Kathleen Gilbert

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‘There’s not a day that goes by we don’t think of Terri’: 6 years since Schiavo tragedy

Kathleen Gilbert

AVE MARIA, Florida, March 31, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - On March 31, 2005, a Florida woman who was at the center of an intense nationwide controversy took her last breath, after thirteen days without food or water. A bouquet of flowers sat in a vase of water next to the bed where Terri Schiavo lay, forbidden under court order from receiving the water she needed to sustain her life.

Six years later, Terri’s family reverently recalled their loved one’s struggle to live, a struggle that became a measure of America’s conscience after attempts to overrule husband Michael Schiavo’s decision to withdraw her nutrition and hydration went as far as the United States Congress.

Although Terri’s story may have ended, Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother and founder of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, told LifeSiteNews.com that today - Terri’s Day - must call attention to the thousands of others who suffer silently in conditions similar to his sister’s.

“This was not an isolated case. What happened to Terri happens all the time in our country,” said Schindler. “There’s tens of thousands of others with the same type of cognitive disabilites that need our protection, our love and our compassion.”

Terri Schindler Schiavo suffered severe brain damage due to oxygen deprivation under mysterious circumstances in 1990. Her family members say that her husband Michael refused rehabilitation therapy for twelve years, which would have greatly improved her condition. Instead, Schiavo, who had moved in with another woman, fought Terri’s family to end her life by removing her feeding tube.

Despite drastic measures by then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the U.S. Congress and former President George W. Bush, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge George Greer ended the dispute by forbidding Terri from receiving food or water - whether through a feeding tube or by mouth.

Schindler, who attended a Catholic Mass in Terri’s memory at the oratory at Ave Maria University, said that today there lingers “apathy” and “an enormous amount of misinformation” both about Terri and others like her.

“Terri was not dying, people thought she had some kind of terminal illness ... there was no machines keeping her alive, she simply had a cognitive disability,” said Schindler. “The public just doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s easy to rationalize why we’re doing this to people like my sister.”

The family has been forced to fight not just apathy, but mockery as well: an episode of FOX cartoon show “Family Guy” in March 2010 satirized Terri’s death with a “musical” depicting the Florida woman hooked up to various machines and being referred to as a “vegetable.”

Last May, Michael Schiavo suddenly threatened to sue the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, known at the time as the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, for using his wife’s name and accused the group of mishandling donations, a claim the Schindlers denied.

Schindler said that, after responding by letter to Schiavo’s legal threat, the latter has given no response. “Our issue now is not Michael Schiavo, it’s helping others and trying to protect these people that are getting threatened every day,” he said.

Now, as one of the leading advocates for those with cognitive disabilities threatened with death by dehydration, Schindler says his painful inspiration is never far from his mind.

“There’s not a day that goes by we don’t think about Terri,” he said. “Having to watch a loved one die in such a horrible way - it’s something you never forget. You live with it every day.”

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