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272 pages
Aug 2006
Bethany House

Fighting for Dear Life: The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo and What It Means for All of Us

by David C. Gibbs with Bob Demoss

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The first duty of government is the protection of life, not its destruction. The chief purpose of government is to protect life. Abandon that and you have abandoned all.
—Thomas Jefferson

Terri Schiavo is dead.

Nothing in this book will change that fact. The time for making motions and filing appeals is over. My clients, Bob and Mary Schindler, have no recourse. Terri, that precious daughter they carefully bundled up and carried home from a Philadelphia hospital back in December of 1963 was, on March 31, 2005, removed from their loving arms and reduced to ashes.

As much as I'd like to bring Terri back from the grave, I can't. You might be wondering why, then, would I write this book? What is the point of revisiting the painful details that have been rehashed a thousand times in the media? Let me offer three reasons why I feel compelled to tell Terri's story. The first is quite simple.

I was there.

I witnessed firsthand what transpired both in the courtroom and behind the scenes. I sat and visited with Terri on numerous occasions. I looked into her eyes. I spoke and laughed with her. I watched Terri's family interact with her in ways nobody in the media ever saw. And I was in her room the day her feeding tube was removed ... as well as shortly before Terri took her final breath.

Not one reporter from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, the New York Times, or the international media community ever set foot in Terri's room. I can't blame them—they were denied entrance by Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo. For reasons known only to Michael, he did not want the world to see Terri as she was: a disabled, yet fully alive, spirited woman.

Perhaps more troubling was the behavior of Judge George Greer, who held the very heartbeat of Terri's life in his hands. For reasons I still do not understand, Judge Greer refused to go and meet Terri Schiavo, watch her interact with her mother, or call her as a witness in his courtroom—even though he was assigned with the task of deciding Terri's ultimate fate.

In this regard, I had unmatched access to the truth of Terri's condition ... the truth that has been withheld from you, the truth that we were not able to introduce as evidence in court. Indeed, I write because it's impossible for me to remain silent. As one of the few eyewitnesses, I have an obligation to you and to our country. I must confront the gross misrepresentations and outright fabrications that some are using to justify future abuses against thousands of those whose "quality of life" has been called into question.

What's more, the wall-to-wall media coverage during Terri's final days made her story one of the top media events of 2005. Yet a tremendous amount of confusion still lingers in the minds of most Americans as to what really happened. Everywhere I travel, people voice conflicting opinions about Terri's story.

Many people have told me they cannot understand why she had to die. They fear the judicial branch is unaccountable and out of control. They can't comprehend why Michael Schiavo paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure his wife's death—monies that should have been earmarked for her rehabilitation from a medical malpractice lawsuit. Others believe the Florida legislature, the U.S. Congress, and President George W. Bush had no business meddling in a "private" family affair. This confusion and division is especially evident in the legal, medical, and other professional communities.

I believe the reason our country is wrestling with these questions is because, at some deeper level, we instinctively realize something profoundly wrong has happened. The Terri Schiavo case is to our generation what Roe v. Wade was to our parents' generation.

Life itself was on trial.

I believe if "We the People" fail to stand for life in the wake of Terri's death, the intrinsic value of life for the infirm, the elderly, and the disabled will be severely diluted. Even the self-proclaimed atheist and well-known liberal journalist Nat Hentoff called the dehydration and starvation of Terri Schiavo "the longest public execution in American history," and he believes America has already lost her way.

There are some who say that our nation is simply unable or unwilling to appropriately face death as a culture. While I do agree that our nation is obsessed with youth and physical beauty, pro-euthanasia proponents claim that we are trying to run from death and avoid it at all costs. Their argument is that, although Terri wanted to die, her family and others simply did not want to face the ugly prospect of that fact. The Schindlers and I, and many millions of others who prayed that Terri's life might be spared, however, are not denying death's inevitability or suffering from some sense of cultural denial toward its prospect.

I understand that modern medicine has the technology to keep a flatline corpse "alive" indefinitely if so desired. It's entirely possible to keep the lungs working and the heart beating through machinery long after a person is dead. I'm not in favor of that. The Bible says there is "a time to be born, and a time to die" (Ecclesiastes 3:2). Sadly, the notion that Terri was already "dead and gone" was the most common misconception circulating about her.

We were not fighting against an inevitable or natural death; we were fighting against the unnatural, premature death of someone who did not deserve to die. There is a huge difference between fighting for legitimate life and being in denial when it's simply "someone's time to go."

Quite simply, it was not Terri's time to go.

Second, I write because I was raised to love and respect America and the rule of law. When I was a child, my parents encouraged me to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance. They taught me about the faith of our forefathers who founded the United States with their sacrifice and blood. I came to believe America was the greatest, kindest, and most generous nation in the world. But when the Supreme Court refused to grant our final appeal to rescue Terri from death, I thought, Dear Lord, how, as a nation, have we reached this point? For the first time in my life, I was embarrassed to be an American.

Here is what troubled me:

America has sent men and women overseas to fight the atrocities and human abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq. For decades we have had a rich history of opposing brutal dictators—Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Adolf Hitler, among others—for torturing and gassing to death their own people. Yet here at home on our soil, with the full blessing of our courts and under the alleged authority of American law, we were engaged in an equally barbaric act.

The third motivation for creating this eyewitness account flows from the tears of Mary Schindler, Terri's mother. There are some things law school cannot prepare you for. One such event was the afternoon Mary and I walked out of Terri's hospice room for what would be the last time Mary would see her daughter this side of heaven. Mary turned to me and said, "David, I'm no lawyer and I'm no doctor. But what I don't understand is why did they have to kill my little girl?"

That is the troubling moral dilemma.

When I first became involved with this case, Bob and Mary Schindler asked me to do anything that we could think of that was both legal and proper to save the life of their daughter. After Terri died, Bob and Mary asked me to tell what really happened—specifically the trial and error of this landmark case—so that many others would be spared from a similar fate.

I make no apology that, from my perspective, what happened to Terri was wrong. Very wrong. Maybe you agree. Then again, maybe you disagree, or the jury is still out in your mind. I believe if you will join me as I present my case, you will come to understand:

Why I fought for Terri.

Why I'd do it again.

And why I'd fight for you too.