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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 March, 2005, 20:33 GMT 21:33 UK
Brain-damaged Terri Schiavo dies
A younger Terri Schiavo
Terri Schiavo collapsed in 1990
Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman at the heart of a bitter legal dispute, has died.

Mrs Schiavo's feeding tube was disconnected on 18 March, following a seven-year battle through the courts.

Her husband Michael Schiavo had said his wife would not have wanted to live in her current condition.

President George W Bush, who offered his sympathies to her parents Bob and Mary Schindler, said he was attached to a "culture of life".

Mr Bush urged those who backed the Schindlers to "continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others".

"The essence of civilisation is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak. In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in the favour of life."

This is not only a death, this is a killing
Father Frank Pavone

Mr Schiavo's overriding concern was to give his wife "a peaceful death with dignity", his lawyer George Felos said.

"No family in the US having to go through the death process for a loved one should have the added worry that a panel of judges is going to order an ambulance to come or that politicians are going to interfere with the death process that your loved one has chosen and has almost completed," he said.

The 41-year-old's parents fought to the highest level of the US courts system to keep their daughter alive.

The legal battle went as far up as the US Congress, and President Bush rushed through an emergency bill to send the case back to the federal courts soon after the feeding tube was disconnected.

But the US courts at every level supported Michael Schiavo's case and rejected requests by Mrs Schiavo's parents to have her feeding tube reinserted.

The case divided the country, with a majority of people agreeing her feeding tube should have been disconnected.

But it fanned the flames of a fierce debate over whether life should be preserved at all costs, the BBC's Lesley Curwen in Washington says.


Mrs Schiavo died on Thursday at the Pinellas Park hospice, where she lay for years while her husband - who was her legal guardian - and her parents fought over whether to keep her alive or let her die.

Mr Schiavo had been living at the hospice since his wife's feeding tube had been removed in a separate room down the hall from her room, his lawyer said.

Her siblings were with her up to 15 minutes before she died, but say they were asked to leave shortly before Mrs Schiavo died. Her parents were not there at the time as earlier reported.

Feb 1990: Terri Schiavo collapses
May 1998: Mr Schiavo files petition to remove feeding tube
Oct 2003: Florida lower house passes "Terri's Law", allowing governor to order doctors to feed Mrs Schiavo
Sept 2004: Florida Supreme Court strikes down law
18 Mar 2005: Florida court allows removal of tube
22 Mar 2005: Federal judge rejects appeal
23 Mar 2005: Appeals court backs federal ruling
29 Mar 2005: Federal court grants parents leave to appeal
30 Mar 2005: Federal court and Supreme Court reject parents' appeal
31 Mar 2005: Terri Schiavo dies

Mr Schiavo's lawyer said he was told the siblings were asked to leave the room for nurses to do an assessment, but that Mrs Schiavo's father, Bobby Schindler, did not want to leave the room.

"It was very disconcerting to hear that Bobby Schindler had some dispute with law enforcement," Mr Felos said.

Mr Schiavo was cradling his wife as she passed away; her brother was also in the room.

She died a "calm, peaceful and gentle death", Mr Felos said.

Her family were allowed back into the room after she died.

Father Frank Pavone, national director of the organisation Priests for Life, accused Mr Schiavo of "heartless cruelty".

"This is not only a death, this is a killing," he said. "We grieve that our nation has allowed such an atrocity as this."

Mr Schiavo's lawyer said it was "disquieting to hear the priest issue venom and make extremely harsh statements about Mr Schiavo. We felt that was highly inappropriate under the circumstances."

The Vatican also denounced the death.

"An attack against life is an attack against God, who is the author of life," Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican's office for sainthood, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

An autopsy is planned and is expected to show the extent of her brain injuries.

Mrs Schiavo collapsed after her heart stopped beating temporarily in 1990.

Court-appointed doctors had said she was in a permanent vegetative state and would not recover, but her parents had said she could.

The case galvanised activists from both sides of the euthanasia debate. It also highlighted the issue of living wills, since Terri Schiavo had left no written instructions about what action she wanted taken if she became disabled.

How a nation became involved in her story

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