You're Wrong About

Terri Schiavo

March 05, 2019 You're Wrong About
You're Wrong About
Terri Schiavo
Show Notes Transcript

Mike tells Sarah how the media, the president and the Pope turned a simple medical story into a complicated legal one. Digressions include canine loyalty, unionized space-workers and polyamory logistics. Both co-hosts recorded in tiny rooms, but with very different acoustics. 

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Sarah: Michael, will you be my guardian? Can this just be my living will, I don't want to start another google doc. 

Welcome to you Your Wrong About the show where we learned that a story that we thought was about a woman was actually about everything, but the actual woman. 

Mike: Ooh, that's very on theme for today.  

Sarah: Well, it is a big theme in our Anna Nicole Smith episode, so I feel like we're kind of carrying that over to this.

Mike: I am Michael Hobbes. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.

Sarah: I'm Sarah Marshall and I'm a writer working on a book about the Satanic Panic. Oooh, you can cut that out. I don't know why I did that.  

Mike: I'm imagining it book like what are those singing greeting cards that when you open up, it just makes that sound.  

Sarah: Well now that you've said that we can certainly try and arrange it.

Mike: And today we are talking about Terri Schiavo.

Sarah: Yeah. Which I was reminiscing about last night with a friend who I went to high school with because I went to an Episcopalian school and there had been the sense of a national vigil as people waited for her to die. And I remember sitting in the chapel and one of our teachers announcing that Terri Schiavo had died in this little gasp rising up. And I remember feeling that it was like this very sad thing, but also that it was a weird thing for people outside of this woman's family to be following so intensely and feeling attached to, and kind of not knowing what to do with that. So, I'm very curious about the behind the scenes, like what really was going on. And I have sensed from your text messages that there is a lot to the tale. 

Mike: Yes. And I think my central finding in all the research I've been doing about this over the last two weeks is that I remember it too, as a debate about medicine, a debate about bioethics. 

Sarah: The right to die. 

Mike: And what I found out is that it's really not about medicine. It's much more about law. Because the medical issues were actually much less complicated than most of the media made them out to be. And it's really much more a case about the 30, I'm not exaggerating 30 trials, that went on. 

Sarah: What? 

Mike: Yes. So, the main thing, the hardest thing in the research about this was just finding a chronological tale of what actually happened. So I'm going to try really hard to just do this chronologically and start from the beginning and end at the ending. 

Sarah: All right so where do we begin our story? 

Mike: So, I want to start with Terri Schiavo, who is somebody that kind of disappeared in the middle of all of this. She's born to Theresa Marie Schindler. Her parents are the Schindler’s. Her parents are conservative Catholics, which obviously becomes important later. Her dad sells industrial supplies, her mom is a housewife. One of the best descriptions of what we know about Terri Schiavo’s upbringing is one of the opening paragraphs of this Joan Didion essay.

So she says, “We have only snapshots of Terri Schiavo’s life before the series of events that interrupted and eventually ended it. There had been the four-bedroom colonial on the leafy street called Red Wing Lane. There had been the day of the yellow laboratory retriever, Bucky collapsed of old age in the driveway and Terri tried in vain to resuscitate him. There had been the many occasions on which her two gerbils named after the television characters, Starsky and Hutch got loose and into the air conditioning unit in the basement.”

One thing that's really interesting is a lot of the accounts about Terri Schiavo upbringing, right around what I think is sort of the most defining feature of her life, that she was 250 pounds.

Sarah: Really? 

Mike: Yes. She spent all of her life as an outcast, a lot of the feature length descriptions of her life don't really go into detail about how lonely it is for a larger, especially a girl growing up in 1970s, America. We don't have a lot of information about the extent to which she was bullied or what her relationship with her parents was or what her relationship with the other kids was. But we know according to one of the accounts, she had more animals than friends. That's something that always stuck out to me. She doesn't appear to have ever dated anybody, Michael Schiavo is actually the first guy she ever did. 

Sarah: There are so many tragedies that begin with a woman marrying the first man who ever took an interest in her.

Mike: Yes. She just seems like a nice, lonely girl.

Sarah: As so many of us are. 

Mike: It's also important for understanding what eventually happened to her. That sometime in her late teens or early twenties, she lost a hundred pounds. So she started doing remember Nutra fast, Nutra, Nutraslim. 

Sarah: Oh yeah, the shakes. Yes, the meal replacer because in the nineties, everyone was convinced that eating three meals a day was sybaritic and wrong, and ideally cut that down to the smallest number possible. 

Mike: She then meets Michael after that in community college, they get married in 1984 when she's 21 and he's 8 months older than her. They had their honeymoon at Disney World. He and her parents are really close. Her brother lives in the same apartment complex as them. They are a really tight knit unit of Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo and the Schindler’s. This is a very happy little family unit.

Sarah: The gerbils are happy. 

Mike: The gerbils are happy. Michael Schiavo is a restaurant manager. He manages restaurants mostly on the night shift and Terri gets a job as an insurance claims clerk, which I don't really know what that means, but she works for Prudential Insurance doing claims, paperwork stuff.

Sarah: It's kind of like when you're, you know, I always think of this around true crime novels where there's you're setting up the family, that the bad thing is going to happen to. And you're like, and they both had, you know, jobs that maybe you, the reader have no idea what that involves, but like a regular old grownup job.

Mike: Yes. And also, they appear to be in what is quite a healthy marriage, and she's wearing bikinis for the first time in her life. She's gotten down to 110 pounds and she's feeling really good about herself. And they start trying to get pregnant and of course, everybody goes over all of this evidence a billion times for the next 14 years. But it appears that because of her trying to keep this weight off, Terri is undertaking more and more extreme methods. So she's drinking between 12 and 15 iced teas per day, diet ice teas. I think it's because it's an appetite suppressant or something. 

Sarah: It is one of the cultures of femininity America, is that you learn ways to just sort of lightly abuse your body. And yeah, it's like caffeine, it is a lot of volume. You feel like you're eating but you’re not.

Mike: She's doing this, they're trying to get pregnant, but they can't get pregnant possibly because her body is in starvation mode. That this is something that happens when you are anorexic, or you're not eating enough that regardless of your weight, your body kind of goes into starvation mode and shuts down all of these other biological systems. Essentially her body was not able to get pregnant, but they don't really know this at the time. 

Sarah: But it is like she started this war with her body early on, based on the world that she's living in. So it's like we're watching like the early stages of what's going to become this massive land war eventually. It's like 1961 Vietnam. That's Terri Schiavo’s body.

Mike: Yes. And so, because she's drinking all these liquids, it's messing with the chemical balance in her body. So one of the things that happens when you drink a ton of liquid is your potassium levels go down. A normal apparently level of potassium in your blood is around 3.5. units of something and hers is around 2.

Sarah: Was she bulimic also?

Mike: We don't know, but that appears to be the case. The only thing that could explain the potassium imbalance is if she's not getting enough nutrition. One of the consequences of having really low potassium is you can get a heart attack. This is what happens on February 25th, 1990. They had been married for five years at this point. Michael Schiavo gets home late from his restaurant job sometime around midnight/one whatever. He gets up at 4:30 in the morning, just sort of wakes up for no reason. He sees that she's not next to him in the bed and then as he sort of looks around, he hears a thump from the bathroom and he's like that's weird. He walks out to the bathroom and Terri is face down with her feet in the bathroom and her torso in the hall and she's unconscious. He of course doesn't know that she's had a heart attack. He doesn't know what's going on. He just knows that his wife is passed out.

