Frank Pavone discusses the last moments of Terri Schiavo
March 31, 2005
Fox News

FATHER FRANK PAVONE, PRIESTS FOR LIFE, NATIONAL DIRECTOR: Last night, I spent about two hours with her until past midnight, together with Bobby Schindler and Suzanne, and then again this morning for about an hour and a half, and then right up until about ten minutes before she died. We were praying, most of that time was spent simply in prayer, in quiet, just caressing her, and assuring her, also, of the prayers and concern of so many people around the world.

Q: Was their any sign of response from Terri Schiavo?

PAVONE: Yes. And let me tell you, I’ll preface that by saying I visited with her several times before the feeding tube was removed. She was very responsive--closing her eyes when I said, “Let’s pray together, Terri,” opening them up after the prayer. Smiling, returning the kiss of her father. Turning her eyes to me when I spoke to her. In many other ways, as well, responsive.

Even today, although, of course, with the effects of the dehydration, her response was much less. Nevertheless, her eyes were open, her eyes were moving, and as I prayed with her, her eyes were shifting over toward my direction--even until the last moments that I was with her.

Q: Now, of course, we are going over old territory, but it’s important to note here, you’ve heard the doctors who suggest that that is all reflexive, that none of it was a conscious movement on her part--either eye movement or anything else. What do you say to that?

PAVONE: Certainly amazingly-time “reflexes.” I’ll give the doctors the benefit of their own expertise. But this raises, of course, the deeper moral issue. Give them what they are saying. What does that mean? That someone at a lower level of functioning can just be starved to death?

That, of course, is the bigger question here. This is not just a death. This is a killing.

And we have to ask ourselves, has our nation now begun to go down the road of killing those who are disabled, simply because somebody says that they want to be killed?

Terri didn’t die today from anything except the fact that her food and water were withheld for the last two weeks. She had no other underlying illness whatsoever. This is a case of throwing away a disabled person.

Q: Father, do we know what happened to the Schindlers, Terri’s parents, during these final moments?

PAVONE: Yes. We were in communication with them this morning by phone, and they were then on their way over here, actually, when we heard the news of Terri’s passing, and then all of us were together inside the hospice just moments after that announcement. They went in to Terri, of course, to embrace her body. I stood at the door and offered the prayers of the church, for those who are just deceased, and of course we sat and just consoled on another, and now they are grieving privately at home. They are going to have a statement a little later.

Q: Were you able to give Terri her last rites?

PAVONE: I was able to give Terri absolution last night. She had already been given the fuller last rites of the Church by other priests in recent days.

Q: It sounds as though, thankfully, there was not a direct conflict between the Schindlers and the Schiavos during these last moments.

PAVONE: Yes. Thanks be to God. Had she lived another hour or so, I’m afraid there might have been, because Bobby was saying, “I will be glad to be in her room, even with Michael there. I want to be there.” And Michael was saying, “No. I don’t want that.” But then she died before that conflict when any further.

Q: There was no reconciliation, then, between the two parties in this fight?

PAVONE: Not as of this moment. I have appealed publicly to Michael to reconsider his whole position here. And even now that Terri has died, I make that appeal to him again, because, again, this affects people way beyond Terri. This affects many, many people who are and are going to be in similar situations.

We all have to, as we grieve, examine our consciences, and say, “What are we going to do with the disabled? How are we going to treat them?”

Q: Some people say this is such a unique situation, because she didn’t have a living will, because there was some dispute about whether Michael had her intentions in mind, that this makes a bad case to base any kind of precedent on. What would you say to that?

PAVONE: Well, first of all, as far as how people should handle these situations, a healthcare proxy--namely, a person who can speak for you, if you are in a situation where you can’t speak for yourself--is much better than having a piece of paper. A piece of paper cannot interpret itself. People can begin arguing over what a piece of paper says, just as they can argue over what people said to them verbally. The best thing is to have a living person who knows you, whom you trust, whom you’ve discussed these issues with, and who then, when you are in medical circumstances in which you cannot speak for yourself, that person can get, from the doctors, the exact details of what can be done for you, and then in consultation with the clergy of their choice, make the proper decision at those moments.

So, in that sense, yes. There were elements here that led to the conflict. However, the solution is broader than that. We do have, here, a classic case of the question of throwing away disabled people. This woman was killed. She didn’t die of a terminal illness. She was killed, and it is a matter, therefore, of conscience, right now, for us all to ask: “Is this what we are going to continue to do with brain-injured people?” Because, whether they have expressed their wishes or not, obviously it can result in their death, as has happened today.

Q: Father Pavone, is the nation better off for having examined the issues that came to the fore with Terri Schiavo’s death?

PAVONE: We are much better off for having examined them. We at Priests for Life work with the clergy throughout the country. We will ensure that we continue to examine them in the teaching and preaching of the Church, and in the discussion among the people. We would be glad to be part of that whole debate as it ensues.


They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31