Schiavo’s brother tells his side of story

Anne Aaker

When Bobby Schindler, brother of the late Terry Schiavo, came to the front of Youngchild 121 Tuesday, he faced a packed lecture hall thick with opinions, presumptions and expectations.
The legal battle last year between Schindler’s family and Schiavo’s husband Michael created a chasm in U.S. public opinion and a national debate that continues today.
Townspeople, students and faculty alike filled the chairs and shared their views on the Schiavo case of 2005, but when Schindler spoke, all ears were open.
In his opening, Schindler told the audience that he was an advocate for people with disabilities and the elderly, who are treated differently than “normal” people.
He also said that his family saw the battle with Michael Schiavo as over. “Now it’s about the larger issue,” he said – the issue of treatment of the disabled and the euthanasia movement that Schindler he believes is growing throughout the United States.
Schindler and Schiavo’s relationship, according to Schindler, started when Terry met Michael Schiavo for the first time. A year or so later, the couple married. Terry was 21 years old.
Her collapse occurred seven years later in 1990, for unknown reasons. Afterward, Terry and Bobby were often together, about which he joked, “People often mistook us for husband and wife.”
Terry Schiavo began rehabilitation and therapy treatments which, after a year or so, brought back her ability to speak simple words such as “mommy” and “hot.”
With the collapse, however, came legal issues initiated by Michael Schiavo. He filed a lawsuit in order to bring Terry home from the rehabilitation center and to obtain money with which to help pay for her rehabilitation and other needs.
Schindler said that Schiavo won money that was to be put toward his own personal needs regarding Terry, as well as money that was deposited into Terry’s own bank account.
As soon as the money was put into her account, however, the Schindlers found themselves locked in a battle with Michael, and eventually the relationship between the family and their daughter’s husband was terminated.
In the spring of 1993, Michael Schiavo ordered doctors not to treat a urinary infection that Terry had contracted. Her fate now seemed to lie only in his hands – the family was powerless.
Schindler went on to talk about Terry’s alleged death wish that Michael supposedly told the court at a later trial. Schindler told the audience that it never came up that Terry actually told her husband to let her die if her condition worsened – but that Michael Schiavo thought that it was what she would want.
The topic gathered dust for a while until 1999, Schindler said, when Schiavo wanted to marry another woman. He was able to procure a euthanasia attorney and thus gained the “power to let Terry die.”
During a messy five-day trial in which Schiavo, his brother and his sister-in-law all testified that they had heard Terry express a death wish to her husband, the Schindler family and Terry’s close friends were all found not credible.
Schindler said that none of them had ever heard such a thing from her, but the court took Michael’s side.
The lecture was emotional at times. During a reading from Schindler’s journal he outlined the Schindler family’s wish to care for Terry until the end of her natural life. He went on to express what could well be the central point of the lecture: “She was disabled, and she was dependent on others – but she was alive.”
Schindler’s passion for the fight against the euthanasia movement is powerful. “We feel we can rationalize and justify killing disabled people because of disability or brain injury,” he said. “We feel that spending money on them is a waste – what value do they have? What worth? That’s how we justify it – killing them.”
Schindler also referred to the Holocaust in talking about death by euthanasia and the thousands of handicapped people who were exterminated in that manner because of their “defects.”
He read the caption from a Nazi poster, which stated the amount of money spent on care for the handicapped and used it as justification to kill them.
Schindler also spoke about the term “persistent vegetative state.” He informed the crowd that a feeding tube now counts not as ordinary care, but as life support.
Because of this, the removal of a feeding tube is now seen as the removal of medical treatment. In the eyes of the law, Schindler said, being starved and dehydrated are judged as dying naturally.
Schindler also mentioned a British study done on PVS which determined that PVS is misdiagnosed 43 percent of the time.
In his conclusion, Schindler mentioned the case of Christopher Reeve, who became quadriplegic after an accident and wanted to end his life because of his disabilities.
Schindler related the story of Dana Reeve, who wanted to care for him and talked him out of wanting to die and into inspiring hundreds of thousands with his story.
Dana Reeve, said Schindler, was hailed as a hero for wanting to care for her husband, but Bobby Schindler and the rest of his family were vilified for wanting to do the same thing for Terry.
But now, their fight is for the larger cause. “We’re not out to fight against personal choice,” Schindler said. “We are advocating a change for the handicapped laws – we are about the larger fight that our nation is engaged in.