Sarah: And you never suspect that about you're like 26-year-old wife who you see as a healthy person, you don't think heart attack.

Mike: Michael immediately calls the paramedics. He also calls Bobby Schindler, her brother who lives in the building with her. Bobby runs over, the paramedics get there, six, seven minutes later, they administer CPR. She was without oxygen, her brain was without oxygen for some period of time. We don't know, but enough that it puts her into what is known as a persistent vegetative state that persists for the rest of her life. 

Sarah: Isn’t it a common thing to be deprived of oxygen because of a cardiac episode, and then end up in a vegetative state because of that. 

Mike: That is a very good question. And this is what's so important about this case and why it became such a big deal, is that the really weird thing about a persistent vegetative state is the brain is gone. So every measurement method we have of understanding consciousness appears to show that there is no thought going on, all five of the senses are down. You can't see, you can't hear, you can't feel, there is no electricity in the brain.

So when you do PET scans and MRIs, there's no activity in the brain. However, your brain stem, which has all of your reflexive stuff, everything your body does automatically, that is unharmed. So the weird thing about a persistent vegetative state is that you have normal sleep and wake cycles. You go to sleep at night, and you wake up during the day, your eyes are open. Quite often you make sound, sometimes they laugh. It's one of these things. And this is what's so heartbreaking about it is you're basically dead, but your body is still alive. 

Sarah: Wow we're getting way into the existential crevasse already. 

Mike: This is in New England Journal of Medicine article about this persistent vegetative state when they were first discovering it. 

“Patients in a vegetative state are usually not immobile. They may move the trunk or limbs in meaningless ways. They may occasionally smile, and a few may even shed tears, some utter grunts or on rare occasions, moan or scream. Such activities are inconsistent, non-purposeful and coordinated only when they are expressed as part of a sub-cortical instinctively patterned reflexive response to external stimulation.”

So, it's not something where, you know, if you shine a light in their eyes, they will turn toward the light. Or if you give them a voice command, they will respond to a voice command, their pupils don't dilate. They're essentially giving out these reflexive responses at random. 

Sarah: However, I can also imagine that the danger in that is that, you know, just as if you are, you know, you have an idea of the volcano God, and if I do this, the volcano will explode. And really, you're just creating superstitions around random events that like, if you have someone who you love and who's this person that you know, and who you see as that person. Sometimes randomly, they will behave in ways that you recognize as human behavior and like their old behavior. Then you will, I think be vulnerable to storytelling just on a subconscious level about like okay, if I do this, she does this. When she seems happy on this day, she seems sad on this day. There is something and of course, if you want there to be something there, then you have evidence that allows you to construe that.

Mike:  And this is something they've mentioned in the medical literature too, that family members often have huge problems accepting this diagnosis because they're like, no, she's in there. She can hear me. One of the things they mentioned in this article is these motor activities may misleadingly suggest purposeful movements, yet these responses have been observed in patients in whom careful study has disclosed no evidence of psychological awareness or the capacity to engage in learned behavior.

So there's no consciousness, but if you sit there for a couple hours with somebody, with one of your loved ones, who's giving out all of these responses, it does feel to you like they can sense your presence. It does feel to you like they notice when you walk into a room. That's what makes this so much harder than if it was this inert sleeping beauty type of figure.

Sarah: We are not rational beings, and the problem is that we just really want to see ourselves that way. And of course, then law and medicine are both based very much on this idea of humans can make reasonable choices altogether at once, kind of. 

Mike: So one thing that sort of gets lost later on once the rest of the country finds out about this case is that Michael and the Schindler’s together spend the next three years doing everything. They do fundraisers for her; they fly her out to California to get this thing implanted in her brain that will give her electric sort of electric shocks in her brain to try to kind of wake it up like a defibrillator. 

Sarah: Oh God, like all the terrible, like snake oil salesmen, preying on people with loved ones in persistent vegetative states. I can only imagine the breath of that industry.

Mike: But I mean, it's actually quite touching like before the story gets really ugly. It's actually really beautiful that he records family members telling stories and reading books, and he puts them on a Walkman, and he puts headphones on Terri, and he plays the tapes for her. He gets a degree in nursing. 

Sarah: What?

Mike: Michael Schiavo to this day is a nurse. He switches careers. He goes to school at night. Another weird thing about persistent vegetative state is she's not hooked up to any machine. She's breathing on her own. She doesn't have electrodes attached to her or anything. All she has is a feeding tube in, so Michael, during these years will take her in a wheelchair to the mall and get her hair done, makeup done. She was somebody that cared a lot about the way that she looked.

Sarah: I find it reassuring in a way to know that if you have someone you love, who ends up in a persistent vegetative state, you can take them to get the haircut that they would have wanted. That is nice. It's complicated, but it's something. 

Mike: Right. It's something that he, you know, he's really trying to honor her. He still has this belief that she can get better. She can, you know, he can get her back somehow. This goes on for three years and the Schindler’s are telling Michael to move on. They're telling him, you know, she's probably not going to come back. It's okay for you to meet new women. They, at one point he's dating a woman three years after the heart attack, and he brings her home to meet the Schindler’s. So this is something that they're working on together and their relationship is still really strong at that point.

Sarah: And when I was in high school, the narrative around Michael Schiavo was just that he was a no-good Nick. That's the only thing I remember hearing about him.

Mike: For all of the debates around this case, one of the things that really isn't up for debate is that Michael treated her extremely well and really advocated for her care. He was so diligent with the nurses that they filed a restraining order against him so that he couldn't visit as much as he was. So one of the nurses that they eventually interviewed later for one of the court trials says, “He may be a bastard, but if I was sick like that, I wish he was my husband.”

Sarah: Oh, that's such a great quote. 

Mike: That's his vibe, nothing is more important to me than my wife. And I'm kind of a dick to get my wife better care. 

Sarah: And so, if anything, he's like annoyingly over attentive and like overly aggressive about taking care of Terri. 

Mike: Yeah. So, what happens in 1992, he sues the hospital that was giving them fertility treatments for malpractice, because one of the weirdest things about this is that during their yearlong attempt to get pregnant, no one took her blood. And if they had, they would've seen this potassium. He's arguing that this was extremely obvious. Even a cursory blood test, anybody would've been like, oh shit, we need to get her some potassium. So he wins the malpractice suit. He gets $300,000 in compensation for himself pain and suffering and importantly, he gets $700,000 for a trust fund for her medical care. And this is essentially what funds her enormous medical bills for the rest of her life.

Sarah: I love that 1993 money. You could win only a million dollars in a lawsuit, and you could take care of your wife for the rest of her, like medically complicated life. Now it costs. $24 million to buy a vial of insulin.

Mike:  Oh, I know. One of the things I found was that in one of the 1990 articles about fundraisers they were having for her, they're like, oh, we need your help. Her care cost $3,000 a month. And I'm like, damn, that's a good.  

Sarah: Yeah. We are in like such Mad Max times by now that we're like, wow, the horrible medical odysseys of the nineties, what a great time.

Mike: So this ends up covering her care. He hires someone to look after her whose full-time job is looking after Terri. 

Sarah: One of the lessons of this episode and of this show generally, I think, is that it doesn't matter if you equate yourself incredibly well and are like a great caring, thoughtful person or husband or wife or whatever. For you're, you know, a huge proportion of your life because the minute you suddenly get thrust into the spotlight, it doesn't matter what the last 20 years were like. It matters what things seem like at this very minute. And so that's kind of liberating as well, I guess.

