Few involved in the Terri Schiavo saga emerged unscathed after her brother appeared as guest speaker Oct. 27 at the annual gala dinner of the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, held in the northern suburb of Richmond Hill.

Bobby Schindler devoted much of his talk to answering the question of how a woman who was not brain dead, terminally ill or succumbing to any disease could be starved and dehydrated to death in March 2005, despite the fact her immediate family was willing to care for her until her natural passing. As it was, it was a conspiracy of factors that determined the final outcome, which was played out to headlines and media coverage throughout the world.

“Contrary to how Terri was portrayed by Michael Schiavo, her husband, and the popular media, she did not have to be confined to a bed,” said Schindler. “My sister only needed a wheelchair and could have been taken anywhere. If she was still alive today, she could be with us here tonight.”

Having had a direct perspective from her bedside, he described Terri’s death as “unnatural and gruesome,” contrary to the depiction put forth by her husband, his attorney and other pro-death advocates.

“For almost two weeks, my family was forced to watch my younger sister die and suffer through the very real and grisly effects of terminal dehydration,” he said. “I listened to proponents of the so-called right-to-die movement deceive news audiences that what my sister endured was a gentle, peaceful demise. I sat on the edge of the bed, trying so hard to understand that what I was witnessing was actually real.”

Schindler emphasized that early medical reports verified Terri was initially responding to therapy and rehabilitation, and had begun to speak by forming words. But all forms of therapy were ordered stopped by Michael Schiavo in 1992, despite signs of improvement. Schindler said Schiavo admitted that in 1993, he tried to hasten Terri’s death by not having her treated for a urinary tract infection she suffered, before her nursing home stepped in. Schiavo also had two extra-marital relationships while still married to Terri.

Schindler added Schiavo coincidentally stood to inherit about $1 million from a trust fund established as a result of a successful medical malpractice lawsuit.

Schindler said it is important to analyze what happened to his sister, so as to try to prevent similar scenes from playing out across the U.S. and throughout the world. He quoted Wesley J. Smith, an attorney and author of books on bioethics, who said that morality in the 21st century will depend on how we answer one simple and profound question – does every human life have equal and moral value simply and merely because it is human?

Schindler cited three developments as playing a pivotal role in assuring his sister’s death: feeding tubes have come to be regarded as extraordinary care and artificial life support; Terri was diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state” by doctors appointed by Michael Schiavo; and the judge presiding over the case decided Terri wanted to die.

As far as the main villains in the case, Schindler began by fingering Judge George Greer of the Sixth Circuit Court of Florida, who would accept no proof that anything would improve Terri’s quality of life to the point where she would have wanted to stay alive.

“We were before a judge who found no value in my sister’s life. Sadly, it seems this mindset belongs to a growing number of judges across our nation. They’re in positions of making life and death decisions.”

Schindler then moved on to a bioethicist appointed by Michael Schiavo, who argued that persons in a persistent vegetative state lack personhood and have no constitutional rights. Consciousness, claimed the bioethicist, is the most critical basis for determining whether personhood exists or not.

Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, was next in line. Schindler characterized Felos as a man who “uses the legal system as a licence to kill.” Indicative of Felos’s mindset were statements he made in an earlier book that described feelings he harboured toward his wife: “I was on fire, fuelled by thoughts of bludgeoning and tearing her apart.”

In the Schiavo case, Felos derisively referred to the disabled woman as “a housewife.” In contradiction of Schindler’s witness, Felos stated he had “never seen such a look of peace and beauty” on Terri as during her starvation and dehydration. “She looked beuatiful,” he claimed.

As far as Michael Schiavo is concerned, Schindler stated the family believes there was and is enough evidence to indicate her husband may have been responsible for whatever caused Terri to fall into her condition. “There were indications of spousal abuse. Also, there were episodes of very violent temper illustrated by Michael Schiavo.” He quoted an internationally known psychiatrist who observed Schiavo fit the profile of a wife abuser along the lines of an O.J. Simpson or Scott Peterson.

The local Catholic church clergy in Florida also didn’t fare well in Schindler’s assessment of who was most instrumental for Terri’s death. Father Gerald Murphy, a priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, presented himself as an expert on the Catholic church’s teachings regarding end-of-life care and testified in court that food and water do, in fact, constitute extraordinary care and artificial life support. Murphy suggested the opinions and wishes of rank-and-file Catholics trump the official teachings of the Catholic church itself, said Schindler.

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg proved a big disappointment, said Schindler. “Bishop Lynch’s behaviour coincided with Father Murphy’s position … (he) ignored all our requests for assistance. Rather, he remained silent, offering no genuine help or spiritual support for Terri or my family … many believe the bishop’s silence was essentially ensuring Terri’s death and thereby voicing the euthanasia movement’s agenda.”

Schindler added priests and bishops across the U.S. also were unwilling to speak on behalf of Terri and, in fact, condoned her death. “At the present time, there is unfortunately a lot of confusion among Catholics in regard to this issue,” he said.

Schindler concluded by citing biased and inaccurate coverage by the mainstream media, which came as little surprise given the long-running anti-life stance of the fourth estate.

Schindler and his family are keeping Terri’s fight-for-life spirit going with the establishment of the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to ensuring the rights of disabled, elderly and vulnerable citizens against care rationing, euthanasia and medical killing. For more information, go to its website at: www.terrisfight.org. The foundation has also produced a book, A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo – A Lesson for Us
, written by the Schindler family. All proceeds from its sale go to the foundation.

Prior to Schindler’s address, in her annual assessment of the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area’s activities, executive director Natalie Hudson focused on this past summer’s Silent No More billboard campaign. One large billboard and 15 street-level advertisements were purchased through the association’s media fund, resulting in six per cent of the population – or more than 250,000 people – seeing the ads. The association was also busy with school presentations, which numbered in the hundreds over the past year, she said.

-With files from Chris Spadafora and Andrew Kukkonen