The Terri Schiavo saga: Ethical and legal aspects and implications for clinicians

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8 Scopus citations


On March 31, 2005, Terri Schiavo (born December 3, 1963) died - the final complication of a cardiac arrest on February 25, 1990. Her death was preceded by the withdrawal of artificially administered hydration and nutrition through a feeding tube. Prior to her death, Terri's saga was the focus of intense medical, ethical, and legal debates in the United States (US) and elsewhere. These debates were characterized by confusion about the facts, ethical principles, and laws relevant to the case. Much of the confusion revolved around a number of ethical and legal questions including: Is it ethically and legally permissible to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatments from patients who do not want the treatments? Is withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatments the same as physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia? Is artificially administered hydration and nutrition a medical treatment or mandatory care akin to bathing? What were Terri's values, preferences, and goals regarding life-sustaining treatments? In this article, the medical, ethical, and legal data related to the case and the aforementioned ethical and legal questions raised by it are reviewed. Finally, the clinical implications of the saga, such as the need for clinicians to be more proactive in educating patients about their rights related to making health care decisions, end-of-life care options, and advance care planning (e.g., completing an advance directive) are discussed. Notably, given that the Schiavo saga occurred in the US, this article is written from a US perspective. Copyright by Medycyna Praktyczna, 2009.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)574-581
Number of pages8
JournalPolskie Archiwum Medycyny Wewnetrznej
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2009


  • Enteral nutrition
  • Ethics
  • Life support care
  • Palliative care
  • Withholding treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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