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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 March, 2005, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Q&A: The Schiavo case
Terri Schiavo. Archive picture
Litigation in the case of Schiavo went on for seven years
The brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo has died, following a bitter seven-year legal dispute which saw her feeding tube withdrawn 13 days ago.

Her husband Michael Schiavo maintained his wife would not have wanted to live in a vegetative state while her parents fought to the highest level to keep their daughter alive.

The BBC News website looks at the key issues of the case.


What was wrong with Terri Schiavo?

According to her doctors, 41-year-old Mrs Schiavo was in a "persistent vegetative state" (PVS) - with severe brain damage but not in a coma - for some 15 years.

Her husband, Michael, who was her legal guardian, says that before she became incapacitated she would never have wanted to live this way. However, she did not leave a living will - written instructions on what to do if she was unable to communicate her wishes.

People in PVS have a normal heartbeat and can breathe independently, but their awareness of their surroundings is highly debatable.

Because of this uncertainty PVS lies in a legal grey area - unlike brain stem death or the heart stopping which clearly mark the time of death.

Mrs Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, insisted that she was not in a "vegetative state" and have witnessed and videotaped her with eyes open, moving her head from side to side, and apparently responding to stimuli.

Court-appointed doctors say these motions are involuntary and she has shown no signs of mental activity.

There have been reports of people recovering from PVS, but this probably shows in part how difficult it is to diagnose the condition properly.

What happens next?

Both sides agree that they want a full autopsy and say such an examination will vindicate their positions.

At post-mortem it is possible to assess the level of damage that has occurred to the brain. This will make it clear whether there was any realistic possibility of ever regaining consciousness.

In Mrs Schiavo's case oxygen was cut off to her brain when her heart stopped beating temporarily, resulting in what is known as hypoxia.

Doctors will look for evidence of hypoxic damage to particularly vulnerable areas of the upper brain, including areas where major blood vessels meet, and deeper areas in the brain associated with consciousness.

In some cases damage can be detected on brain scans, but a post-mortem provides the opportunity to examine damage at a cellular level

Mrs Schiavo will of course be buried.

However, a dispute between Mrs Schiavo's parents and her husband appears to be developing over the funeral arrangements.

The husband has said he wants a cremation and burial on a Schiavo family plot in Pennsylvania but the parents want their daughter buried in Florida.

What legal moves has this case seen?

Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers fought each other in every level of the US court system over the course of seven years. Courts consistently ruled in favour of Mr Schiavo, his wife's legal guardian.

After Mrs Schiavo's feeding tube was removed on 18 March, the US Congress rushed through legislation giving Mrs Schiavo's parents a personal right to sue in a federal court to keep her alive.

A federal judge in Florida then considered a request by Mr and Mrs Schindler that the feeding tube be reinserted.

They were trying to provide enough time for them to pursue claims that Mrs Schiavo's rights were being violated.

The judge ruled against them. An appeal was heard shortly by a special panel at a circuit court in Atlanta. The appeal was rejected and the same court refused review the case.

The Schindlers continued to fight until the day before their daughter died. On Wednesday, a federal court said that the special law passed ten days earlier was unconstitutional.

The US Supreme Court refused six times to hear the case.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Terri Schiavo's case has divided opinion in the US



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