TEXT ON SCREEN: October 15, 2003
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 10-22-03): DAN RATHER: In the debate over a sick patients right to die, there has rarely if ever been a case like the one in Florida.
NARRATION: In 2003, America watched as a private familys struggle became a very public feud.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 10-22-03): PETER JENNINGS: Terri Schiavos husband and her parents in Florida have been fighting for a long time about whether her feeding tube should be disconnected.
NARRATION: And a personal battle eventually sparked a political firestorm.
ARCHIVAL (COMEDY CENTRAL, THE DAILY SHOW, 3-24-05): JONATHAN STEWART: Im asking you, isnt she being murdered?
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 3-25-05): JOIE CHEN: An extraordinary session here on Capitol Hill.
ARCHIVAL (CSPAN, 3-21-05): REPRESENTATIVE JIM DAVIS: Tonight, this Congress is about to commit a travesty
NARRATION: Today, were still grappling with end of life issues. But will scientific advancements help to clarify them or only make them more complicated?
DR. ADRIAN OWEN: Some patients who appear to be entirely vegetative are actually quite the opposite.
THE LEGACY OF TERRI SCHIAVO
NARRATION: Terri Schiavos case started long before the cameras appeared. It was February of 1990 when the 26 year old suffered a cardiac arrest.
BOBBY SCHINDLER (TERRI SCHIAVOS BROTHER): She went several minutes without oxygen from her collapse and experienced a profound brain injury.The first couple of days, doctors didnt know if she was going to live or die.
NARRATION: Lack of oxygen left Schiavo with severe brain damage, and in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state, or PVS a condition in which the parts of the brain that control thinking and awareness are damaged or destroyed. Only the brain stem, which controls basic reflexes like breathing, remains.
Initially, Terris husband and parents cared for her together exploring potential treatments and rehabilitation. But, four years after her collapse, Michael Schiavo says doctors gave him a grim prognosis.
MICHAEL SCHIAVO (TERRI SCHIAVOS HUSBAND): It was to a point where Terri wasnt going to function. There was nothing more. And they told us, her mother was sitting right there at the time, there was nothing more they could do for Terri.
NARRATION: In 1998, Michael Schiavo petitioned to have his wifes feeding tube removed, saying she had told him and others she would not want to live in this condition.
Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, fought desperately to keep her alive insisting that removing her feeding tube would be tantamount to murder.
BOBBY SCHINDLER: People think Terri was in a coma, she was brain dead, she was terminal. Terri was not dying Terri had a profound brain injury and our family wanted to care for her just the way she was.
NARRATION: With no living will expressing her wishes, it was up to the state courts to decide Terris fate.
ARTHUR CAPLAN (BIOETHECIST, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER): They went to court more than anybody has ever gone to court, in my experience, in fighting about an end of life care case.
GEORGE FELOS (MICHAEL SCHIAVOS LAWYER): This was probably the most litigated case that I can think of. We were up and down the federal court system, the state court system, many many times.
NARRATION: At least 19 judges heard the case through various appeals and the decisions were all ultimately in Michael Schiavos favor going back to the original court ruling that said there was clear and convincing evidence that Terri would not want to be kept alive, and that her feeding tube should be removed.
MICHAEL SCHIAVO: She told me what she wanted and the courts heard it. Over and over and over again.
NARRATION: For Terris parents, the legal decisions were devastating. They appealed to the media and the public.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 3-19-05): MARY SCHINDLER: Please please please, save my little girl. ARTHUR CAPLAN: They became a cause. They got picked up by talk radio. They had religious groups weighing in on their behalf.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 3-18-05): PROTESTOR: Spare this innocent child.
ARTHUR CAPLAN: It was a fear across the board of euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion and abandonment of the disabled, if you will. Thats what a lot of the motives were that drove those who rallied to the side of Terris parents.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 10-15-03): RANDALL TERRY (FOUNDER, OPERATION RESCUE): To deliberately starve her to death is an act of cruelty and ultimately its murder itself.
BOBBY SCHINDLER: Terri touched a nerve with so many people because they saw a family that was willing and wanting to care for her, they didnt understand why they werent being allowed to do that.
