Interview: Mary Schindler, Mother of Terri Schiavo

The story of Terri Schiavo, a 41-year-old disabled woman whose struggle for life has carried on for seven years through dozens of court cases, has won the hearts and support of millions worldwide. Terri’s story began 15 years ago, when at the vibrant age of 26, she collapsed at her home after oxygen flow to her heart stopped for several minutes. Since then, she has relied on a feeding tube for hydration and nutrition. Beginning seven years ago, her husband Michael, who has a live-in girlfriend with whom he has fathered two children, launched a massive legal effort to disconnect Terri’s feeding tube. Terri’s parents, Mary and Bob Schindler, came to her defense and hired their own legal counsel to defend their daughter’s right to life.

The following is the text of a Feb. 14 interview with Mary Schindler:

So many people have been outpouring their support for Terri. Why is that?

This case is important because if the courts can do this to her, they can do this to anybody. Since she doesn’t have a living will, they could just say she wanted it to be a certain way without proof. They could do this to any disabled person who is in a condition similar like her. This could happen to a lot of people.

Terri’s case is a test case for removing feeding tubes. This kind of case happens sometimes, but it happens in the backroom, never so public as Terri’s case. But if they starve her to death, no disabled person is safe because this could happen to anyone. So if you have a stroke, does that mean you can just be killed? This case is more than just about Terri.

How has God been helping You?

He has been keeping us with strength, and he has helped Terri tremendously. We pray every day, and if we didn’t have God, we wouldn’t be able to keep our sanity. With his help, we’ve had three or four miracles so far – just the fact that Terri is still living after her feeding tube for seven days is a miracle. Terri’s organs could have been affected, but there were absolutely no adverse affects, and she was wonderful.

(BOB) We have faith in God, and he has provided us with miracles. We have seen it, and we know he is involved. We have trust in God and in people – the people who have been supporting us.

What give you the strength to carry on?

The first and foremost strength is Terri, and the fact that we have a commitment to her so she can get the proper therapy. She is a sick girl and she deserves medical care. She needs therapy to help her swallow, and though she is talking, she needs help to express herself. There is a variety of things that could help, but she hasn’t received any of that for the past ten years. That is our driving force: we want to take care of her.

What can Christians do to support Terri’s fight?

We encourage people to pray and we encourage supporters to let the Florida legislature know that people are concerned about her. I pray for Michael that his heart will soften up, and I also ask that may folks could pray.

Where is Terri now?

She’s in a hospice. She’s been in there for five years, and she can’t get out. Normally people are taken to the hospice when they are expected to die in a few months, but she continues to live. She’s a beautiful girl with peaches and cream complexion and her smile is wonderful. She’s very electrifying, in fact, and she’s not in a coma. She’s interactive and she smiles when you address her. She’s just like you and me, except she just eats differently. She could even be sitting here in a wheelchair right next to us.

Several doctors have described her as being in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). Is this true?

No. Absolutely not. The definition of PVS is being awake but not aware. She’s not in a PVS because she is aware of her surroundings. The court doctors found that she was in a PVS, but they haven’t even seen her and they don’t know what she does.

The media is just perpetuating this myth.

It is not dignified to be starved to death – you can’t even do that to a horse. But judicially, they have been performing judicial homicide. It’s a death sentence for a woman who hasn’t done anything.

What do you feel toward Michael? Are you angry at him?

I’m not angry at Michael but I just feel that he has no right to do this. He’s still married to her, but he’s in an adulterous relationship, and he’s fathered two children. He only knew her for five years.

Has he stopped you from seeing her?

Yes, there have been times when he stopped the visitations. We had to go to court for the visitation rights. This is one of the few cases – maybe about 2 out of 60 – that we won at the courts.

What is your next step of action?

(Barbara Gibbs, the Schindlers' legal defense): We will be filing more motions. One of these motions is a religious motion. The judge denied the motion and so has the appeal court, but we will appeal this to the U.S. Supreme court. What we are arguing is that whatever Terri may have said to Michael about not wanting to be placed on artificial life support – and that’s just by his words, there is nothing written -- that was in the 1980s. Now, as a Catholic, after having heard what Pope John Paul said last year about people in her state, she would say otherwise.

None of the judges have seen her interact with loved ones. What we’re saying is that the judges need to remove Michael as he guardian.

He’s not protecting her religious freedom, and he should be replaced with her brothers and sisters. We have other motions too. Now, the mandate to starve her can be reapplied on Feb 22, and the attorney said Michael plans to do that. We don’t think they will start the starvation process again, but we still need a miracle. It would nice if she just started talking.

We have a religion motion which is Terri’s free exercise or religion rights because her feeding tube helping to keep her alive. It’s like putting a death row prisoner on the cell and letting them die. Terri receives the food and water, but other than that, she is not on any kind of life support. She doesn’t drool, and she could even eat through her mouth. She swallows, but she has to learn how to do it.

Terri should have a swallowing test every two years to check if it gets worse or better. She’s supposed to do both for a while- feeding tube and swallowing by mouth- and then eventually take it out. However, the judge won’t permit that since they say that first of all, she is PVS. Secondly, they say she doesn’t want to live. However, if she really wanted to die, she would’ve done that by now.

But we’ve never won a motion in court, and the fact that she has been alive so long even after losing so many cases is another miracle in itself.