Mike: The reason why his relationship with the Schindler’s breaks down is over this settlement. So it's difficult to find out what exactly went on because these tales of what actually happened come out 10 years after the fact. So we really don't know, according to Michael Schiavo, he gets this big settlement, $1.1 million, and the Schindler’s come to him and say, well, what's our cut? What do we get out of this? And he says, well, it's for Terri's care. So I'm not giving you any of the money. According to the Schindler’s, Michael just wanted to be done with it and wanted to shut down Terri's care. And they wanted to keep her alive. So according to them, Michael was only interested in the money and now he wanted to abandon Terri entirely. 

Sarah: And so the Rashomon begins with two people claiming diametrically opposed things.

Mike: But what we do know is there was some sort of fistfight.

Sarah: What? 

Mike: Yeah. There's some fight between Michael Schiavo and Terri’s father. 

Sarah: So they come to physical blows over whatever. Wow. 

Mike: Over whatever this conflict was neither one of them dispute that there was some sort of scuffle. And then Michael Schiavo and the Schindler’s never speak again. 

Sarah: Wow. 

Mike: This case goes on for another 12 years. They to this day have never spoken to each other. They held separate funerals for Terri Schiavo. 

Sarah: What? When you get into separate funerals territory just are like, all right call all the lawyers. It's going to be a Bonanza. You can make a lot of money representing people who refuse to speak to each other. 

Mike: The last thing you said is essentially what explains the next 12 years in this case.

Sarah: That like no one will just talk to each other, so everything has to be a protracted legal battle. 

Mike: Yeah. This then leads to Michael's first acceptance that she's not going to get better. It's slowly dawning on him. And doctors are telling him over and over again that people do not exit persistent vegetative states. People are not there.

Sarah: And maybe that's he's grieved now, you know, like he's had his grief, he's had three years, you know, he's sort of separating from the family unit that he was part of and it's healthy. You can't, this is why I hate those stories about the dog whose owner died and then they sat at the train station every day for 12 years. And isn't it a great testament to dogs’ love. And it's no, that's about how we, as people are self-obsessed and mean, and we would rather have someone be devoted to us forever than find another human and be happy with them.

It's very telling that we like those stories so much.  It's all about how humans are not the greatest, I think. I just like the idea that he would have been virtuous, or we would have been trustworthy when this became national news. If he'd stayed at her bedside forever, like that's a terrible thing to try and impose on someone that they never move on, that would be awful.

Mike:  And also, he never really left her bedside. Another thing, even during this period, he's visiting her constantly. He talks all the time about how she was in bed for 13 years and she never had a bed sore. He made sure that she was really well taken care of. So what happens in 1994 after the breakup with the Schindler’s, Terri gets a urinary tract infection. And one of the doctors at the hospital tells Michael, look she's probably not going to get better. Very few people in a persistent vegetative state even live longer than three or four years. The longest anyone has ever lived is like 10 years. 

Sarah: Do you have a really compromised immune system within that? Or is it because your body is just not performing in most of its functions or what's that?  

Mike: Yeah, just the body basically keeps deteriorating the longer it's in this state that the muscles atrophy, the brain actually continues to shrink. And so, at a certain point, even the reflective functions break down and what usually happens is something else happens. You get a cold, or you get pneumonia or something, and then you end up dying of that. And so, in 1994, when she gets this infection, a doctor at the hospital says it's probably best to just not treat this infection and let it take its course, it's awful, but that might just be the best for everybody. And Michael agrees he's, you know, I've tried for three years, I've tried everything I need to move on and to mourn and get on with my life. And so he allows this to happen. 

Sarah: And so is he at this point, like the doctors, if they are making a decision are like okay, she has this UTI. We need your approval to let it run its course and not treat it like, is he the person that they're going to before anyone else? And he has the say in that and her parents don’t.

Mike: Yeah. So one of the things that's really important in this is that he, because as her spouse, he is her guardian. So, when you are incapacitated, somebody is appointed guardian for you. And if you don't have a spouse, it's typically your parents, but it could be your kids, it could be a best friend. It could be whatever this is why people make living wills to not only what their end-of-life care should be, but who should make those decisions. Right, if they're incapable. 

Sarah: God, another thing for me to worry about, fuck. 

Mike: So yeah, he is in charge of making this decision as her guardian. And so the Schindler's of course are not happy about this because they feel totally powerless. And legally speaking, they are, this is how it works. So, the Schindler’s contact the hospital, the hospital then lobbies to give her antibiotics and treat the infection. Michael is like let’s treat the infection, fine. Because he's not speaking to the Schindler’s and because everything gets into this much more legal frame from now on, the Schindler’s, then sue to get Michael removed as the guardian. 

So this ends up getting tied up in the courts for two years. Eventually the action is dismissed with prejudice, basically, meaning it never should have been filed. They have no standing under the law to do this because the entire law is set up that the surrogacy of the person switches from the parents to the spouse when they get married, this is the entire basis of law.

Sarah: Right. They are like you can't invalidate heteronormativity, I'm sorry. 

Mike: Essentially, they're arguing that they have some sort of right to supersede her spouse. There is no legal basis for that whatsoever, so this is why it's dismissed. 

Sarah: How many suits that are filed are like essentially a very elaborate legal equivalent of expecting someone else to Google something for you? 

Mike: So, after all of that mess is over with in 1997, he then tries to remove her feeding tube and allow her to die, basically. Then the Schindler’s sue again, to try to argue that the feeding tube should not be removed because it's not what she would have wanted. So one of the things that's really interesting about the law on end of life care is that people remove their own feeding tubes all the time. In every state, you are allowed to refuse any medical treatment that you want.

If a doctor says you need a knee replacement, you're allowed to say, I don't want a knee replacement. Under the US legal system, food and water are considered medical care. So if you have terminal cancer or you are in a lot of pain, or for whatever reason, you don't want to get food and water from a hospital and you want to allow yourself to die, you can die. That's non-controversial.  

Sarah: Okay, good. That's good to have in my pocket.

Mike: But then it gets tricky when there's a surrogacy issue. So, if you are in a coma and you cannot declare your wishes, this job falls to somebody else and the legal standard is that your husband, it's not what he wants for you. He has to show, this is what you would have wanted.

Sarah: So it is essentially like prosecuting white collar crime where you have to demonstrate frame of mind.

Mike: Yes, exactly. 

Sarah: Always impossible.

Mike: Yes. And so much of the legal battle that happens over the next 10 years is about what did Terri want. And by definition, as a 26-year-old, you haven't thought terribly hard about this issue.

Sarah: As a 26-year-old, she wanted to like, not end up in a persistent vegetative state. And I'm sure it's not something that people really tend to think through before it happens. 

Mike: Totally. So all we have of Terri Schiavo’s wishes is like random comments that she made where she'll be like, oh, my aunt had cancer and I would never want to be hooked up to tubes. Or there's something where Michael Schiavo’s brother was watching a TV movie with her about someone with terminal illness. And she was like, no tubes for me.

Sarah: Right. But that's if you and I are watching Alien and I'm like, you know, I would just never become a space worker if I weren't unionized. But if I actually got a non-unionized space job in 10 years, like I'm not going to remember saying that. 

Mike: I love this quote from the Joan Didion essay.

“Imagine it, you are in your early teens. You were watching a movie say on Lifetime, which someone has a feeding tube, you pick up the empty chip bowl. No tubes for me, you say, as you get up to fill it, what are the chances you have given this even a passing thought?”

And I don't know what a better system would be, right? You're taking these little scraps of evidence, but fundamentally it's fundamentally unknowable what she would've wanted. I don't know. What's important about this trial is that the Schindler’s have not much evidence that she would have wanted to stay alive in this state. So they are on record and are still on record as they think that she should be kept alive no matter what.

