Communications Department

Terri Schindler Schiavo: Myths vs. Reality

Aug 31, 2004 | Media Myths

By Megan Dillon
Director of Media Relations
National Right to Life

For the latest updates on Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s case, please visit

This memo seeks to clarify several misconceptions that have been circulating throughout the media in the case of Terri Schindler-Schiavo.

Terri is in a coma or comatose-like state.

None of Terri’s doctors currently maintain that she is in a coma. Some doctors believe that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state while others disagree and believe that she is “minimally conscious.” Most Americans have seen footage of Terri interacting with her mother by now and it is hard to ignore the way in which she appears to light up at the sound of her mother’s voice.

Important note:

The definition of PVS in Florida Statue 765.101:
Persistent vegetative state means a permanent and irreversible condition of unconsciousness in which there is:
(a) The absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of ANY kind.
(b) An inability to communicate or interact purposefully with the environment.


Terri is on life support. Terri requires machines to live.

To state that Terri is on life support or that she requires machines to live implies that Terri is dependent upon what has traditionally been considered life support, such as a ventilator, heart machine, or kidney dialysis.

Terri is a healthy woman with a disability and she is not hooked up to any machines as has been widely reported. She breathes on her own and merely receives nutrition and hydration through a feeding tube, much the same as a baby is sustained by the nutrition he or she receives through a bottle.


Terri’s parents refuse to let her go and allow her to die.

Terri is not terminally ill — she is a healthy woman with a disability. To induce someone’s death by denying him or her nutrition and hydration is an act of starvation. Terri’s parents have asked for Michael Schiavo to step down as her legal guardian and allow them to care for their daughter.


Terri’s case is a right-to-die case.

This claim is disputed. Terri’s parents and siblings say that she does not want to be starved to death and are asking the courts to allow them to care for her.


Death by starvation and dehydration is painless.

Florida law does not allow a dog to be subject to death by starvation, so why should Terri, a human being, be sentenced to such a death?

In Wesley J. Smith’s book, Forced Exit, St. Louis neurologist William Burke said:

“A conscious person would feel it [dehydration] just as you or I would. They will go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the drying of the mucous membranes, and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining. They feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Imagine going one day without a glass of water! Death by dehydration takes ten to fourteen days. It is an extremely agonizing death.”

Categories: Media Myths