Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo died today, ending an agonizing 15-year odyssey that divided a family and a nation over her right to die. She was 41.
Schiavo took her last breath at 9:05 a.m., 13 days after her life-sustaining tube was removed by a court order.
"It is with great sadness that it's been reported to us that Terri Schiavo has passed away," said Paul O'Donnell, a spokesman for the Schindlers. He said her parents would be making a statement later today.
"After an extraordinarily difficult and tragic journey, Terri Schiavo is at rest,'' Gov. Jeb Bush said in a written statement. "Many across our state and around the world are deeply grieved by the way Terri died. I feel that grief very sharply as well. I remain convinced, however, that Terri's death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society. For that, we can be thankful for all that the life of Terri Schiavo has taught us.
"I still firmly believe that human life is a gift and a mystery, and that its mystery is most evident at its beginning and ending. May all of us whose hearts were moved during the life of Terri Schiavo grow in wisdom at its ending."
President Bush said he joins the millions of Americans saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo.
"The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak," Bush said. "In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in favor of life."
David Gibbs III, lawyer for Schiavo's parents Bob and Mary Schindler, said outside the hospice that the parents were grieving in private. Terri Schiavo's siblings, Bobby Schindler and Suzanne Vitadamo, were in the room with her until 10 minutes before she died, Gibbs said.
"This is indeed a sad day for the nation, for the family. Their faith in God remains strong," Gibbs said. "God loves Terry more than they do. She is at peace."
In Tallahassee, Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, stopped debate on a bill to announce Schiavo's death.
"Regardless of your perspective on end of life issues, it is a very sad moment and it is a very reflective moment for a lot of us and I think it would appropriate to have a moment of silence in her honor," Lee told the Senate.
Sen. Daniel Webster, who unsuccessfully sought support for a bill written to keep Schiavo alive, stood with his eyes closed. Behind him Sen. Gary Siplin, who voted against the bill, held his hands out palm up and also closed his eyes.
In the state House, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, announced Schiavo's death. Baxley was one of the lawmakers pushing for a law with Sen. Webster.
"We've received word this morning that Terri Schiavo has departed this life and gone to her maker," Baxley said. "I know and I'm thankful that God has mercy on the souls of the innocent, and I pray that he'll forgive the rest of us. Our hearts are broken."
A small group of activists sang religious hymns outside the hospice, raising their hands to the sky and closing their eyes.
Dawn Kozsey, 47, a musician who was among those outside Schiavo's hospice, wept when she learned of the woman's death.
"Words cannot express the rage I feel," she said. "Is my heart broken for this? Yes."
A white van with police motorcycle escort took Terri Schiavo's body from the hospice to the Pinellas County medical examiner's office, said Pinellas Park police spokesman Sanfield Forseth. An autopsy was planned, with both sides hoping it would shed more light on the extent of her brain injuries.
Michael Schiavo has said his wife's body will be cremated. A funeral mass, sought by the Schindlers, was tentatively scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday.
Experts said her story was a lesson for countless Americans who never discussed, much less wrote down, what they would want if they were suddenly thrust into her tragic situation.
"Thanks to Terri, people who have never had that conversation are having it right now," said Kenneth Goodman, a medical ethicist at the University of Miami. "That is her legacy."
Born in Philadelphia on Dec. 3, 1963, Theresa Marie was the first child of Bob and Mary Schindler, devout Catholics who named her for Saint Theresa of Avila, the Carmelite mystic who, in an ironic parallel, reawakened religious fervor in her native Spain.
Shy and grossly overweight, Terri, as everybody called her, grew up in suburban Philadelphia, attending Catholic schools and Mass every week. She took notice of boys, but they didn't notice her, leaving her to rearrange the stuffed animals on her bed and dream of becoming a veterinarian.
By the time she graduated high school and entered Bucks County Community College in 1982, Terri had shed more than 100 of the 250 pounds on her 5-foot, 4-inch frame. Sitting in psychology class one day, she caught the eye -- or ear -- of a big, blond guy who was a year older and a foot taller. His name was Michael Schiavo.
"He heard her laughing and he looked over," recalled Brian Schiavo, one of Michael Schiavo's four brothers. "He was enthralled. It was kind of a love-at-first-sight thing. My brother got up the guts and invited her to a family function."
In the beginning, the Schiavos and Schindlers were close and friendly, so close the newlyweds lived in the basement of her parents' four-bedroom colonial for two years. When the couple packed up and moved to Florida in 1986, they lived in the Schindlers' Gulf coast condo, paying rent when they could.
An average student, Terri dropped college and her aspiration of being a vet, and took a job as a clerk with Prudential Life Insurance Co. Her husband worked as the food and beverage manager at a local restaurant.
About three years later, the couple was desperate to have a child and sought the services of a fertility expert. By this time, Terri's weight had dropped to 110 pounds. She was stunning and proud of it. She wore bikinis and gloried in her Florida tan, never divulging what might have been her secret: She may have been bulimic.
Then, in the early morning hours of Feb. 25, 1990, Terri suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed in the hallway of her St. Petersburg apartment. Doctors would later suspect a potassium imbalance brought on by an eating disorder. Her husband frantically called her father, then 911, but by the time paramedics resuscitated her, it was too late.
Without oxygen for too long, her brain was severely damaged.
For three years, Michael Schiavo kept vigil at her side, seeking aggressive rehabilitative therapy. He took her to California for experimental surgery, admitted her to a brain injury center in Bradenton and hired an aide to take her to parks, to museums, to the beauty shop -- anything to stimulate her. Later, he even became a critical care nurse so he could tend to her many needs.
But nothing drew Terri out of her cocoon and, by 1994, her husband accepted her doctors' prognosis. Her cerebral cortex was all but gone. She could not think, feel, reason or communicate and never would again. He decided it was time to let her go,
In 1998, he asked Pinellas County Circuit Judge George W. Greer to end his wife's artificial feedings and, over the objections of her parents, Greer agreed in 2000 that her husband had presented "clear and convincing evidence" she would not choose to subsist in a void, unaware of her environment, always dependent on others for her most basic needs.
She never said so in the unequivocal terms of a written living will, but her husband, his brother and his sister-in-law recalled casual conversations in which they said she made those wishes clear.
But her parents continued to fight those rulings for years, culiminating in the extraordinary actions of the Congress and president approving a law that would move her case to federal courts.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times