The controversy over Terri Schiavo’s case elevated a family matter into a political battle that continues to frame end-of-life issues today.
Terri Schiavo’s case started long before the cameras appeared. In February 1990, the 26-year-old suffered cardiac arrest and was left in a persistent vegetative state. Initially, Schiavo’s husband and parents cared for her together, exploring potential treatments and rehabilitation. But over time, Schiavo’s husband and parents became locked in a very public battle over whether or not to remove the feeding tube that sustained her.
Michael Schiavo petitioned to have his wife’s feeding tube removed, saying she had told him she would not want to live in this condition. But Terri Schiavo had no living will, and so it was up to the state courts to decide her fate. As the legal struggle played out, the case divided the country. Before the 15-year battle was over, the Florida legislature, the Florida governor, the U.S. Congress, the President of the United States and even the Pope were involved.
Terri Schiavo’s case also raised an issue that has long plagued the medical community: how to determine the degree of brain function in a nonresponsive patient. Today, nine years after Schiavo’s death, new scientific research is underway to try to answer that question.