The Terri Schiavo case was a right-to-die legal case in the United States from 1990 to 2005, involving Theresa Marie “Terri” Schiavo, a woman in an irreversible persistent vegetative state. Schiavo’s husband and legal guardian argued that Schiavo would not have wanted prolonged artificial life support without the prospect of recovery, and elected to remove her feeding tube. Schiavo’s parents argued in favor of continuing artificial nutrition and hydration and challenged Schiavo’s medical diagnosis. The highly publicized and prolonged series of legal challenges presented by her parents, which ultimately involved state and federal politicians up to the level of President George W. Bush, caused a seven-year delay before Schiavo’s feeding tube was ultimately removed.
Schiavo had a cardiac arrest in her St. Petersburg, Florida, home on February 25, 1990. She was resuscitated, but had massive brain damage due to lack of oxygen to her brain and was left comatose. After two and a half months without improvement, her diagnosis was changed to that of a persistent vegetative state. For the next two years, doctors attempted speech and physical therapy and other experimental therapy, hoping to return her to a state of awareness, without success. In 1998, Schiavo’s husband, Michael, petitioned the Sixth Circuit Court of Florida to remove her feeding tube pursuant to Florida law. He was opposed by Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, who argued that she was conscious. The court determined that Schiavo would not have wished to continue life-prolonging measures, and on April 24, 2001, her feeding tube was removed for the first time, only to be reinserted several days later. On February 25, 2005, a Pinellas County judge again ordered the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. Several appeals and federal government intervention followed, which included U.S. President George W. Bush returning to Washington D.C. to sign legislation designed to keep her alive. After appeals through the federal court system upheld the original decision to remove the feeding tube, staff at the Pinellas Park hospice facility disconnected the feeding tube on March 18, 2005, and Schiavo died on March 31, 2005.
In all, the Schiavo case involved 14 appeals and numerous motions, petitions, and hearings in the Florida courts; five suits in federal district court; extensive political intervention at the levels of the Florida state legislature, then-governor Jeb Bush, the U.S. Congress, and President George W. Bush; and four denials of certiorari from the Supreme Court of the United States. The case also spurred highly visible activism from the pro-life movement, the right-to-die movement, and disability rights groups. Since Schiavo’s death, both her husband and her family have written books on their sides of the case, and both have also been involved in activism over its larger issues.