After days of often noisy demonstrations, supporters of Terri Schiavo, the 41-one-year-old brain-damaged Florida woman, reacted to her death early Thursday with silence. Ms. Schiavo was at the center of a legal and political controversy in the United States and her death came nearly 14 days after she was disconnected from a feeding tube that had been keeping her alive for years.
Supporters of Terri Schiavo's parents, who had fought for years to keep their daughter alive, began singing hymns as word came that she had died early Thursday.
Over the past several weeks, hundreds gathered in front of the hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida where Terri Schiavo lay bedridden. Most said they backed her parents' efforts to re-attach Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.
Speaking late Thursday, outside the hospice, the Schindler family thanked their supporters, including clergy, and political figures who supported their effort. Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo's brother, told reporters he believed his sister's death will serve as an inspiration to many.
Bobby Schindler said, "Terri, we love you dearly, but we know that God loves you more than we do. We must accept your untimely death as God's will. Terri your life and legacy will continue to live on, as the nation is now awakened to the plight of thousands of voiceless people with disabilities that were previously unnoticed. Your family intends to stand up for the other Terri's around this nation and we will all we can to change the law so others will not face the same fate that has befallen you. "
Terri Schiavo died just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a last appeal from her parents to re-attach their daughter's feeding tube.
In more than 30 rulings at both the state and federal level, courts consistently backed Michael Schiavo's claim that his wife said she never wanted to be kept alive by artificial means.
Ms. Schiavo's parents said she never expressed a view on the issue, and she could have recovered some brain function with intensive therapy. Ms. Schiavo was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, since suffering a heart attack in 1990 that caused severe brain damage.
George Felos, who has served as Michael Schiavo's lawyer said on Thursday that Terri Schiavo died a calm, peaceful and gentle death with her husband Michael beside her: "Mr. Schiavo's overriding concern here was to provide for Terri a peaceful death with dignity and I emphasize that because this death was not for siblings or for the spouse and not for the parents but it was for Terri. She has a right to die peaceably and with dignity and that was his overriding concern."
Florida's Governor Jeb Bush who led an effort in the Florida legislature for several years to keep Terri Schiavo alive spoke on Thursday, calling her death heartbreaking. Governor Bush said he wished he could have done more to keep Terri Schiavo alive: "The duties I have I take seriously. For the last year and-a-half this has been a front burner issue in this office. There are a lot of dedicated people who have worked really hard to protect Terri Schiavo and in the end there were limitations on what we could do."
Florida's Supreme Court last week upheld an order stopping Governor Bush from taking Terri Schiavo into protective custody in order to re-attach her feeding tube. The Florida legislature also declined to intervene in the case.
The dispute between Terri Schiavo's blood relatives and her husband did not end with her death. A court order requires that she be cremated and her ashes be given to her husband, who plans to place them in a family burial site in Pennsylvania, where both Terri and Michael Schiavo grew up. Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings wanted her buried near where they live in Florida.
Terri Schiavo's parents and her husband did reach rare agreement on one point before her death. An autopsy will be performed on Terri Schiavo now that she is dead. Both sides in the dispute say they believe an autopsy could provide final proof of their respective claims in the case.