Bobby Schindler, brother of late Terri Schiavo, spoke to members of the Cornell community last night to promote awareness of issues facing disabled individuals.
After collapsing in her home on Feb. 25, 1990, Terri Schiavo suffered several minutes without oxygen to her brain, resulting in severe brain damage. Although she needed immediate care afterwards, a few weeks later, she only required a feeding tube to regulate her nutrition.
During 1991 and 1992, Schiavo showed signs of improvement due to rehabilitation programs and therapy, according to Schindler.
In 1993, Terri was awarded a medical trust fund of $1.5 million for life-long rehabilitation, of which her husband Michael was made guardian.
According to Schindler, after Michael deposited this money, Terri stopped receiving therapy.
Tensions arose in 1993 between Michael and Terri’s father Robert Schindler.
In 1998, Michael wrote the Schindler family a letter, explaining that he was petitioning the courts to remove his wife’s feeding tube.
Terri’s family opposed removal of the feeding tube. Michael, backed by his brother and sister-in-law, said Terri had made statements before she suffered brain damage that she would not want to live in such a condition.
“Our family was very naïve at what we were up against,” Schindler said. “The attitudes of our country [toward this issue] have been changed because of the influence of the media, judges, doctors and bioethics.”
Schindler said he was frustrated that the media portrayed his sister as bedridden and unable to be moved. In fact, Schindler said, had Terri been alive today, he could have brought her with him; she would have merely needed a wheelchair to be transported. Schindler emphasized that Schiavo was not connected to breathing stabilizers of any sort.
“My sister was not dying. She was physically as healthy as you and me,” Schindler said.
Although she could not respond rapidly, she did show signs of coherence, according to Schindler. He recounted a moment when he told his sister that he had the chance to shake hands with Bruce Springstein. Terri had purchased her brother his first C.D. by the artist. When he told her, she smiled.
Such responses were ignored by the court systems, according to Schindler. He said he believed then that videos demonstrating her ability to react to speech would convince the courts that she was not in a persistent vegetative state — one in which a person cannot respond to any external stimuli — but a judge said this did not prove his case.
On March 31, 2005, 14 days after the removal of her feeding tube, Terri died from dehydration.
“The courts have taken [on] a power of God,” Schindler said.
Schindler said doctors took on a similar role and are still quick to overlook the benefits of long-term rehabilitation.
“If society knows the truth, then we can properly address the issue and give [the disabled] the right to live, a basic human right,” said Elisabeth Wilbert ’07, vice president of Cornell Coalition for Life.
CCFL invited Schindler to speak to demonstrate that the club supports pro-life organizations.
“It was a good opportunity for Cornell to get a personal view of something with such a national interest,” said Tristen Cramer ’09, president of CCFL.
Schindler said his family would have preferred not to generate national interest; family members received a large number of e-mails that condemned the family for keeping Terri alive.
“I learned a lot more true information compared to what the media portrayed,” said Kourtney Reynolds ’09.
Schindler said he hopes to devalue false information given to the public by the media.
He also said that euthanasia occurred before his family’s struggle and continues to occur today.
“Are we going to care for [the disabled] or find ways to justify killing them?” Schindler asked.