So they say at one point during the trial that even if she had diabetes and all of her limbs were amputated, they would want to keep her alive. And that isn't necessarily based on her own wishes because she wasn't as conservative a Catholic as they were, that's based on their own wishes. So, the judge basically says, look the evidence that she wanted to end her life is shitty, but it's evidence. There is no evidence that she would have wanted to continue her life in this. 

Sarah:  And then it's also getting into this fairly personal thing of what do you assume a 26-year-old woman who went to a persistent vegetative state would want. If you don't have any real information about the person you're claiming to talk about, you're essentially talking about yourself. 

Mike: And also, they've also now got this animosity toward Michael because they haven't spoken in five years. And so they are now casting him as much more of a monster. They're stubborn people. Michael Schiavo is a stubborn person and both of them are really entrenched in their positions at this point, too. And totally incapable of talking about it.

Sarah: And also isn't it so much better to feel that you are pitting yourself against a clear enemy then to be in a story where no one's going to win no one is going to lose. It just sucks for everyone. 

Mike: It's so hard to have an enemy staring you down from the other side of a battle line and say, you know, their motives are pretty understandable. It's really hard to do that. And so you come up with these stories of well, they just want the money, but I think that explains a lot of their relationship with each other over the next 10 years. Where it's like the way they talk about each other, the Schindler’s and Michael Schiavo, fuck.

Sarah: Yeah. But you're just like, you know what? These are like three basically nice people who just stopped being able to see each other based on a conflict they were in.

Mike: And so a judge rules that he is allowed to remove her feeding tube. This is the way that the system works.

Sarah: So all of this is maintenance of the status quo?

Mike: Yeah, exactly. And then that really comes down, they then file an emergency injunction, which, you know, this is sort of the patterns that as soon as there's a trial, they appeal it and then appeal it and then they try to get the judge removed. They try to get extra medical. They're just kind of running out the clock. 

Sarah: Only if the Schindler’s could have taken all this energy and legal go-getterism that they developed and put it toward death penalty appeals. 

Mike: Seriously. 

Sarah: A lot of those people don't have parents.

Mike: Another thing that happens at this time and because we're doing this chronologically, this is a slight detour, but we need to cover it now. Michael meets another woman. Michael has decided to move on. He meets this woman named Jodi in 1993, but they don't start dating until 1995. I think the order of information of when you find things out is very important for what you think about them. So most of the country heard this entire story about this man fighting for his wife and how much he loves his wife. And then it turns out he's living with another woman and it's like this twist.

Sarah: Yeah. And the idea that you can be unfaithful to someone who's been essentially dead for five years. It's like really would you do that random citizen, would you?

Mike: And also, one thing that's really kind of beautiful about it is, Jodi, his new girlfriend is making outfits for Terri and providing makeup to Terri. And she goes and visits Terri at one point.

Sarah: This is a story of a bunch of nice ladies who never deserved to be in all of this. 

Mike: Yeah. Michael is radically transparent with his new girlfriend about his situation. She knows everything she's with him in court. 

Sarah: It is polyamorous it is what it is, right? We like, and no one has to do a Google doc, which is great because that's the worst part of polyamorous relationships. But then yeah, you come into this relationship with someone who is like I still have all these feelings for the woman I'm still married to, and she's a part of my life and, you know, and he's able to be honest about that. And Jodi is able to be like, okay that's the relation, that's who you are.

Mike: Peoples’ lives are complicated, and relationships are complicated, and this is an unconventional relationship. But what Michael ends up saying is I've been lucky to have two loves of my life.

Sarah: Oh, that's, yeah. Yeah, wow. It's amazing that also that once again, that all of this information was available. That like, when I was hearing all about all of this in high school that it's we knew if we had cared to know as the public, we could have found out that this was this like extremely decent, honest man, but no.

Mike: So basically, because this whole thing is getting tied up in the courts so much. So Michael goes to a Florida court, and he says, look, I'm sick of this. I want to hand this over to a court, whatever you decide, I am going to abide by. I just want this to be over. So, in 1998, the court, have you heard of this term guardian ad litem?

Sarah: Yes.

Mike:  It's something where the court essentially appoint an independent investigator to interview everybody, to look at all of the facts. And it's important to note that of the 30 legal decisions that will eventually come down in this case. All 30 of them are in favor of Michael Schiavo.

Sarah: Wow. 

Mike: Every single legal decision. 

Sarah: Serial killers don't get that many guilty verdicts if they actually, you know, try them for, that's amazing.

Mike: It is something where that Terri's parents are saying, she knows when we're in the room, she's responding to me. I'm her mother, she can tell that I'm there. So they appoint this independent investigator. He looks into it and the nurses are saying, Terri does that in empty rooms. She does that with nurses. She does that when someone comes in to clean the windows. The Schindler’s are saying that Michael Schiavo shouldn't have the legal power to make the decision because he will be a financial beneficiary of her estate. So, the $700,000, if Terri Schiavo dies, Michael would then get that money.

Sarah: People have done worse things for less, but like it's a small amount of money to be in this long of a con to get if that's their theory, then it is not a persuasive one to me.  

Mike: So, what happens is that is very strange is the guardian ad litem, this independent investigator, sides with them and says, this is a huge conflict of interest. He should not have the decision. The best article I've read on this entire case was called, What if the Schindler’s had Won,” And it's all about the insane legal precedence that would have been set if the Schindler’s had won any of their challenges. So, one of the things that it mentions in that article is, if you're saying you cannot have any role in somebody's death, if you're going to be a financial beneficiary of it that invalidates 99% of end-of-life decisions, because who are the people that know you well enough to know how you would want to end your life. They are your family are people who by definition are going to be beneficiaries of your estate. 

Sarah: I'm sure most of the time and your children, and those are the people that you're going to, unless you're Leona Helmsley leave most of your assets too. 

Mike: So, if we say, if you're going to inherit any money from someone, you can't decide whether to pull the plug. No, that makes no sense. 

Sarah: Yes. So, if they had one, any of their challenges, this would have thrown a huge wrench into a state law generally.

Mike: So essentially Michael points, all of this out and the court is like yeah, that is insane. Also, the Schindler’s, whatever conflict of interest, Michael Schiavo has, the Schindler’s would have that too, because if he gave up the guardian status to them, or if he divorced Terri and gave the money over to them, then they would have the money and they would benefit if Terri Schiavo died. 

Sarah: Right. So they are saying he is not entitled to make a decision because the incentives for him are too high, but they would be able to equip themselves adequately and exactly the same situation.

Mike: Yes. So the judge rules in favor of Michael Schiavo and says there is overwhelming credible evidence that Terri Schiavo is totally unresponsive and has severe structural brain damage to a large extent, her brain has been replaced with spinal fluid. Again, every medical finding finds this result, there isn't a lot of ambiguity about her actual medical state. They also ruled that Michael should be able to remove the feeding tube and the Schindler's appeal. 

Sarah: This is also a testament to like how long you can drag something out legally. It's just amazing. The story starts in 1989 and it ends in the 2000s.

Mike: 2005.

Sarah: 2005. Oh my God.

Mike: It is crazy. This really gets juicy when the Florida Supreme court rules that they should go to some sort of evidentiary hearing with doctors. So one of the main arguments that the Schindler’s are making at this point is that Terri's condition can improve. They haven't tried everything. They are saying we will call doctors to give medical evidence that why don't we give it one more shot, see how much he improves, and then you can decide to take the feeding tube out.

