The tenth anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s death penalty

By Mark Mostert

In Florida, persons condemned to death have a choice of how their death sentence will be carried out. The condemned have the option of electrocution or the less spectacular (and presumably less painful) lethal injection. This, of course, is after all their appeals have been exhausted.

One thing is certain: people are executed by the state as punishment for heinous and reprehensible crimes. Nobody gets the death penalty for speeding or shoplifting.

Or for being sick, for that matter.

Well, maybe for being sick.

Ten years ago, on March 31, there was one execution in Florida that transcended the electric chair or the fatal needle, and, equally, had the full and prestigious weight of Florida law behind it. That legal weight came from now-retired Florida probate judge George Greer, who declared from the bench that Terri Schiavo should die.

Judge Greer issued a death sentence just as effectively lethal as any handed down for murder. It was a legalized medical execution for the crime of being severely neurologically disabled. No more, no less.

But unlike condemned criminals in Florida, Terri was not permitted to appeal her conviction or choose her method of execution. Instead, Greer, with Terri’s husband and lawyers cheering from the sidelines, imposed execution by starvation and thirst.

As with Florida’s criminally condemned, Terri was surrounded by Judge Greer’s proxies on the scene: uniformed law enforcement officers, vigilant lest someone give her a sip of water. They’re not called “law enforcement officers” for nothing.

I think one could make a compelling argument that the electric chair and lethal injection are less painful and vastly quicker ways to die. They are certainly shorter than the 16 days it took Terri to lose her battle against the ghoulish pro-death lobby.

Terri’s earlier appeals to live, filed on behalf of her loving parents, her brother Bobby and her sister Suzanne, were denied. In the end, love for and commitment to their beloved severely disabled daughter and sibling were trumped by the immense judicial cold-heartedness of a black-cloaked legalist.

So, 10 years on, Terri is dead. Executed.

Terri’s dad, Bob Schindler, is dead. His collateral sentence: a broken heart.

Mary Schindler, Terri’s mom, presses on. How, I have no idea.

Bobby labors in the trenches at the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network. Suzanne has tried to start her life over. If you know them, as I am so very privileged to do, you know that they remain brokenhearted, their wounds bound by their love for Terri and their family, and the incredible commitment to never, ever, let Terri’s execution be forgotten.

They labor against things they shouldn’t have to, including the president of the United States. On February 26, 2008, in a presidential candidate debate, Barak Obama had this to say about his time in the U.S. Senate:

When I first arrived in the Senate that first year, we had a situation surrounding Terri Schiavo, and I remember how we adjourned with a unanimous agreement that eventually allowed Congress to interject itself into that decision-making process of the families. It wasn't something I was comfortable with, but it was not something that I stood on the floor and stopped. And I think that was a mistake, and I think the American people understood that that was a mistake. And as a constitutional law professor, I knew better.

So, Mr. President, you regret that you’re on record saying that executing Terri was wrong, but then tell us that it really wasn't wrong. You said that saying it was wrong was a mistake.

So much for presidential compassion for a severely disabled U.S. citizen.

Here we are, 10 years later.

Terri’s has gone home. We are here.

We will always remember.

We will never forget.

We will fight on.

Because we can never, ever, let Terri’s memory and her martyrdom be forgotten.

South African born Dr. Mark Mostert is an expert on disability and bioethical issues with more than 25 years of experience as a university professor. He serves as director of disability in the Public Square, and is president of Disability Consultants International—a company dedicated to supporting people with disabilities and their families.

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at For more information, please visit The Schiavo Network’s Center for Disability in the Public Square.