Chris Livingston  /  EPA via Sipa Press
Jeff Asmussen, who favored continued life-support for Terri Schiavo, protests outside Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., Thursday.
updated 3/31/2005 1:47:22 PM ET 2005-03-31T18:47:22

The Vatican condemned the death of Terri Schiavo on Thursday amid a chorus of voices that expressed grief and relief for the severely brain-damaged woman at the center of a bitter life-or-death struggle. There was also a deluge of reaction in political circles, suggesting that the battle over end-of-life rights will continue in the halls of government and the courts.

The Vatican said Schiavo's death had been caused by an unacceptable “violation of the sacred nature of life.”

In the Vatican’s first official comment on the Florida woman's death, chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said: “A life has been interrupted ... a death was arbitrarily brought forward.”

President Bush said that he joins the millions of Americans saddened by Schiavo's death and urged the country to honor her memory by working to “build a culture of life.”

“The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak,” Bush said. “In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in favor of life.”

A judge approved the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube on March 18. The Florida woman, who suffered severe brain damage after a heart attack 15 years ago, died after 13 days without the food and water.

Bush offered words of comfort and praise for both Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and her husband, Michael Schiavo.

The two sides had battled in the courts for years over Terri Schiavo’s fate, with her parents believing she could improve with treatment and her husband insisting she would not have wished to be kept alive artificially. State court-appointed doctors had ruled Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state, with no real consciousness or chance of recovery.

Bush, despite acting to help the Schindlers, singled out neither side in extending condolences to Schiavo’s “families” and said that “millions of Americans” join their sorrow.

Moment of silence in Florida
In Florida, the president's brother Gov. Jeb Bush, whose repeated attempts to get the tube reconnected also failed, said that millions of people around the state and world will be “deeply grieved” by her death but that the debate over her fate could help others grapple with end-of-life issues.

“After an extraordinarily difficult and tragic journey, Terri Schiavo is at rest,” Bush said. “I remain convinced, however, that Terri’s death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society. For that, we can be thankful for all that the life of Terri Schiavo has taught us.”

Moments after the news of her death, members of the Florida Senate held a moment of silence for Schiavo.

“Regardless of your perspective on end-of-life issues this is very sad moment and a very reflective moment for a lot of us,” said Senate President Tom Lee.

'Impetus for action'
Other political figures who were deeply involved in the extraordinary federal intervention in Schiavo’s case also weighed in on her passing.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said her death was a “regrettable loss of life” that deeply saddened him. “May God bless her memory,” he said.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, called Schiavo’s death a “moral poverty and a legal tragedy.”

“This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change,” DeLay said. “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another.”

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., called on Congress to pass legislation to help others going through similar legal battles.

“Terri’s will to live should serve as an inspiration and impetus for action,” Sensenbrenner said.

The weekend after Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed, GOP leaders in Congress convened a rare session to pass a law handing jurisdiction over the case to the federal courts, after state courts repeatedly rejected pleas from Schiavo’s parents to help prolong the woman’s life. Bush, acting in a case championed by many of those in his party’s conservative base of political support, made a surprise flight back to Washington from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, so he could sign the legislation as soon as it passed in the middle of the night.

But federal courts didn’t act as the lawmakers hoped. Up to the highest level, they also repeatedly rebuffed the Schindlers.

Schiavo’s death was met with sadness, anger, despair — and prayers — by supporters of her parents.

Thursday morning, demonstrators who have been gathered outside Schiavo's hospice throughout the drama, burst into tears and threw down the signs they had been carrying as word spread that Schiavo had died.

“You saw a murder happening,” said Dominique Hanks, who had ridden her motorized wheelchair around the hospice every day since the tube was removed.

“Everybody who denied her right to live are accomplices to murder, and God knows,” Hanks said.

Disgusted with Bush
Patrick Bautch of Milwaukee disgustedly tossed away a sign that said “President Bush, Please Help Terri.”

“He could have done something,” Bautch said. “He was supposed to be for life and he neglected his role. ... The value of human life has just gone down the drain.”

A few feet away, a small group burst into hymns, singing the traditional song, “How Great Thou Art,” as Richard Jacobson, of Corning, N.Y., accompanied them on a tarnished trumpet.
Jacobson, who has been playing religious and patriotic music outside the hospice for the past three days, said he didn’t really believe that Terri was dead.

“I’m not believing the report of man,” the bearded man said. “God will raise her from the dead, and all the world will see it.”

After the announcement, Mike Stafford, of Hollywood, Fla., stood before police — who had arrested more than 50 people trying to bring water to Schiavo — gave the Nazi salute and shouted “Heil Hitler.”

“It’s really sick what we’ve seen here,” Stafford said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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