One year ago, the Florida supreme court rejected a last minute appeal from Terri Schiavo‘s parents to have her feeding tube reinserted. Two more appeals were rejected. And finally on March 31, a year ago this Friday, Terri Schiavo died with only her husband by her side.
Her case had spent eight years, 40 different court cases and the intervention of Florida‘s governor, members of Congress, even the president. The unexpected commemoration, the almost reclusive husband becomes a political activist and an author. Michael Schiavo‘s book, “Terri: The Truth” reached stores on Monday. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, released they‘re own book, 'A Life that Matters' on Tuesday.
They still insist she was not profoundly brain damaged when she died, they disagree with autopsy results that showed her clearly blind with a brain that was profoundly atrophied.
In his first cable news interview, Michael Schiavo joined Keith Olbermann for conversation, much of it painful, some of it political, all of it personal. They will doubtless spark reaction and criticism. That criticism must doubtless begin with those other authors, his former in-laws. And what he thought of them.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, 'COUNTDOWN': The people who opposed your position on this clearly politicized Terri‘s life and Terri‘s death. Do they not now have an opportunity to come back and say ah ha, now Michael Schiavo is also politicizing her life and her death?
MICHAEL SCHIAVO, DIRECTOR, TERRIPAC.ORG: I don‘t think I am out there to politicize, I‘m out there to hold these people accountable.
These people should not have done what they had done. Would you—I mean, any American, you look at the polls, 80 percent, 87 percent of the people disagreed with what these politicians did. They walked into somebody‘s personal lives and took over.
Then you have Tom DeLay making the same decision for his father. I‘m not understanding that point. You know, two weeks prior to Terri dying or the feeding tube even being removed, they never even knew who Terri Schiavo was.
OLBERMANN: Was that the breaking point on this for you? I think for a lot of outside observers, myself included, the moment that this seemed to leave the world of ordinary politics, or even of ordinary rationality was the moment when senator after senator and congressman after congressman got up on television, on CSPAN, on the networks in front of the nation and were doing the traditional hand ringing at them telling their interpretations of your story and your wife‘s story. And very few of them knew how to pronounce your last name. Her last name. Was that it for you?
SCHIAVO: You know, when this is happening, my major concern was Terri. It did make me angry hearing these people talk about my personal life when they didn‘t even know us. They didn‘t—as you say, they didn‘t even know how to say my name.
I invited Governor Bush, I invited President Bush to come see Terri. Come talk with me, come hear our side. They never showed up. Governor Bush was 20 minutes away from Terri on a certain day and never stopped by to see her. We tried to get in touch with them, nobody ever wanted to listen to our side. So, now it‘s my turn to start speaking out.
OLBERMANN: Do you think that some of the politicians were sincere, but mistaken as opposed to merely trying to make an opportunity for themselves out of this or make an opportunity for certain aspect of the political spectrum? Was there anybody in this who was just sincerely mistaken?
SCHIAVO: I don‘t think anybody was sincerely mistaken. I think Bill Frist, if you look at him now, I think he is trying to back track and use the Terri Schiavo case to win more votes, because he knows he was wrong.
He should have never opened his mouth. He diagnosed—he‘s a doctor. He diagnosed a patient from watching an hour‘s worth of tape. But the he says he does it. He didn‘t do that. It‘s not true.
Look at Tom DeLay. He used Terri to hide behind his own problems. He used Terri as a front.
OLBERMANN: And for her parents, for the Schindlers, was it wishful thinking? Or what happened with their approach in those final days and weeks?
SCHIAVO: I think the Schindlers got caught up in the right to life movement. I believe they have sold their souls to these people. I do believe that her mother understands. I do believe her mother knew that this was Terri‘s wish.
But her mother was kind of controlled. So, as far as the rest of the Schindlers, I mean, if you look at her sister and brother before the media showed up, I think I can count on one hand in the last 10 years that Bobby ever visited Terri.
Suzanne, I don‘t think she ever visited Terri.
I mean, when Bobby walked into the nursing home prior to Woodside, they had to ask him for identification because they didn‘t know who he was. And to stand out there and say the things he said just blew my mind.
OLBERMANN: What changed them in your opinion? What—was there guilt that motivated them at that point? You say that your former in-laws had sold their souls to those—to the activists. Was that—what made this all happen this way inside them do you think?
SCHIAVO: I believe that they have been fed so much information through the Randall Terry‘s of the world, through the coalitions, the right to life coalitions, they were just inundate with this stuff and fed them power and gave them power to do what they were doing.
