Every year, I write to honor my sister, Terri Schiavo, on March 31st, the anniversary of her death, and reflect on the state of our nation when it comes to the treatment of our medically vulnerable.
For those who do not remember, Terri, at the age of 26, experienced a still unexplained collapse while at home alone with her husband, Michael Schiavo, which resulted in a severe brain injury. Despite widespread characterizations that suggested she was near death in the years after her injury, Terri was not dying, and did not suffer from any life-threatening disease. She was neither on machines, nor was she “brain dead.”
Sadly, after a few years of caring for Terri, Michael, who was Terri’s guardian, lost interest in his brain injured, but otherwise healthy, young wife, and eventually petitioned the courts for permission to deliberately starve and dehydrate her to death.
On the order of Judge George W. Greer, Terri was deprived of water and food, and after 13 days, she died on March 31st, 2005 of severe dehydration.
We commemorate “Terri’s Day” each spring to honor her memory and pray for all of our medically vulnerable brothers and sisters. This year, EWTN is commemorating “Terri’s Day” on April 7th through an internationally televised mass with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, followed by a special interview with Fr. Mitch Pacwa, the Archbishop, and me.
The Network’s Impact
In response to Terri’s death, my family established the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network to advocate for medically vulnerable persons. Since the Network’s founding, we’ve been honored to have helped more than 2,500 patients and families access the advocates and resources they need to fight in their time of crisis.
Too often, medically vulnerable persons face having their basic care denied, as rising health care cost, and a “quality of life” mentality continue to influence the care they receive.
It’s not coincidental that every year since the Network’s founding, calls to our 24/7 Crisis Lifeline increase. Worse than the calls themselves is the nature of so many of them.
One example is the recent case of Tabetha Long, a young woman who experienced cardiac arrest that resulted in an anoxic brain injury. Tabetha’s doctors were optimistic with her initial test results having varying degrees of responsiveness.
Incredibly—and what is still difficult to explain—her mother, who was making her medical treatment decisions, admitted her daughter into hospice where, subsequently, her food and water were stopped. Instead of the chance for rehabilitation, she was denied food and water.
Thankfully, Tabetha’s boyfriend began asking questions, and we were able to identify a supportive attorney for Tabetha who convinced courts to intervene, remove Tabetha from hospice, and restore her food and water. Since then, she has been discharged and is now living at home.
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