Schiavo dies with husband, but not parents, at bedside

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The controversy that had surrounded the final years of Terri Schiavo's life continued after the severely brain-damaged woman died at a hospice in Florida.

The controversy that had surrounded the final years of Terri Schiavo's life continued after the severely brain-damaged woman died at a hospice in Florida.

Thirteen days after the feeding tube that had kept her alive for more than a decade was removed, officials said that the 41-year died at 9.05am yesterday. Her body was removed several hours later for a post-mortem examination to determine the extent of her brain damage.

The bitterness that has surrounded the battle over whether Mrs Schiavo should have been allowed to die continued when a spokesman for the woman's family said they had been prevented by her husband from being with her when she died. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, was at her bedside.

Brother Paul O'Donnell, an adviser to Mrs Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, said they and their two other children "were denied access at the moment of her death. They've been requesting, as you know, for the last hour to try to be in there and they were denied access by Michael Schiavo." He added: "They are in there now, praying at her bedside."

Outside the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, many demonstrators were in tears. Speaking by telephone, Becky Dula, a chef from Chicago, said: "I feel very saddened. I feel as though an American citizen's rights ... well, she has had no rights.

"I feel sad for the family and I'm impressed by how they refused to give up. I feel this is going to be the start of a battle where the issue is not simply the quality of life, but life itself. I think Terri has taught us a great lesson. She showed us how to fight for life."

The twisted saga over the fate of Terri Schiavo began 15 years ago when she suffered a heart attack that robbed her brain of oxygen. A series of doctors said the incident had left her in a persistent vegetative state where she was unaware of her surroundings.

Her parents and siblings did not agree with the experts. They believed that, with proper rehabilitation, Mrs Schiavo could have made improvements. They blamed her husband not only for blocking such rehabilitation but also for the original incident that led to her brain damage - allegations he had adamantly denied.

Though Mrs Schiavo left no written instructions, her husband said she had once told him she would not want to be kept alive by machines. After a legal tussle for seven years, her feeding tube was removed on 18 March and doctors correctly predicted it was unlikely she would live beyond two weeks.

The case was quickly leapt on by conservative pro-life groups, Christians and Republican politicians who have derided the courts and painted Mr Schiavo as a heartless killer. Senator Bill Frist, the Republican leader of the US Senate and a former heart surgeon, was at the front of efforts to pass emergency legislation that allowed the federal courts to examine the case.

Mr Frist claimed that, by examining four-year-old video footage of Mrs Schiavo, he was able to made a different diagnosis from neurologists who had examined her at length.

Despite polls which showed the vast majority of the American public believed the federal government should not have become involved, President George Bush returned to Washington to sign the emergency legislation. Yesterday, President Bush said that his sympathies were with the Schindlers and suggested that it was time for the country to examine the issues surrounding their daughter's death. "The essence of a civilisation is the strong have a duty to protect the weak," he said.

THE LAST YEARS OF TERRI SCHIAVO

1990: Terri Schiavo, 26, suffers heart attackwhich starves her brain of oxygen.

1992: Mrs Schiavo and her husband, Michael, awarded settlements worth $1m.

1993: Mrs Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, fail in courts to remove husband as her guardian.

1998: Mr Schiavo seeks court permission to remove feeding tube from his wife.

2000/1: Judge George Greer orders tube removed in February, but parents appeal. Florida and Supreme Courts refuse to intervene but a civil court judge orders tube to be reinserted in April 2001, two days after it is taken out.

2003: Tuberemoved but Jeb Bush, Florida's governor, presses state legislature to allows him to have the tube reinserted six days later.

2004: Supreme Court finds that law unconstitutional.

25 February 2005: Judge Greer sets 1pm, 18 March, as deadline for tube's removal.

18 March: Congressional committees subpoena Mrs Schiavo to appear in a bid to keep her alive. Greer rejects this and tube is removed.

21 March: Congress passes a bill allowing federal court intervention. Schindlers file suit in federal court to have tube reinserted.

22 March: US District Judge James Whittemore rejects parents' plea.

23 March: Appeals twice rejects case. White House says has run out of legal options. Her parents appeal to Supreme Court.

24 March: US Supreme Court refuses.

25 March: Judge rejects new plea from parents. Schindlers halt appeals.

26 March: Greer rejects new appeal to have tube restored, upheld by the Florida Supreme Court.

30 March: Appeals court to hear the case and Supreme Court denies parents.

31 March: Mrs Schiavo dies.

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