NARRATION: On both sides
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 3-21-05): PROTESTORS: Let Terri live!
NARRATION: emotions ran high.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 3-25-05): PROTESTOR: No one would want to live this way
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 3-25-05): PROTESTOR: Twenty times in court. Twenty times.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 3-25-05): PROTESTOR: This is the Roe vs. Wade of euthanasia.
MICHAEL SCHIAVO: I used to say, what are these people doing? Why Terri? Peoples feeding tubes are removed every day. To this day I dont know why. But it was very surreal.
ARCHIVAL (THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW, 2003): OPRAH WINFREY: Should Terri Schiavo live or die?
ARCHIVAL (COURT TV, 10-28-03): ANCHOR: What evidence is there that this woman has any brain function or not?
NARRATION: Michael Schiavo believes the media fanned the flames especially after the Schindlers released a series of videos that they said proved Terri was conscious and aware.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 10-21-03, AND SCHIAVO HOME VIDEOS): MARY SCHINDLER: Its mommy.
NARRATION: But Caplan says the videos were misleading.
ARTHUR CAPLAN: It was irresponsible beyond belief that it was run unchallenged and unexamined. It was too attractive to the media not to use. Here she is. But, it was assembled selectively and it was staged and it did not indicate what she could do.
NARRATION: Caplan says that what looked like intentional responses in Terri were just reflexes that are common in people in a persistent vegetative state.
ARTHUR CAPLAN: A lot of our bodily systems are run off that part of the brain that Terri still had. That tape used that fact and made it look as if she was thinking and feeling.
NARRATION: While most of the doctors who examined Schiavo believed she was in a vegetative state, not everyone in the medical community agreed.
ARCHIVAL (COURT TV, 10-28-03): WILLIAM HAMMERSFAHR: Theres a total of about 14 specialists in brain injury and stroke, which is her situation, who have come out to point out she is not in PVS, not in a coma, does respond, is alert, actually has even the ability to communicate.
NARRATION: With each side entrenched, argument turned to threats.
GEORGE FELOS: Its no fun getting up in the morning and looking under your car before you start the engine to see if theres a device because youve had people contact you saying theyre going to blow you to bits if you keep working on this case.
MICHAEL SCHIAVO: My house was invaded day in and day out. And these were people pushing their views on me, and I dont understand that. You have your view on things and you have your beliefs, thats great. But, dont stand outside somebody elses house and push that on them.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 3-25-05): PROTESTORS: Give Terri water!
NARRATION: And the more the fight played out in public, the more political it became.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 10-21-03): REPRESENTATIVE SANDRA MURMAN: Whos gonna look out for this girls rights? We have to.
NARRATION: In 2003, Florida legislators passed Terris Law, which gave Governor Jeb Bush the authority to reattach Schiavos feeding tube. The tube had been removed by court order six days earlier.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 10-23-03): JEB BUSH: We did what was right and Im proud of the legislature for responding
NARRATION: The state law was eventually found to be unconstitutional. But, in 2005 the fight moved to Capitol Hill.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 3-20-05): TERRY MORAN: There are extraordinary events happening in Washington tonight as the US Congress and president move toward passing a law before morning to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo
NARRATION: By then, Schiavos feeding tube had been removed again.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 3-21-05):REPRESENTATIVE TOM DELAY: If we do not act, she will die of thirst.
NARRATION: Conservative lawmakers led the charge to pass a law that would give Terris parents the chance to continue their fight in federal court.
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 3-20-05):SENATOR BILL FRIST: These are extraordinary circumstances that center on the most fundamental of human values and virtues the sanctity of human life.
NARRATION: Opponents argued that politicians had no place interfering in personal medical decisions.
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 3-20-05): Do we really want to insert ourselves in the middle of families private matters all across America?
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 3-20-05): REPRESENTATIVE JIM DAVIS: This Congress should respect the law and the rulings of courts and not trample the Constitution.
NARRATION: After a late night emergency session of Congress
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 3-21-05):For the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 3-21-05):NEWS REPORT: 203 years, 58 nays. The bill passed and without objection, a motion to reconsider is laid up on the table.
