Suncoast: Who was Terri Schiavo? How Did She Die?

Image Credit: MSNBC (Between Life & Death: Terri Schiavo’s Story)

In Hulu’s ‘Suncoast,’ a teenage girl named Doris lives with her brother, who is on his deathbed after six years of being trapped in his own body. Around the same time, Doris witnesses the story of Terri Schiavo, who is in the same hospice where her brother is admitted. While she deals with her own feelings towards her brother’s imminent death, the protest against Terri’s death also attracts her attention, and she ends up striking an unlikely friendship with Paul, one of the protestors. But who was Terri, and why was there so much debate around her?

What Happened to Terri Schiavo?

Image Credit: MSNBC (Between Life & Death: Terri Schiavo’s Story)

The daughter of Robert and Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo was 26 years old when she suffered a cardiac arrest on February 25, 1990. It was found that she had an abnormally low potassium level, but the primary contributing factor to her collapse couldn’t be determined. Whatever the cause may have been, it cut off oxygen from her brain for about five minutes, and that threw her into a persistent vegetative state. She required mechanical assistance for breathing and had to be fed through a feeding tube. The doctors were unanimous on the conclusion that her condition was irreversible and that her brain had sustained so much damage that she was left incapable of any thoughts or emotions, let alone express them.

Terri’s husband of five years, Michael Schiavo, spent years trying to get her help that could turn things around even a little bit. He tried all sorts of medications and therapies, but eventually, he had to admit defeat. He recalled a conversation with his wife, where she’d once expressed her desire not to be kept alive on the machine. Seeing that there was no way she could come back from her current state, Michael decided to honor her wish and called for the removal of any life-sustaining support, including the feeding tube, in 1995. For Terri’s parents, however, this was entirely unacceptable, and when they couldn’t change their son-in-law’s mind, they took him to court to settle the matter.

Terri Schiavo’s Life-or-Death Case Became a National Sensation

Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005, at the age of 41, after spending fifteen years in a persistent vegetative state. She is laid to rest in Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park in Florida. Her death came after a years-long legal battle between her parents and her husband.

Image Credit: MSNBC (Between Life & Death: Terri Schiavo’s Story)

While Michael gathered support from the law, Terri’s parents received support from the masses, as a great number of people came out in their support to protest Michael’s decision. The parents exhausted all options, starting from the Florida Supreme Court to the US Supreme Court and gathering support from the legislators and the members of the US Congress. The case received so much attention that even the White House and the Pope were compelled to speak on the matter.

After years of exploring all avenues of possibilities, Terri’s parents lost the case in court, and on March 18, 2005, her feeding tube was removed. Even with that, it was expected that she would survive at least two weeks without it. Her family used this window to try to change the situation and have the feeding tube reinstated. The U.S. Senate and the House convened a special Sunday session to try and find a way around Michael’s win and save Terri’s life. The state legislature even passed a bill called Terri’s Law, which gave Florida’s then-Governor Jeb Bush the authority to reinstate the feeding tube; it was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Even then-President of the United States, George W Bush, shared his piece on the case and spoke in favor of Terri’s parents. A word from the Vatican was also sent out, asking the US to protect “the sanctity of life” and not let Terri Schiavo die. No matter who spoke for or against Terri’s death, the law superseded every opinion, and it dictated that Michael Schiavo had every right to go forward with making decisions on behalf of his wife, who wasn’t in any state to speak for herself anymore. The tube was not reinserted, and in the end, dehydration was ruled as the cause of Terri Schiavo’s death. Her autopsy further confirmed what the doctors had said a long time ago. Her brain showed irreparable damage and was found to be half the size of a normal adult’s. There was no way she could have gone back to a normal life.

Read More: Suncoast: Is Doris Inspired by a Real Person? Where is She Now?