Sarah: I am so excited to hear what manner of doctors testified at this hearing.

Mike: So, yeah, it's kind of goes the way that you sort of expect it to at this point where the physicians appointed by Michael Schiavo are both neurologists. They both have academically published papers, showing nobody recovers from persistent vegetative states.

The doctors appointed by the Schindler’s, one of them says, there's this technique called Vasodilation that will open the veins so that more blood goes to Terri's brain. And the judge keeps asking for evidence and all she gets is anecdotes. So, if you read the trial transcript, they'd be like, okay, what are the published articles showing that people in a persistent vegetative state recover from this vasodilation technique and the doctor's you should meet Emma.

Sarah: Oh my gosh. 

Mike: She got in a car accident and now she is walking around and she's fine. Like these stories, the other doctors the same way where it's okay, what are the peer reviewed studies that we should consult? And they're like, let me tell you about Tom. This is the entire trial. 

Sarah: So we have Michael Schiavo’s witnesses who are approaching it medically. And then we have the Schindler witnesses who are taking the daytime TV approach. 

Mike: Exactly. And so, you know, we love salty judge quotes on this show. So the judge concludes what undermines Dr. Hendifar’s credibility is that he does not present to this court any evidence. If his therapy is as effective as he would lead this court to believe it is inconceivable that he would not produce clinical results of these patients that he has treated. And surely the medical literature would be replete with this new now patented procedure. The judge also mentioned he has only published one article and that was in 1995 involving 63 patients, 60% of whom were suffering from whiplash. So it's basically people that were in like minor car accidents.

There's a point where they take footage. So a lot of the doctors will go and examine Terri and they have a camera there to show whether she's responding to stimuli, whether she's turning her head toward a light, et cetera. And so, at one point, this Dr. Hendifar guy says on the video, he's like oh Terri if you're in there, please squeeze my finger. And then he looks at the judge and he's like see, she just squeezed my finger on the tape. And the judge is like no, she didn't. I can see the tape, she's not squeezing shit. Her hand didn't move. And so the judge is just like not having it. So, the judge rules again, that all of the medical evidence is that she's unlikely to recover.

Sarah: This is becoming a trend. 

Mike: I don't want to be unfair to the Schindler’s, my read on this after listening to a lot of interviews with them is I just think they were in like deep denial. 

Sarah: Yeah. We can't hold people to irrational standard. That's not fair.

Mike: You know, with these doctors and everything, it's like when you subject them to court scrutiny, it doesn't hold up. But I can see parents being really desperate for something to help their daughter and being totally convinced that their daughter still sees them and responds to them. Then I think, you know, at the bottom of it, it's all very human. 

Sarah: Yeah. I also think that we have a general sense in America because of the way approach our legal systems that like the law is about your feelings in a way that it really isn't. Our whole way of talking publicly about criminal justice is about the feelings of the victim's family and how do we respect their feelings and how do we do what they want, unless they want a clemency, in which case, fuck them. You know and this idea that like that the law is about making someone emotionally whole, which is like really one of the things that it is most incapable of doing. 

Mike: I think another thing that's important to know about all of this, and I think explains a lot about the early stages. This is kind of stage one of this entire battle is that all of this has taken place in private. There's no media coverage of any of this. At this point, I did LexisNexis  search for Schiavo here's one or two articles in 1990 of like fundraisers, come down to this fundraiser in St. Petersburg. And then zero articles between 1990 and 2000. And then in the early 2000s around this trial, there's one or two little features stories locally, whatever, but it really doesn't blow up until 2003.

Sarah: Yeah. So how did that happen? 

Mike: Basically, this is when the Schindler start to get a lot less understandable. 

Sarah: Like they've run out reasonable legal challenges. And now they're just doing whatever they can do to do something. 

Mike: Exactly. And I think a huge part of the story is the way that they're relatively moderate, relatively temperate outlook, is totally warped when the national religious right gets involved. Once this local media, the right-wing group, see this as a huge cause that they can benefit from. So, they start courting the Schindler’s and saying, we can get more attention for Terri, we can save Terri.

Sarah: The American right is just a volcano that we're throwing lifeless white women into continually It is ridiculous.

Mike: So what ends up happening is these Christian right groups kind of adopt this fight as their own. They start paying the legal fees of the Schindler’s. So one of the ways the Schindler’s were able to file so many lawsuits is because they're getting this injection of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the American right. 

The American right also starts doing letter writing campaigns to their own members. So Jeb Bush was the governor of Florida at this point. Jeb Bush in 2003, gets 27,000 letters from people asking him to save Terri's life. 

Sarah: Oh my God. 

Mike: This is also the time when the Pope weighs in on the controversy, this is something I did not know until I started researching this John Paul II, this is in 2003, he apropos nothing sends out a press release. This is the quote, “the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. It's use furthermore should be considered in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory.”

Because this is something that the Christian right, is really interested in is reclassifying food and water. So, it's not medicine, so you can't refuse it.

Sarah: And now we're in the situation where we have this standard in American law and medicine that we have accepted. We're like, okay, we know this, this is on the books, but then the Pope shows up and it's the avengers, where like all of the superpowers are duking it out now. And like we're having this battle of incompatible systems of power, it is crazy. 

Mike: So, what happens after all this, after this becomes a massive media sensation. Two big things happen, the first thing that happens, and this is really important for understanding the second half of this conflict is the Schindler’s change their arguments. So originally their argument for the last, what 13 years of this fight, their argument has always been Terri is in a coma, but she could get better. We aren't ready to give up on her yet. As soon as the religious right gets to them, their argument becomes she's not in a coma, she's fine. To this day, I listened to a lot of interviews with Bobby Schindler, her brother, he refers to her as someone with cognitive disabilities. He's like Terri was one of millions of Americans living with cognitive impairments. He compares it to down syndrome which he has. 

Sarah: This is also like there's a huge slice of anti-abortion rhetoric. That's about how, you know, no, actually abortion is genocidal toward people with cognitive disabilities and, therefore. And it is like, all right, if you care so much about people with disabilities as the American right, throw some money at that, don't loop in some relatively disconnected issue and try and use an unrelated argument in order to get your way. Which like, I don't blame the family in any of this. I think I see the Schindler's as being preyed on, by like this juggernaut of money and power and legal assets.

Mike: Yeah. And this is what I sort of think happened to him. And you never know what happened behind the scenes, but it seems like they had this preexisting denial about their daughter's condition. They had this preexisting anger at Michael Schiavo, which has sort of metastasized into something much bigger and then comes these people in that say, we want to help you in your fight. And we're going to tell you a new story that feeds on whatever denial is already there and says your daughter is fine. Your daughter just needs a little bit of rehab. She's a little bit disabled, but this is a person who wants to, they use the word murder too, this is a person who wants to murder a disabled person.

Sarah: Once you throw the word murder in there. That’s Michael Schiavo, he's a murderer now, so, oh, well. 

Mike: One of the people that's advising them has an op-ed in USA Today. This is the perfect encapsulation of this argument. He says, by any definition, Terri Schiavo is alive. She has now been issued a death sentence in the courts, serial killers, like Ted Bundy have more rights on death row than Terri Schiavo does at her hospice.

Sarah: Can we not bring Ted Bundy into this for five minutes? 

Mike: Yes. And this is a huge talking point is it's all about due process. It's all about, you know, she's innocent. She's someone who's just living her life as she's a little bit impaired, but you know, not profoundly, she's someone who's working on improving herself and then comes somebody and just is trying to murder her for no reason. It is this totally up as down left is right stuff.