NARRATION: The bill was then rushed over to President Bush who signed it after midnight. But the law wasnt enough. A federal judge refused to order the feeding tube reinserted because he found the arguments were unlikely to succeed in federal court.
The Schindler family kept appealing, to no avail. And on March 31st, 2005, the long, painful public struggle was over.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 3-31-05):BOB SCHIEFFER: The end came this morning for Terri Schiavo and her husbands lawyer says she died peacefully 13 days after her feeding tube was removed.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 3-31-05):BOBBY SCHINDLER: Terri we love you dearly, but we know God loves you more than we do. We must accept your untimely death as Gods will.
NARRATION: Schiavos autopsy eventually confirmed what had been so hotly contested for years in court proceedings. The damage to her brain had been massive and irreversible.
Today, nine years after Schiavos death, while we are still struggling with end of life issues, advanced brain imaging is helping scientists better understand the minds of people who are unable to communicate. And theyre finding some surprising and unexpected results.
DR. ADRIAN OWEN (NEUROSCIENTIST, WESTERN UNIVERSITY, ONTARIO): It might be possible in some of these cases that what you see is not what you get.
NARRATION: Dr. Adrian Owen is a neuroscientist who is using brain scans to search for glimmers of consciousness in patients whove been diagnosed in a vegetative state. He says it wouldnt have worked with Terri Schiavo. But his method has shown promise with some patients.
Owen puts them in a high tech scanners and asks them to imagine doing certain activities, like playing tennis or moving around their home.
DR. ADRIAN OWEN: Were trying to get the patient to do something when we ask them to do it. But, of course they cant move, because thats part of the diagnosis of vegetative state. And now our question was, well can some of these patients do it with their brain?
ARCHIVAL (BBC DOCUMENTARY): DR. ADRIAN OWEN: I want you to imagine playing tennis, only if the answer to the question is yes. Does your sister, Jen, have a daughter? Were gonna start the scan now.
NARRATION: He looks to see if his question will activate a specific part of the brain.
ARCHIVAL (BBC DOCUMENTARY): DR. ADRIAN OWEN: Thats pretty good. Hes got this whole band of activity. Steven, we can see your brain lighting up when you try to answer the question.
NARRATION: Even though the sample size is small, Owens work has garnered attention from the scientific community. He found that nearly 20 percent of the patients hes tested patients who meet the criteria for being vegetative have shown signs of awareness, including some, like Steven, who seem to answer simple yes or no questions using only their minds.
For now, Owen is avoiding the toughest question of all.
DR. ADRIAN OWEN: We really havent got to the point of asking really tricky ethical questions like, do you want to live or die. In part, thats because the appropriate ethical frameworks arent yet in place for deciding what we would do with that information.
NARRATION: Almost of the patients whove shown evidence of awareness have suffered from trauma, or blows to the head not oxygen deprivation like Schiavo.
But Bobby Schindler says the extent of her injuries wouldnt have made a difference to his family.
BOBBY SCHINDLER: I think its important to also understand that none of this mattered to my family in this battle. It didnt matter to us if Terri never improved from her condition. We loved her unconditionally. We loved her that way.
ARCHIVAL (MSNBC, 1-3-14):REPORTER: The family of a little girl left on life support after tonsil surgery goes horribly wrong gets a really powerful ally.
NARRATION: Today, Schindler and his family remain in the public eye. They run a non-profit in Terris memory to help families facing similar issues.
ARCHIVAL (MSNBC, 1-3-14): BOBBY SCHINDLER: We have a team put together and were doing everything we can to get Jahi out of the situation with the hospital
NARRATION: In one way or another, Terri Schiavos plight continues to leave a mark on the nation. It inspired an initial increase in living wills and advance directives just after she died. And in 2007, she ranked just below Mother Theresa and Oprah on a list of people who moved us most in the last quarter century.
MICHAEL SCHIAVO: I think the country has learned something. I hope they say, remember the Terri Schiavo story. What do you want me to do if something happens to you? Im hoping thats Terris legacy. Now shes at peace. She has what she wanted and as her gravestone says at the bottom, I kept my promise.