Today marks a dark moment in America’s history. Terri Schiavo succumbed to 13 horrific days of being denied food and water.
Withholding nutrition and hydration is a brutal and sadistic way to kill a human being. It wouldn’t be done to an animal, and if it were, there would be swift retribution. But during March of 2005, Terri Schiavo died from this inhumane court sanctioned death sentence.
Shortly after Terri’s death, I traveled with a film crew to St. Petersburg, Florida to interview Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri’s parents and her two siblings Bobby and Suzanne. Our goal was to keep Terri’s memory alive and support their new organization, the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation.
Four years later, they consented to a follow-up interview even though Bob had suffered a stroke which impacted his health. Later, Bobby shared that I was the only person his dad trusted enough to do an interview with the family.
Bob seemed to grieve the most deeply. Men are wired by their Creator with a strong desire to provide for and protect their family. His inability to protect Terri from intentional death left a gapping wound on his heart, and in our follow up interview Bob addressed this.
Joni Eareckson Tada, with the Joni and Friends International Disability Center is both a good friend and one of the nation’s most eloquent spokespersons for the disabled. I asked her to reflect on the anniversary of Terri’s death and she gave this call to arms.
“As I reflect on national trends since the tragic death of Terri Schiavo, I’m calling for a stronger stand in shoring up tougher protections for Americans with cognitive disabilities. Sadly, her death opened a floodgate of policies that have endangered countless Americans with disabilities including making it easier for court-appointed guardians to withhold food and water from those they are charged to protect.”
Currently, I serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the organization and asked the family to share some memories about Terri and their dauntless effort to save her life, including what they want Americans to remember about Terri.
Mary said, “As a mother, I wish people would have had the opportunity to know my daughter. Terri was funny, with a contagious laugh, a fighting spirit, and an undeniable will to live.”
Bobby expressed amazement at how deeply his sister continues to impact others. “It has been 16 years since Terri’s death, and I am astonished by the number of people who continue to contact my family, not only deeply disturbed how Terri was deliberately killed, but how she continues to touch hearts and impact the lives of so many.”
Suzanne wants people to know that Terri was loved and valued. “The most important thing for everyone to remember about Terri is that she was a daughter and a sister. She was loved and an important member of our family. And no disability makes someone’s life disposable.”
When asked about their most vivid memory during the battle to save Terri’s life, Mary reflected, “For almost two weeks, my family had to witness Terri being purposely starved and dehydrated to death, and there was nothing we could do to stop it.”
Bobby was impacted by the many others who felt like him. “The countless number of people who were unable to make sense of the fact that our courts would sanction an American citizen with a cognitive disability to be starved and dehydrated to death.”
For Suzanne it was the horrible images that she could never forget. “My most vivid memory is the last few minutes I had with Terri in her room, minutes before she died. That horrific vision will forever be seared into my brain.”
Joni sums it up perfectly. “As never before, may Terri’s passing re-energize the pro-life movement in safeguarding people with disabilities – never should a profound cognitive disability serve as a license to kill!”
Please pray for Terri’s family today as they observe another anniversary punctuated with both cherished and traumatic memories.
Defending innocent human life,