Sarah: Yeah. And now it's that her husband, for reasons that no one's ever going to go into, because they don't make sense, like has this malicious intent for his wife and wants to kill her. And it is like what are you using to support that argument aside from the fact that you need it to be that puzzle piece, to complete this picture that you're selling? 

Mike: Well the thing that they do that is really devious. All of those videotapes that were taken of Terri, when the doctors were examining her, they edit down those videotapes to make it look like she's responding to stimulus. So the actual tapes are four and a half hours long and it's doctors saying Terri, Terri, can you hear me? And she's not responding, but by coincidence, by random reflexive response, one time they say Terri and she goes, huh. And that of course is the take that they use. And so there's footage where there's balloons in the room and it looks at one tiny moment. These are like four seconds snippets that it looks like she's following the balloons across the room with her eyes.

And so, to this day, the four and a half hour video has never been released. But this four-minute video gets posted on by the family. This is the tape that everyone in America sees because it's visual, right. So all the news stations want to run it. 

Sarah: I remember when this was on TV and God trying to get back to what I thought at that time. I think I felt like I really was not qualified to have an opinion, which is a reasonable thing to think as a 17-year-old and also it turns out today. But yeah, I guess that I remember those being these really central images and the public debate about this and this idea of look, seeing is believing, this is Terri, this is the situation like, and then as an American, who's completely disconnected to all this. If you were given, you know, a little morsal of information that allows you to confirm a story that you would like to believe anyway, then great, you'll run with it. 

Mike: Michael Schiavo this whole time is saying it's a four-and-a-half-hour tape. You're getting a four-minute snippet. He has the tape; he has the four-and-a-half-hour version because he has it from all the court hearings. He could have released it, but he says, Terri was concerned about her looks, she wouldn't want the whole country to see her like this. Which is, you know, from a cynical media strategy perspective is like, why the hell didn't you release the full tape, man? But then as just a stubborn guy who loves his wife and is the only person in America that actually knows this woman is like, she doesn't want people to see her like this it's embarrassing for her.

Sarah: And if your inside of something that's become a media frackas, you’re not seeing things like through like the optics of the situation or whatever. You're like, listen, like I know what I know and to me, it's like very clear what's going on. And there's ample evidence for people to use, if they would like to, which I hope they would. So, like, why is it necessary for me to throw like another little piece of kindling onto the fire?

Mike: We see this over and over again, that once a public figure is sort of strident about telling the truth about the fundamental bullshit of the fact that they are a public figure.  America doesn't like that, America sort of wants you to play the game. And so one of the things he says that I love this quote he's, you know, this is once politicians and the Pope and everybody, he says to make comments that Terri would want to live. How do they know? Have they ever met her? What color are her eyes? What's her middle name? What's her favorite color?  They don't have any clue who Terri is. They should be ashamed of themselves. 

Sarah: Yeah, they should be. 

Mike: Yeah, dude. 

Sarah: Like being in that position, it's understandable to be a little snippy, I would say. 

Mike: Totally. Another thing they do, and this drives me crazy is they start demonizing Michael Schiavo.

Sarah: Of course.

Mike: All of a sudden, there's all these questions of why did she have a heart attack? Did she really have a heart attack? 

Sarah: Oh my God. 

Mike: When the paramedics came, they said it was an unusual heart attack. And of course, the only reason the paramedics wrote that it was unusual is because not that many 26-year-old women have heart attacks.

Sarah: How many bananas did Michael buy that year and could he have been buying her more? 

Mike: And then also there's a lot of lies about this too, that there's this rumor that he waited 40 minutes to call the paramedics, which is not true, because if it was true, she would have died. She wouldn't have been in a persistent vegetative state. She simply would have died. This really bums me out that the Schindler’s starts saying, oh, well, he's abandoned her. He's taken terrible care of her. We're the ones that are trying to take care of Terri, but he has just completely abandoned herself with his new wife. They tried to sue Michael Schiavo for divorce on behalf of Terri, which again, legally precedent speaking is like, what?

Sarah: If your in-laws can divorce you then a lot of people are going to wake up divorced tomorrow if that's the precedent we set. 

Mike: Also, they seize on, you know, as it always is, they seize on these weird non details. And one of the things is, you know, they were in a troubled marriage, which there's no evidence of that. You know, he's such a control freak that he keeps track of the mileage on Terri's Toyota Celica because they hear this from one of her coworkers or something.

Sarah: I keep track of my mileage because I'm self-employed and I travel for my work. You can just as easily construe it. It's like what a caring husband who's like keeping track of the family finances and whatever. Like there are so many reasons that you might do that, and spousal abuse is low on the list.

Mike: I think he's kind of a cheapskate, like there's other evidence that he's kind of a cheapskate, which is like fine. There's also this thing that everyone seizes on as like weird behavior and bad behavior that they ask her what he's done with her engagement ring or with her wedding ring. And he says, I melted it down and I made a version of it. I turned it into a ring that fits me, and I wear it now. And people are like, wow, that's weird. He's taking her ring and melting it down. And isn't that just like a nice thing to do so that he can keep her with him all the time? That actually seems sweet to me. 

Sarah: It is sweet. I think that's lovely. And like the worst part of these, you know, these media circuses to me are that America becomes this big middle school, you know? And it's just we're sniping about someone behind the bleachers in eighth grade. And we're like, I hear that Michael Schiavo did this weird thing. And it's like we got so excited about being able to lower ourselves into this judgmental feeding frenzy.

Mike:  So he starts getting death threats. 

Sarah: Of course. 

Mike: Interestingly, his girlfriend at the time, Jodi, also starts getting death threats.

Sarah: Of course, Jodi is getting death threats because she's the most evil person of all in all of this. The woman who dared to enter a relationship with someone that his wife was in a persistent vegetative state. She's the one to be blamed.

Mike: Also the wife of his brother starts getting death threats. These cars are driving by their house, and it feels like they're just looking for any woman to blame. What is this? They're going through the family tree and they're like umm Michael, no.

Sarah: Like they find out he has a lady mail carrier and they're like, it's all Madge’s fault somehow.

Mike: But so the framing that happens here, and this is really important for why the media, I think super fucked this up, is the Schindler’s start telling more and more outlandish lies about Schiavo. 

Sarah: So they have just been being backed into a corner for years and years now. And now it's like suddenly reached a flashpoint and they're just going for it.

Mike: I watched a Larry King live interview with Michael Schiavo from 2004 after it becomes this massive media frenzy and they do this thing that happens in every interview with Michael Schiavo throughout this entire period where they play clips of Bob Schindler saying, the ramifications of her medical neglect have to be taken care of medically. She hasn't had a gynecological test in 10 years. Her teeth haven't been cleaned in 10 years. And then they're like, Michael Schiavo, how do you respond? Poor Michael Schiavo then has to respond to, these are lies. Her teeth are cleaned as part of her hospital care. They brush her teeth every night and he's visibly uncomfortable in this interview. He's like, to do a gynecological exam on a woman in a persistent vegetative state, you have to pry her legs open. Unless there's evidence of some sort of infection, we don't do that. This is not something that Terri is being denied. This is something that people in persistent vegetative states do not get.

Sarah: Right. It's just doing more harm than good to be palpating her for cysts or whatever they would doing. And also because of the order that they do that, whoever speaks first, if you're John Q trying to assemble this narrative in your head, like the first party is the one you assumed to be correct and then Michael Schiavo has to be in a defensive position. 