Like I said, with their father, I don‘t want to get into any back stabbing or anything like that, but a little greed with him. I believe her that mother, like I said, who really knew that this was Terri‘s wish. If you can watch Terri‘s mother throughout that whole proceeding, especially at the end when she made her speeches, you can tell that she was told what to say.
OLBERMANN: I‘m sure this there is going to be people see this interview who don‘t listen or will not listen to what you say and will not give you a chance that no matter what you would say, no matter what evidence you would present, no matter what results were obtained in the autopsy, that there will be some people looking at the screen and forgive me for using this term, but will look at you still and say, that‘s a murderer. How do you live your life when you know there are people who are going to make that conclusion about you without having anything to support it on?
MICHAEL SCHIAVO: You know, I‘ve been called a murderer for many years now. You kind of get used to it. But I got a good family support. I got a great wife now. Great brothers. You know, that‘s all I need. You know, I can be a big boy and have broad shoulders and brush all that of. And everybody is entitled to their opinion.
OLBERMANN: I don‘t want to go through the whole history again, as if you need to tell that story again. But one thing I always thought has been left out of the equation from what I‘ve been able to tell from the history of your wife's illness, there were extraordinary things that you did in the beginning that don‘t line up consistently with the idea that there was this evil man who was rushing to get his wife off life support later on. Tell me about the first few months and years after the calamity befell Terri and your fundraising efforts and your career choice, tell me about those two things.
SCHIAVO: Well, when Terri and I first married, I was a restaurant manager for many years and always wanted to get into the medical field. Terri had the accident and in the beginning I raised a lot of money by selling hot dogs on St. Petersburg beach. The community where I lived, we had social dances to help raise money. And that was all towards getting Terri to California for an experimental surgery that would place an implant inside of her head that covered the top of her brain to help stimulate.
That procedure didn‘t work. We raised money to get Terri into the Mediplex (ph) rehab center, which is very expensive. These people deal with just brain injury trauma, spinal cord injuries. Terri was there for about six months and the final outcome of that was they couldn‘t do anything more with Terri.
But I continued to fight. I continued to give her rehabilitation. The swallow studies that the Schindlers say that I had never done. There were three swallow studies done. They all were conclusive in saying that Terri is never going to be able to swallow, she‘ll continue to need the feeding tube.
I fought many, many, many years to help Terri. And finally came to the conclusion this is not what Terri wanted and started my proceedings with that.
OLBERMANN: In light of all that, I guess this is a kind of a philosophical question. Before her death when we heard somebody involved in this, whether they knew what they were talking about, that they were related to her, that they were friends or it was just some of the protestors who were parked outside the hospice in that extraordinary scene last March and April, when they said Terri doesn‘t want to die, do you think really having been through the experience that you had where you didn‘t want to believe what the doctors were telling you, that this really was kind of a messed up version of the much more understandable and simple statement that you might feel in this situation, which is I don‘t want Terri to die? Were people just refusing to face the reality of what her life had become?
SCHIAVO: I think people were in denial. Let me go back with some of these people that got on the camera saying Terri didn‘t want to die and the friends and family. It just blew my mind that people were standing outside saying this stuff, that these people never even visited Terri in 15 years and all of a sudden they show up for the cameras saying this. Where were they for 15 years? All these friends and loved ones that stood there and said, Terri doesn‘t want to die, she‘s moving, she‘s talking to us. When did you last visit Terri?
OLBERMANN: I don‘t want to ask you to recap the entire experience, but what can you tell us about the final day?
SCHIAVO: It was very hard. It was very sad. And in my book I‘ll get into it further. And to this day it hurts.
OLBERMANN: Was there this sense of releasing someone, was there the sense of fulfilling the wish that you have always said she had for those circumstances?
SCHIAVO: Of course. Of course.
OLBERMANN: And for yourself, was there release then too?
SCHIAVO: Yes. It was a big sense of release.
OLBERMANN: Let me wrap this up with a couple personal things. You‘re married again?
SCHIAVO: Yes, I am.
SCHIAVO: Thank you very much, Keith.
OLBERMANN: How did you preserve that event without it being a tabloid affair, without it being helicopters overhead with cameras?
SCHIAVO: It was hard, but we did it. I guess when we went down to apply for our marriage license the day before, that‘s when it started hitting the news wire.
But we were pretty good at it. We kept it quiet in our invitations, you know, they all knew, it was friends, family, loved ones, they all knew. They were there to support us. They came, we had a wonderful wedding. It was beautiful. My children were in it.
OLBERMANN: And you even got a honeymoon?
SCHIAVO: Yeah, about 10 of us, we all went to Vegas.
