David Gibbs took a leap of faith in September 2003when Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo's parents, asked him to become the lead attorney in their frantic fight to save their daughter's life. Taking the case pro bono, Gibbs embarked on a compelling journey that would forever change his life. He watched Terri fade away in those last days, and was with Mary, her mom, the last time she saw Terri alive. Now David Gibbs gives an insider's account of the story that tore the heart out of a nation and which marked a watershed moment in America's judicial history. Gibbs shares as-yet undisclosed truths about the trial and error surrounding Terri's death, why it should never have happened, and why it matters so critically for us as we grapple with the value of life, and the question of who decides.
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Fighting for Dear Life
Chapter 1 Fighting for Dear Life
"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 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 young 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--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 which 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 eye-witnesses, I have an obligation to you and to our country. I must confront the gross misrepresentations and outright fabrications which 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. And 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 had 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 Terri had wanted to die, that her family and others simply did not want to face the ugly prospect of that fact. However, the Schindlers, myself, and many millions of others who tried to save Terri 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 flat line 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." Sadly, the notion that Terri was already "dead and gone" was the most common misconception circulating about Terri.
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.
Secondly, I write because I was raised to love and respect America and the rule of law. As 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. However, 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, Adolph Hitler, among others--for torturing and gassing to death their own people. And 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 eye-witness 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 the 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 three things:
Why I fought for Terri.
Why I'd do it again.
And, why I'd fight for you, too.
“David Gibbs argues convincingly that life is a precious gift from God that must be protected.”
Florida Governor Jeb Bush
“Fighting for Dear Life proclaims the clear message that we long for the world to hear. David fought courageously to save Terri's life and loved our family during some of the darkest hours of our lives. We will forever be grateful.”
Bob and Mary Schindler, Parents of Terri Schiavo
This book leads to only one truth
"Written with a lawyer's attention to detail and arranged in a concise chronological order, this book contains all the pertinent and powerful facts. Readers' reactions will range from sadness to shock to outrage at the miscarriage of justice shown in this situation. Interestingly, David Gibbs doesn’t offer his own heated opinions on this issue; rather, he lets the testimony speak for itself. And with the inclusion of newspaper and magazine articles, legal statements, and actual observations from eyewitnesses, this collection of information leads to only one truth: Terri Schiavo endured an unnecessary and painful death.
Although the book centers on this one woman, the author consistently leads readers to understand the far-reaching significance of this issue, and encourages every American to be aware of the legal ramifications of this case. The final pages offer a Christian response to this tragedy, which is to humbly beseech the living God to change the hearts of those in our great nation. Prayer is more powerful than any legal petition, and that thought closes this moving account with the hope of a perfect and future triumph." --Joyce Handzo, Christian Book Previews.com
Her death was a grave injustice
"Fighting For Dear Life is an interesting book. It's a shocking book. It is nearly enough to make a reader scream in frustration as he sees attempt after attempt to save Terri's life end in failure. This woman, though certainly handicapped, was just as certainly alive and active. Her death was a grave injustice that does mark a low point in American history. Perhaps reading this book ... will stir people to grapple with the issues that led to her untimely and unfair death. We can only hope that her death will not have been in vain." --Tim Challies, challies.com
I always wondered how accurately the media portrayed this case...
It took me a week to get through the first 30 pages or so of Fighting for Dear Life by David Gibbs III, because it was that moving. Besides being a moral conservative activist, I’m also a cop and supposed to be tough yet many times I had tears in my eyes. During the year or so that Terri was in the news, I was never quite sure if the media was telling us the whole truth and apparently not only were they not presenting the whole truth, they were actively engaged in hiding it, and in many cases, telling us outright lies.
How could we have fallen so far in America that despite the pleas of Congress, the Governor of the state that Terri lived and died in, the President of the United States and the overwhelming majority of the American people, that we as a nation forced an innocent young lady to be starved and in effect, tortured to death? David Gibbs’ book does not have all the answers, but Mr. Gibbs lays out the whole story for you to consider. But keep in mind that once you read this book, you will never be the same.
The book opens with a quote by Thomas Jefferson:
“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.”
As an eyewitness to the last year of Terri’s life, and as lead counsel for the Schiavo family, Mr. Gibbs had a unique view into all that was happening, legally, medically, and emotionally. And unfortunately now, historically, as Terri has passed into eternity and legacy. He points out that once we cross this boundary, where will it end? Will we kill the handicapped, the elderly or the very sick? You might say “It can’t happen here!” but it happened in Nazi Germany and it’s beginning to happen in the more liberal European countries. With the death of Terri Schiavo, it has begun to happen here. Will we stop it or will we allow more of the helpless to be put to death? Fighting for Dear Life offers some suggestions and also some practical advice on living wills as well.
One of the more probing points throughout the book is the question of whether or not Terri was in a “persistent vegetative state” (PVS) or what doctors call “minimally conscious”. Mr. Gibbs describes how Terri would react differently when various people would come into her room at the hospice, and how she’d display a “lemon face” whenever her dad, with his scratchy beard, would kiss her. He describes how Terri would squeal with delight whenever her mother would enter the room. As David Gibbs talked to Terri and walked around the room, Terri’s eyes would follow him. There are many, many more such examples in the book, but does that sound like a young lady who deserved to be starved into a prolonged and torturous death?