Mike: What drives me nuts is at this point there's been an independent investigation. There's been seven or eight trials at this point. And judges, every single time have found that Michael Schiavo gave her amazing care. That guy got a fucking nursing degree. Instead of saying this is something that the Schindler’s are saying with really no evidence and courts have found against this eight times, they're saying like, whoa, you know, they say that you're trying to set her on fire every day. And like, how do you respond to that?

Sarah: It's like Michael I don't know that you're not a dragon. Like everything I've experienced indicates that you're a human male, but I don't, it's still possible. 

Mike: They're also saying that he's doing it for the money, which he points out at this time. There's only $50,000 left in the estate at this point because her care is costing a fortune.

Sarah: $700,000 dollars doesn't amortize out very well over 20 years of medical care and legal battles. 

Mike: Michael Schiavo claims there's no money left. I wanted to like double check this. 

Sarah: Yeah. That's why you're great. 

Mike: The courts also found that there was no money left and when she eventually died, there was no evidence that he inherited anything. There's no, his salary, $60,000 now, he lives in a small house. There was this rush among the entire media apparatus to see this as there have to be good arguments on both sides. Nobody wanted to point out that one side of the argument had science, courts wasn't lying. There were no outlandish conspiracy theories about the Schindler’s. And so that's why I remember it being as like kind of murky and who can say, and, you know, end of life issues are really tough. This one, I don't know if it's all that tough. It's if you want made it seem tougher than it was.

Sarah: Yeah. If we were to approach this reasonably, we would have to be like, okay. So these people are saying things that are demonstrably, not true. If you don't believe what Michael says about the dental care thing, then you can look at the video and think well, if she hasn't had her teeth cleaned in 10 years, we would be able to see it on the tape. And instead of it making them less credible to the public, it makes them more credible because we're just more willing to believe the story that has a clear villain, I guess.

Mike: Right. And so, speaking of villains, this is when this gets really political. So, in 2003, after these 27,000 emails, Jeb Bush steps in. So, this is after the dueling doctors’ case, a judge has ordered that Michael can remove Terri's feeding tube. The Florida legislature passes a law called Terri’s Law. 

Sarah: Oh my God, no, no more laws named after white women, right.

Mike: I know. And in a continuation of the theme from this episode sets an insane precedent where it allows a governor, the law says a governor can overturn a court ruling, but a governor can only do that in a situation involving a patient with no written will in a persistent vegetative state with a family conflict whose feeding tube has been removed. 

Sarah: Whose name is Terri.  

Mike: They're essentially saying we don't like how this court has ruled. We're going to pass a law saying the governor can overrule court rulings in this one case. 

Sarah: You feel like Jeb Bush saw this massive rumble happening down the street, you know, and the Pope shows up on his Harley and gets in the mix and you know, the conservative right as they're whipping their chains around. And so Jeb Bush suits up and puts on his Costco fleece and he just runs it, you know, who's going to get in on it too. He's in the dog pile now.

Mike: It is almost literal in that what happens is she's been moved to a hospice care facility, like a, about to perish facility, Jeb Bush orders cops to come and get her and move her back.

Sarah: That's the best use of police manpower in the state of Florida at this time, sure. 

Mike: Literally an ambulance with a police escort moves her back to where she was.

Sarah: Lord. You certainly get a lot of public goodwill for being the man who valiantly saved the poor abused vegetative woman from being murdered by her evil husband.

Mike: Oh yeah. And this is wildly popular at the time with conservative Christians. 

Sarah: I'm glad that Jeb got praised for something one time in his life, but it seems rather ill gotten. 

Mike: Yeah. I mean it only lasts; I think it's six weeks before a court overturns it. When a court is like fuck no, you can't just say we don't have powers that we do have that's not how the three branches of government work.

Sarah: It is a very low standard for politicians in terms of like how the legal system holds them accountable for what they should have known. We expect people living in grinding poverty to be 1000% on top of their paperwork and citations and bills and whatever. Until never miss a beat, but if you're the governor of Florida, you're given the benefit of a doubt for attempting to pass legislation that openly flouts the law in your state and your country.

Mike: And this is basically what salty judge number two says, the quote is “the judicial branch would be subordinated to the final directive of the other branches. Also subordinated would be the rights of individuals, including the well-established privacy right to self-determination, no court judgment could ever be considered truly final.”

This is a huge violation of Michael Schiavo rights that he was acting completely in accordance with the law. And you're just saying no.  

Sarah: You are right. Like every way that you have of invalidating this case specifically also, you then throw out a huge swath of the legal foundation of our society, it's amazing.  

Mike: And so this gets struck down. They're trying to take out the feeding tube again, but then the Schindler's file another emergency appeal. This then gets appealed to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court, thank God declines to hear it.

Sarah: Good for them. 

Mike: We're nearing the denouement.  So, in March of 2005, this is two years after the court decision law, whatever the feeding tube is removed again, and this is when the US Congress gets involved. 

Sarah: Oh my God, because they were like, you know what, I feel left out. I want to be a part of this too. Why wasn't I invited to the irrational legal challenge party? 

Mike: This is where we get the famous thing where Bill Frist, who's a Republican Senator. He's a former surgeon. He looks at the four-minute videotape and he says, there's no way she's in a persistent vegetative state. I don't feel comfortable imposing a sentence that we would not wish on the worst criminal.

Sarah: Come on you guys, you actively vocally verbally wish way worse things on all kinds of criminals all the time. Like you can't use all the high-flying rhetoric you want, but don't directly contradicts something you said yesterday. 

Mike: I mean, yes, this is also of course fucking Rick Santorum shows up in this.  

Sarah: It is a who’s who of terrible politicians and media. 

Mike: Yes. And it's so notable for the way that it shows how the rhetoric has changed. So Rick Santorum compares Terri Schiavo to someone with cerebral palsy. 

Sarah: Oh my God. 

Mike: He's like you know, you're talking about murdering lightly, semi-disabled people who are perfectly capable of functioning in a society. 

Sarah: And could rejoin the workforce at any time. 

Mike: Yes exactly. Like she's, you know, she's a little bit disabled, you know, she has maybe some physical therapy she still needs to do, but fundamentally you're trying to kill this woman who was like basically, you know, a normal person and perfectly capable of functioning on her own.

Sarah: Does anyone probe this argument at all? They're just like, okay, so if she gets needs a little rehab than like, why has she been non-responsive and in bed for the last 16 years. If this is so easy for her to overcome, then why hasn't she at any time. 

Mike: At this point we've now had more than 24 legal rulings. We've now had a second independent investigator also a conservative Florida, Christian, who also looked into this and also concluded that she was getting amazing care. That she was never going to come out of this coma and that the Schindler’s were wildly misconstruing, what her condition was. So all you had to do was look at the vast court records on this. Also speaking of terrible precedence, we have Tom DeLay, the house majority leader.

Sarah: Of course, of course he is a part of this. 

Mike: The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior. He's talked about the judges that ruled in the case, he threatens to impeach them, and he says, we're going to have to look at the unaccountable arrogant out of control judiciary that's thumbing their nose at Congress and the president.

Sarah: Don't come for the salty judges, Tom DeLay, I will fight you. 

Mike: The most cynical thing about this is there's a memo that goes around the hill and eventually gets leaked to the Washington Post. Where it's talking about how this is a winning political issue for Republicans, that this is a way to fire up your base. This is something that Christians are really concerned about. And so, giving a speech about this, doing something about this is a way to really rally these people to you for the next election. 

Sarah: Yeah, and it's like the Republican party, I think really became the party of anecdotes also. 

