Many of those who supported the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube have pointed out how much “process” her case received. They have noted, for example, that Terri's parents had exhausted every legal avenue of relief, that many different courts again and again had confirmed that the law was correctly applied, and that the case was in the courts for seven years. This is all true. But what is often not appreciated is the fact that the essential question about Terri's wishes was resolved by one judge in one hearing that lasted a few days in 2000. The determination made on the basis of that hearing—that Terri would want to discontinue feeding—was never revisited in any fundamental way.
Nor should we have expected it to be. Litigants usually only get one shot at presenting the facts. And appellate courts generally don't upset the conclusions of the trial court on the facts, unless they are clearly erroneous. And since no new, compelling evidence emerged about Terri's wishes, later courts did not rehear the issue.
Supporters of the decision to remove her feeding tube have generally overstated the amount of attention placed on determining Terri's wishes, as if that issue had been exhaustively investigated, parsed through, debated, and reviewed. But just because the case saw seven years of litigation doesn't mean this issue was pored over for seven years; it had been resolved in a few days back in 2000. Supporters of the removal of Terri's feeding tube were also able to emphasize that the evidence satisfied Florida's requirement that her wishes were proved by “clear and convincing evidence.” This sounds like quite definitive evidence. The clear message was: We know the truth about her wishes.