Mr. Gibbs goes on to describe how they would ask Terri to pronounce certain words and she did it. So, here we have a young lady who the media tells us is beyond recovery and yet Mr. Gibbs watched her obey verbal instructions. When Terri’s mother would leave, tears would begin to flow down her face. When I read that, tears were flowing down my face. Big tough cop, right? But the truth has the ability to pierce the heart, and thank God that David Gibbs has found the appropriate vehicle to tell us the truth with his book.
Mr. Gibbs quotes Dr. Laura Schlessinger who says:
“The measure of a civilization is how we treat the weak, the dependant, the helpless, and the ill.”
Fighting for Dear Life presents the testimony of many doctors, including one who says:
“…she has demonstrated behaviors that are context-specific, sustained, and indicative of cerebral cortical processing that, upon careful neurological consideration, would not be expected in a persistent vegetative state… As I looked at Terri, and she gazed directly back at me, I asked myself whether, if I were her attending physician, I could in good conscience withdraw her feeding and hydration. No, I could not… I could not withhold life-sustaining nutrition and hydration from this beautiful lady whose face brightens in the presence of others.”
Almost all of the doctors who actually visited Terri came to similar conclusions, including those who felt that she could have benefited from rehabilitation.
It is stunning and practically beyond belief that the very judge, Judge Greer, who repeatedly ordered her feeding tube to be removed never went to see Terri for himself. I find that utterly remarkable. Even condemned criminals get hearing after hearing in the presence of those to whom their fate is entrusted. Mr. Gibbs makes the point that criminals sentenced to death get more due process than Terri did, and are more humanely put to death. In essence, Judge Greer sentenced an innocent young lady, one that medical science said could be treated, to execution by starvation and dehydration.
The book also makes the point that medical science, and specifically neurology, make such great advances year after year, that who knows if Terri could not have been rehabilitated to a great degree in the near future? Keep in mind that a few short years ago AIDS was a death sentence. Nevertheless, she did not deserve to be killed. She had a right to life, and that was taken away from her most unfairly.
The difference between the motives of the Schiavo family and David Gibbs and the lawyer for Michael Schiavo, George Felos and Judge Greer, is like night and day. One side believed that Terri, like all humans, have a fundamental right to life, and the other side believed that the State has a fundamental right to take it away despite the overwhelming evidence and testimony showing that Terri was minimally conscious and could improve with the care and love of her family. Fighting for Dear Life points out that Terri’s parents would have given anything to save their daughter’s life. They offered everything to Michael Schiavo if he would just allow them to take care of their daughter, yet he refused time and again, even though he was living with another woman. It exposes the real motives for Michael wanting Terri to die.
All was not as it seemed
The media told us that Terri told Michael she would want to die and would want her sustenance removed rather than unnecessarily prolong her life if she were ever on life support. Yet there was nothing on paper to that effect and Michael apparently only remembered that after a decade or so.
The book also lays bare the lie that the end would be peaceful – it was far from that. I believe we were lied to by Michael Schiavo, his attorney and most of the media. Terri died a horrible, painful and protracted death over the course of two agonizing weeks. Try going without water for a few days and see how you feel. Certainly Terri felt that way too, and worse as time went on. Remember, this is the same woman who made the “lemon face” when her father’s scratchy beard brushed against her cheeks. Something is just not right with the story you were told, is it?
The efforts of Terri Schiavo’s legal team were noble and heroic in that everything that could be done was done. In contrast, everything was done that could be done except for Judge Greer going to see Terri for himself; except for Michael Schiavo’s insistence that she die; except for his lawyer (in my opinion) putting pocketbook over principle; and except that we as a nation have allowed our country to slip into such moral and spiritual decline that we would ever have even arrived at such a place.
Where do we go from here?
The book addresses that too. Fighting for Dear Life paints such a vivid picture that at the end you will ask “What’s wrong with the picture the media showed me?” It accurately tell the story of a helpless, yet deeply loved, young woman unjustly deprived of her life and the possibility that she could have been helped by therapy and advances in medical science. She was not defenseless, however, for her legal team provided by the Gibbs Law Firm, did all that could be legally done to save her. For reasons known but to God and possibly to Michael Schiavo, George Felos and Judge Greer, Terri has left this earth. But her story lives on.
Every day’s a gift, and in this book David Gibbs has given us the gift of truth. Terri Schiavo gave her family gift after gift, even when she was beyond the ability to do so physically. She has also left us with a gift – it is the gift of example. It is the gift of persistence. It is the gift of questioning, because after reading this book, you will question all that transpired and furthermore, you will question yourself.
~Guy Randall Adams
Visit my website: www.GuyRandallAdams.com
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Reader Reviews for "Fighting for Dear Life"
|Reviewed by Pete Grasso
Thank you so much for your signed copy! I was deeply touched by your book and I am grateful for you getting the work out. Check out my bio and notice within the picture your book in the top left shelf. This I did on purpose in honor of Terri !
P.S. I am seriously considering a future political run in an effort to gain back our country. http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewnews.asp?AuthorID=44353&id=16444