The Case of Terri Schiavo: Ethics, Politics, and Death in the 21st Century

The Case of Terri Schiavo: Ethics, Politics, and Death in the 21st Century

The Case of Terri Schiavo: Ethics, Politics, and Death in the 21st Century

The Case of Terri Schiavo: Ethics, Politics, and Death in the 21st Century


The case of Terri Schiavo, a young woman who spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state, has emerged as a watershed in debates over end-of-life care. While many observers had thought the right to refuse medical treatment was well established, this case split a family, divided a nation, and confounded physicians, legislators, and many of the people they treated or represented. In renewing debates over the importance of advance directives, the appropriate role of artificial hydration and nutrition, and the responsibilities of family members, the case also became one of history's most extensively litigated health care disputes. The Case of Terri Schiavo assembles a team of first-hand participants and content experts to provide thoughtful and nuanced analyses. In addition to a comprehensive overview, the book includes contributions by Ms. Schiavo's guardian ad litem, a neurologist and lawyer who participated in the case, and scholars who examine issues related to litigation, faith, gender, and disability. The volume also includes a powerful dissent from the views of many scholars in the bioethics community. The book is intended for students, health care professionals, policy makers, and other in search of carefully reasoned analyses of the case that will shape our view of death and end-of-life medical care for decades.


The case of Theresa Schiavo is a watershed in bioethics, U.S. politics, jurisprudence, and health policy. It became clear early on that not only was the case extraordinary, but it had a rare power: a power to anger, to confound, to ennoble.

In assembling the team of contributors to this volume, the goal was to identify leading authorities in the various disciplines that bore on the case. As it developed, several of them were directly involved in the case. They are frank, and their arguments are as forceful as any in contemporary bioethics. There are disagreements herein, and the project is richer for it. Even those not directly involved in the case lived it, and throughout the book one should get the sense of passionate argument tempered by scholarly expertise. The “bioethics community” itself receives reasoned lumps. While books by other key players—husband, parents, lawyers—have appeared, it is necessary to produce a volume to inform and stimulate students as well as professors, patients and clinicians, voters and representatives.

The result, one hopes, is a collection that provides an exciting and comprehensive overview and analysis of key aspects of the case.

The case was exciting. It also became clear early on that it was hard to follow. Schiavo I, Schiavo II … Schiavo n, with a tangle of suits and appeals and rulings: a mire without precedent. To try to keep it all straight, we began listing and annotating events in a Web-based timeline. Key rulings could then be accompanied by copies of the associated bills, reports, and court opinions. We added a bibliography, a list of links, etc. It was, in many respects, precisely what the World Wide Web . . .

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