US bewildered by two sides of Terri Schiavo

Two images dominated US television screens during the prolonged battle over Terri Schiavo, the Florida housewife tragically plunged into an acrimonious national debate on right-to-die ethics.

One showed a pretty brunette smiling into a camera for a family snapshot.

The second, a four year-old video, shows an emaciated woman unable to control her grins and grimaces, blissfully unaware of the arguments over her fate.

The snapshot and film were shown incessantly up to Schiavo’s death on Thursday at the age of 41, almost two weeks after a feeding tube that kept her alive for 15 years was taken out.

America was divided over whether that was the right move.

Terri Schiavo was 26 when she suffered heart failure that cut oxygen to her brain for several minutes. She was left bedridden in what doctors called a “permanent vegetative state”.

Until then, she had led an ordinary life, a young wife who wanted to have a child and was close to her devoutly Roman Catholic parents Bob and Mary Schindler.

“She was quiet; she didn’t like the limelight, how ironic is that?” Sue Pickwell, a childhood friend of Schiavo’s told The Washington Post, amid the avalanche of publicity over whether the feeding tube that kept her alive for 15 years should be taken out.

Born in December 1963, Theresa Marie Schindler went to a Roman Catholic school. She was a shy girl who loved animals and would have liked to have become a vet if she had got better marks in school.

“All this nasty slinging of rocks and names and bad words and hatred—that’s not what Terri was about,” charged Jay Wolfson, one of her advocates.
Wolfson maintains Schiavo once gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dog to save its life.

“She took in sick birds and stray animals, she would hate to see the anger,” he added.

“Terri never dreamed of saving the world, whether through her living or through her death. She just wanted to be your common, everyday, happy woman,” added a childhood friend Diane Meyer.

Terri had weight problems, though. By the time Schiavo finished school, she weighed more than 90kilograms and did not go to her high school graduation ball.

The following summer she went on a strict diet, losing more than 23kg. Seven years later, when she had heart failure, her weight was below 50kg.

Doctors told court hearings how an eating disorder, possibly bulimia, may have deprived her of potassium, leading to the heart condition.

A much slimmed-down Terri studied at a Pennsylvania college where she met her husband Michael Schiavo, who came from a family of five children.

He was her first love and two years later, at the end of 1984, they were married in church.

With money scarce, the Schiavos move in with her parents, and when the Schindlers retired to Florida in 1986, the young couple followed.

Once there, Terri dyed her hair blond and began to take care of her suntan. She found a job as a secretary for an insurance broker, but spent less time with her husband, who was by now a restaurant manager.

A friend of Terri and her parents said the couple’s relationship deteriorated as they tried, unsuccessfully, to have children.

An office colleague of Terri remembers finding her in tears on the eve of her heart attack as she made a phone call. Her husband, apparently, had reproached her for spending too much on her hair.

In 1988, Michael’s grandmother, gravely ill, was hospitalised, and took two days to die.

According to Michael Schiavo’s brother, Scott, Terri said “‘Not me, no way, I don’t want that.’ She says, ‘If I’m ever like that, oh, don’t let me. Pull that tube out of me’,”.

The Schindlers dispute that and the difference has become a bitter feud between the two families.

Terri Schiavo collapsed on February 24 1990 and has not regained consciousness since.

Most of her friends say she would not have wanted the fuss that has been made since then.—Sapa-AFP