OLBERMANN: Did you have to use an assumed name or is life not that .
SCHIAVO: Everything we did for the wedding was under a different name.
OLBERMANN: OK. And I guess that‘s a legacy that unfortunately is going to be with you one way or another the rest of your life.
SCHIAVO: Yes, it will be. But you know something? Terri was a beautiful woman. And she‘ll always be with me.
OLBERMANN: Do you think you know why all this happened, can you sort of trace in your own mind the timeline by which Terri‘s life and your life became this political cause celebre, do you know why it happened?
SCHIAVO: You know, to this day I still don‘t know why Terri and myself have become this political move. This happens to people across this country every day. Hundreds of feeding tubes are stopped every day. The only thing I can think of is because the governor got involved here and he happens to be the brother of the president. That‘s probably the only reason I can figure out why this all became political.
OLBERMANN: Is this something to do with the media? Is this that one piece of videotape that showed Terri‘s head moving and her eyes open? In other words, I don‘t want to be grotesque and drudge all that up again for you, but if the videotape showed her eyes closed, would no one have ever known her name or your name in this context, do you think?
SCHIAVO: I would tend to say yes. If that video showed nothing, I‘m pretty sure this wouldn‘t have been to the point where it was. But they showed that snippet of tape over and over again. That‘s probably about two minutes of tape out of four hours.
OLBERMANN: Never heard it explained. Why did that tape come from, how did that come to be on every television network on every television station in every television organization in the world?
SCHIAVO: That was illegally obtained by the Schindlers after the judge had told them—actually, had placed an order saying nobody is to video or tape or do anything of that manner with Terri and the Schindlers, during the second removal of the feeding tube, introduced this to the press. And that‘s where that snippet of tape came from.
Also a lot of the tape was from the doctors‘ examinations also. Where you see Dr. Cranford was sitting with the balloon. That was from the—a lot of the tape came from the medical examinations from the doctors.
OLBERMANN: I know it‘s asking you to step outside yourself and your personal pain and more than a decade of dealing with this on an everyday basis, but if you saw that tape and didn‘t know the story behind it or had not experienced it first hand, could you understand why people who were only seeing that tape would have drawn the conclusions that some of them did, that she was responsive, that this was not someone in the traditional vegetative state as laymen understood it, would you have been questioning if you had not known the whole back story?
SCHIAVO: If I had not known the whole back story, I would probably have questioned it. But then I would have done my homework and found out both sides. I wouldn‘t pass judgment on a two-minute snippet of tape from the news.
OLBERMANN: And I presume you would not have—if you were a doctor, you would not gotten up in front of the Senate and reached your conclusions based on that videotape or any other videotape that was presented to you?
SCHIAVO: That‘s unfathomable that a doctor would do that. It‘s just unquestionable that he stood up there and made that statement. And then turns around and says, well, I didn‘t do it. That‘s even more unbelievable.
This should not have happened, Keith. These politicians should have not knocked on my door. And I‘m sure you would feel the same way if it was you. Sitting making a personal decision about your loved one in your own personal life, and you have these people that never even met you, never even knew you that all of a sudden are knocking on your door saying you can‘t do this. It‘s not right. This is America.
OLBERMANN: But you say knocking on the door yet they didn‘t really knock on the door, they sort of just came through the wall, didn‘t they?
SCHIAVO: Exactly. That‘s a better statement. No knocking. They just walked right in.
OLBERMANN: If they had knocked on the door—If literally one of them said I want to meet you and I want to come see her, what would you have said?
SCHIAVO: Come on down. I invited the president. I invited Governor Bush. Come down, meet me. Come down and ask Terri, here, shake my hand, she wouldn‘t have done it. Terri, can you look at me for a while and talk to me. She wouldn‘t have done it. The autopsy has proved that.
Terri was cortically blind. Something that has been said in courts for years. Dr. Cranford was the first neurologist to sit there and say she was cortically blind. And the autopsy proved that. Terri was blind. Terri couldn‘t talk, she couldn‘t swallow. The autopsy proved that.
Terri‘s brain was half the size of a normal brain. That‘s how much it had shrunk.
OLBERMANN: So now in the aftermath of all this, with the political action committee, you‘ll have to be in public to some degree. Are you prepared for that? Is it something you are now ready for, because obviously you have to the degree that was possible in the last year, year and a half, you have kept your privacy as much as anybody probably could under the circumstances.
SCHIAVO: I‘m ready, willing, and going to forge ahead. I‘m going to do this for Terri. I‘m going to do it for everybody. I‘m going to do it for every American in this country.