed with the feeding tube's removal while 41% disagreed. Gallup concluded that "These poll results, obtained after Schiavo's death on March 31, reflect an increase in opposition to the removal of the tube compared to mid-March data." The poll also showed continued strong disapproval for Congress's involvement in the case.
 Activism and protests
U.S. President George W. Bush, Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, many Republicans, several Democrats in the Florida Legislature and U.S. Congress, and Vatican officials have sided with Schiavo's parents. Other groups and individuals, including the American Civil Liberties Union as well as many Democratic and several Republican legislators, have expressed support for the position of Michael Schiavo. One individual activist even filed a pro se appeal with the Florida State Supreme Court.
Various Christian organizations demanded that Schiavo's feeding tube be reinserted. Most of these groups are affiliated with the Christian right, but consumer activist Ralph Nader and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, a Democrat and civil rights activist, also called for Schiavo's feeding tube to be reinserted. On March 29, Jackson prayed with the Schindler family outside of Schiavo's Florida hospice. Some groups, such as Not Dead Yet, also protested the removal of the feeding tube because they felt it violated the rights of the disabled.
Forty-seven protesters, including many children, were arrested outside the hospice where Schiavo was located. Most of these were non-violent, staged arrests for trespassing, made when protestors crossed a police line in a symbolic attempt to bring water to Schiavo. One man ran past police and reached the front door of the hospice carrying a glass of water for Terri; he was stunned with a Taser and was apprehended.
Arrests were made in two separate murder plots against Michael Schiavo. Richard Alan Meywes of North Carolina was accused of offering $250,000 over the Internet for the murder of Michael Schiavo and $50,000 for the murder of Judge George Greer. Because of the nature of his crimes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was involved in the case, and Meywes was charged under Federal law.
In another case Michael Mitchell of Rockford, Illinois, attempted to rob a Florida gun store as part of an effort to "rescue Terri Schiavo." He walked into a Seminole, Florida gun store, where he brandished a box cutter and smashed a glass case in an attempt to take a gun. When the store owner confronted him with his own gun, Mitchell fled and was later arrested.
Additionally, the wife of one of Michael Schiavo's brothers has been targeted; a white car drove by her home three times over the course of several hours, and on the last pass the driver shouted to her, "If Terri dies, I'm coming back to shoot you and your family." Another of Michael Schiavo's brothers says that he receives death threats every time the case is in the news. .
On the day Schiavo died, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay criticized the legal system and said, "The time will come for the men responsible [the judges] for this to answer for their behavior." He also threatened to impeach the judges who refused to intervene on Schiavo's behalf. "We will look at an unaccountable, arrogant, out-of-control judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president," DeLay said. On April 14, 2005, DeLay held a news conference and issued an apology for the tone of his comments. He stated, "I said something in an inartful way, and I shouldn't have said it that way, and I apologize for saying it that way."
Judge Greer and his family are under protection from U.S. Marshals due to death threats (as recently as March 2005) for having ruled against restoring Schiavo's feeding tube. Additionally, he has been asked to leave his Southern Baptist congregation, Calvary Baptist Church, in Clearwater.
During the final stages of the court battle in March 2005, around 30 individuals made a variety of complaints to the DCF, alleging various abuses. These included Terri Schiavo being in pain from recent dental work, although she had not had any dental work for years prior to that, and sensory deprivation. DCF investigators found the claims to be groundless, stating that there were "no indicators" of abuse in any of the cases and concluding that "the preponderance of the evidence shows that Michael Schiavo followed doctors' orders regarding Ms. Schiavo's diagnosis of being in a persistent vegetative state and that he provided her with appropriate care."
Conservatives and disabled rights groups hold that this is a landmark case where a guardian's judgment was disputed, but ended with a court order to remove nutrition and hydration from a human being, not otherwise at risk of death, and deprived her of her right to life.
Liberals and groups such as the ACLU hold this was a private matter and the actions of the Schindlers interfered with the guardianship authority of Michael Schiavo and the privacy rights of Terri Schiavo.
Advocates indicate that the rate of living will creation has increased since Terri Schiavo died. An alternate mechanism is for a person to name a close relative or one whom they trust to speak for them, granting him or her power of attorney for medical issues.
The case prompted bishop William Skylstad, president of the USCCB, to ask the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith some questions as to the moral theology in such cases. The reply of August 1, 2007, released by the Holy See on September 14, 2007, was, to the questions posed:
- First question: Is the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a "vegetative state" morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient’s body or cannot be administered to the patient without causing significant physical discomfort?
- Response: Yes. The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented.
- Second question: When nutrition and hydration are being supplied by artificial means to a patient in a "permanent vegetative state", may they be discontinued when competent physicians judge with moral certainty that the patient will never recover consciousness?
- Response: No. A patient in a "permanent vegetative state" is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means.
Schiavo's case has focused attention on end-of-life medical ethics.
 Schindler family activism after Schiavo's death
The Schindler family started the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation in 2001 to oppose the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube. After her death, the foundation reorganized to address similar situations. In 2010 the foundation was renamed the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. Collin Raye became the network’s national spokesperson in September 2011.
A number of discussions about the case of Terri Schiavo, and links to commentaries about many aspects of the case are listed below.
- "Before fight over death, Terri Schiavo had a life." CNN. October 25, 2003.
- Bousquet, Steve, "How Terri's Law came to pass" St. Petersburg Times. November 2, 2003.
- Fackelmann, Kathleen. "Schiavo not likely to experience a painful death, neurologists say." USA Today. March 23, 2005.
- Kumar, Anita. "The Terri Schiavo case: Before the circus." St. Petersburg Times. April 3, 2005.
- Quill, Timothy E., MD. "Terri Schiavo—A Tragedy Compounded." New England Journal of Medicine. April 21, 2005.
- Rufty, Bill. "Doctors lament misuse of proper terminology in Schiavo debate." The Ledger. March 23, 2005.
- Shannon, Thomas A. and Walter, James J. "Artificial nutrition, hydration: Assessing papal statement." National Catholic Reporter. April 16, 2004
- Wilson, Jamie. "Schiavo autopsy vindicates husband." The Guardian, June 16, 2005.