On February 25, 1990, the beginning of one of the world’s most controversial and polarizing medical debates would take root. A woman named Terri Schiavo had suffered cardiac arrest in her apartment in St. Petersburg, Florida. Although Schiavo was successfully revived, the lack of oxygen going to her brain had led to serious brain damage that would put her into a coma. From then on, Terri Schiavo would be on life support; hooked up to a feeding tube in a persistent vegetative state. Due to the tragic incident that had taken place, Terri Schiavo’s husband, Michael began to lose hope. In 1995 he requested that her life support was removed so that he could begin looking for closure. Michael Schiavo felt his wife wouldn’t have wanted to live in a comatose state with no ability to interact, communicate, or express herself to her loved ones and the outside world.
Terri’s parents strongly disagreed with Michael, with the assertion that continuing her life support could lead to her eventual recovery. Because the two parties had reached an impasse, Michael Schiavo petitioned in a Florida court to remove his wife’s life support. After a long legal battle, the court ruled in Michael’s favor and the feeding tube was set to be removed. Terri Schiavo’s parents persisted, maintaining that removing life support went against what their daughter would have wanted. After a chain of legal battles and interference from Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who contended that removing Schiavo’s life support took away her right to privacy, it was ultimately decided that her feeding tube would be removed. Despite the large amount of backing to keep Terri Schiavo on life support, things would eventually go as her husband had wished and she would die on March 31, 2005.
This case was an enormous eye-opener that had garnered massive attention and led to a major debate on who had the right to control the outcome of one’s life. 15 years from the day that Terri Schiavo died, it is still difficult to determine the morality of associated problems like euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. As the ethics of medicine continue to be challenged, it’s crucial to remember that there’s no one-size fits all solution when it comes to somebody’s life. Terri Schiavo’s death has and will continue to merit discussions about difficult topics that will progress our ethical standpoint on medicine.