Mike: Totally. So they pass a law to put her feeding tube back in basically. And historians say it's the only law in American history that only applies to one person. It is literally like an anecdote law. It's again, it's written in this extremely narrow way and it's pretending to be jurisdictional. It's like oh, this jurisdiction should pass to federal courts when end of life guardianship issues. But it's technical and weird and what's really amazing, it passed overwhelmingly, it passed the house 203 to 58. 47 Democrats voted for it, but Barack Obama voted for it. 

Sarah: Oh, Barack. 

Mike: He says it's his biggest regret from when he was in Congress. and also Bush, George W. Bush at the time was the president, flies back from his Texas ranch in the middle of the night to sign the bill on Palm Sunday. He does this whole big thing as he signs it. He says, and you'll love this, “The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak. In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should always be in favor of life.” 

Sarah: Yeah. And there's like this whole kind of right-wing patriarchal rhetoric of you know, there are people who are the collies and there are people who were the wolves. And the collies are like the alpha males who, you know, and everyone, most people are sheep and presumably all women are. I'm a collie and there, you know, he's like he's being his best collie self in that. 

Mike: One of the inspiring things about this is that this was actually wildly unpopular with the US public. I think the politicians overplayed their hand. 

Sarah: They got overexcited about a product that no one actually wanted as much as it was just the new Coke of political gambits.

Mike: Listen to this. There was a poll in 2005, just after her feeding tube was removed. 61% of White Evangelical Protestants were against blocking his wishes. The Christians themselves were like, look dude, it's up to the husband. People were not as enamored with this as politicians thought they were going to be.

Sarah: Yeah. Politicians also just they love to be able to crusade on behalf of someone who can’t communicate their own wishes. And this I think was probably more fun for them than for anyone else.

Mike: So the last gasp of this is that Congress passes this weird law, courts in Florida again, overturn it because they're like you can't just overturn a state court decision. This is not how it works. Then this is nuts. Jeb Bush tries to file a motion on behalf of Terri Schiavo that she's being abused. Again, no evidence and tries to have state troopers physically come and get her and remove her from the hospice facility where her feeding tube has been removed.

Sarah: This is like the ultimate case of white people calling the cops unnecessarily 

Mike: He is essentially sending in a police force. 

Sarah: He's imposing martial law. 

Mike: Yes. And again, because there's so many wonderful, ridiculous, constitutional problems with this entire case, everyone points out, you got a constitutional crisis where the local cops who are defending the hospice. Because they're getting all these death threats are then going to have to clash with state troopers who are going to come and get her.

So you've got two law enforcement agencies with two completely different mandates. What is your plan son? The same salty judge from the doctors’ trial, knocks this down. To his credit, Jeb Bush abides by the decision. It takes 13 days, and she dies in early April of 2005. One of the really interesting things, one of the things that comes out a lot afterwards is an autopsy was performed that finds that her brain is half the size of a normal human brain of what it would be for a woman of her age.

And she's been legally blind for more than a decade. So, all that stuff with the balloons, the following the balloons is physically impossible. And so this essentially vindicates everything that Michael Schiavo has been arguing in court for 15 years, that her brain was mostly liquid. There was no sort of fiber material left in it. It's just like a little ball of liquid at that point. So it's essentially gone and had been gone for years. And so, her gravestone says, beloved wife, born 1963, departed this earth 1990, at peace 2005, I kept my promise.

Sarah: Oh wow. I learned that I'm wrong about Michael Schiavo. 

Mike: Right. 

Sarah: Because I certainly didn't think coming in that he was the monster that the media had depicted him as, because that's never the case, but like I was ready for him to just be like a regular kind of okay husband who just was adequate in all this and didn't make great choices and didn't make terrible ones. Just cause whatever, you know, I was ready for him to be like just kind of a regular person, but like he was devoted.

Mike: Yeah. The thing with the bedsores still gets me. That she had really good care her whole life. And after Terri dies about a year later, he and Jodi ended up getting married and he takes the ring that he made from Terri's ring. And he puts two rings onto Jodi because one is for Terri, and one is for him. It just shows that there were three people in this marriage, and it sounds like he was totally honest about it.

Sarah: There are more than two people in a lot of marriages. The question is not whether that should or shouldn't happen, but whether people are being honest about it.

Mike: And of course, Jeb Bush, the day after Terri dies, calls the state prosecutor and asked him to investigate Michael Schiavo for abuse. 

Sarah: Jeb settle down.

Mike: So of course, this guy comes back in two weeks and 50 other people, I've looked into it, there's no evidence for review. There's nothing there.  

Sarah: It is too bad that there are like no other cases of domestic abuse anywhere in Florida at this time. And this is the only guy that we need to be scrutinizing.

Mike: My thing is like the power of denial, the power of both sizing in the media, the power of the religious right to make things into controversies that sort of weren't controversies.

Sarah: The public rarely contemplates its own power to abuse people by making them the focal point of attention. And ultimately that level of attention, I think always constitutes abuse to some extent, because if you're in the center of that you're always going to be stripped of your humanity. You're always going to become a figure in allegory. Fame is essentially abuse in some ways I believe. And there was no compelling reason for any of these people to be, to receive as much attention as they did. 

Mike: I mean, you think about somebody like Michael Schiavo and what he was going through, that he didn't choose any of this. You know, he wanted us to stay a private thing and it was really the Christian right that made it this rallying cry and then politicians who picked up the baton.

Sarah: And I remember the sense at the time of oh, you know, he just wants to be done with it and kill his wife and move on and marry someone else. Cause obviously you can't, you know, no one can get divorced in this country.

Mike: You know, one of the big questions is why didn't he just divorce her? Right. Because if he divorced her, you know, control of her goes over to her parents and then he can walk away. And what he says is he loves her this is what she wanted. And you know, we don't know that well, what she really wanted. I think he's just kind of a stubborn person. I think that's probably in there too, but you can see it as fanatical and crazy, but you can also see it as kind of amazing and kind of sweet. I don't know if that's an answerable question of why he didn't divorce her. 

Sarah: Yeah. And also just like it's none of America's business. It doesn't affect us. It doesn't matter to anyone, but the people in this family.  

Mike: Totally. The way that people determine, you know, if they want their loved ones to remain in the state, if they want them not to remain in the state, it's really none of my business and I'm not comfortable having strong opinions on what other people should do.

Sarah: I think he needed to run on the platform of the none of my business party. And I'll be like when Tammy Metzler ran for class president and election, you'll be like, my party says that I will leave you the fuck alone and vote for me or don't, I don't care. I think we really get in trouble when we feel, as if saying that one argument has objective legitimacy in a way that the other side doesn't means invalidating the intent of the other side, which like you don't need to do.

You can say, you know, legally Michael Schiavo, everything about our legal system, everything that science and medicine was able to say conclusively about any of this supported his argument. And that doesn't mean that her parents had bad intentions. They seem to have like really flailed at the end there, but like they were doing what they did because they had a daughter who they loved and who was taken from them in this horrible and senseless way, way too early.

And also, probably had some, you know, perhaps staggering amounts of residual guilt about the fact that she died because she was damaging her body in this way that no one noticed because that's very costly. You can, there are so many things that we can't know about the people that we are closest to. And they don't have to be anything because decent tragedy struck people in all this, like the fact that they're wrong and the fact that they're producing arguments that don't really make sense that doesn't. You know, that's fine, we can acknowledge that, and it doesn't mean anything bad about them. It just means that they were having a really hard time because something really hard happened to them. 

Mike: Can I still hate Rick Santorum though? 

Sarah: Oh yeah. 

Mike: Okay, good.