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03/31/2015

Terri Schiavo: Ten Years Later

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Today acknowledges the tenth anniversary since the final death of Terri Schiavo. Her feeding tube was removed on March 18 and her body took its last breath on March 31, 2005.

This case was one of the most divisive in bioethics history. The issues in this case of removing feeding tubes and deciding who was the appropriate decision-maker had been largely settled by previous cases and experiences. What made this case unique was that a private family matter was thrust onto the international stage by political and money interests who saw an opportunity to further their own agendas at the cost of a family’s privacy and dignity. Politicians passed laws, made speeches, and overreached their constitutional powers to gain the limelight.

In the decade since her death, much has changed in the end-of-life landscape:

Ten years after Terri Schiavo died, the landscape of death and dying has become more progressive and more conservative. The divide on what death can and should be has only grown. The legacy of Terri Schiavo is that dying is more political than ever.

The lesson I take from this case is that dying is a personal and a medical issue. There is no role for politicians in this matter. A family’s grief should not become a plank in a campaign platform.

Even Terri’s burial was a point of contention between her husband and her parents. Michael Schiavo secretly interred her remains to avoid another drawn out legal battle. Her tombstone reads:

Born December 3, 1963
Departed this Earth
February 25, 1990
At Peace March 31, 2005
I Kept My Promise

Rest in peace Terri. May we all keep our promises.

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