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:
- Physician-assisted suicide (now often called doctor-assisted-suicide) is legal in three U.S. states (Oregon, Washington, and Vermont) and is not illegal in two others (Montana and New Mexico). The Canadian Supreme Court laid the groundwork for legalized assisted suicide in that nation. Brittany Maynard moved to Oregon. Suffering from terminal brain cancer, she took her life under the Death with Dignity act.
- Then-Governor of Florida Jeb Bush—who signed Terri’s law and tried to overrule the courts and Terri’s legal guardian—is a 2016 GOP Presidential candidate.
- Terri’s family created a foundation in her name, The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. Its goal is to “develop a national network of resources and support for medically-dependent, persons with disabilities and the incapacitated who are in or potentially facing life-threatening situations.” They have been involved with the Jahi McMath case, overseeing moving Jahi’s body from California to a facility in New Jersey.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.