Battle Over Terri Schiavo Not Over

Terri Schiavo (search) is dead, but the family feud that launched a national debate is far from over.

Schiavo's death Thursday morning brought home the solemn point that at the heart of what was an intense, vicious feud was a woman lying on a hospice bed, unable to stand up and referee the fight of her life.

While grief momentarily quieted the din, new battles over the Florida woman were already taking shape.

To a series of yet-to-be-proven accusations against her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo (search), that include murder and wife-beating, those who opposed removing her feeding tube could add "heartless cruelty."

Not more than two hours after her death in Pinellas Park, Fla., a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), accused their son-in-law of blocking their family from being with their daughter in her final moments.

"And so his heartless cruelty continues until this very last moment," said the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life (search). "This is not only a death, with all the sadness that brings, but this is a killing, and for that we not only grieve that Terri has passed but we grieve that our nation has allowed such an atrocity as this and we pray that it will never happen again."

Later in the afternoon, Michael Schiavo's lawyer scolded Pavone and other Schindler supporters for injecting rancor into what should have been a day of mourning.

"It was disquieting to hear the priest issue venom and make those extremely harsh statements about Mr. Schiavo," attorney George Felos (search) said. "Instead of words of healing, words of reconciliation, compassion and understanding, we had a platform for an ideological agenda. It was counterproductive and disquieting."

Felos then went on to explain that his client barred his wife's brother, Bobby Schindler, from her room only after he became hostile to a police officer standing guard.

Michael Schiavo's "overriding concern was that she [Terri Schiavo] had a right to die with dignity and in peace. Mr. Schiavo was not going to permit a potentially explosive situation" in the room as Terri Schiavo lay dying, Felos said, in a dig at the Schindlers' spiritual adviser.

In a later press conference, Bobby Schindler and his sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, told supporters not to be angry, and asked God's forgiveness for anything the family had said or done that "did not honor our faith." But it wasn't long before TV pundits were accusing Michael Schiavo of heartlessly banning his wife's family from her deathbed.

Laying Terri to Rest

Disagreements over how to say goodbye to Terri Schiavo popped up even before she died.

In one of numerous court filings, the Schindlers asked Florida Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer (search) to allow them to give their daughter a Roman Catholic funeral and bury her in Florida.

But Michael Schiavo has said his wife wanted to be cremated, and he planned to inter her ashes on his family's plot in Pennsylvania. The Schindlers have said their Roman Catholic daughter was very religious and would not want to be cremated.

FOX News' senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said the Schindlers had little recourse.

"Judge Greer did find Michael was still the guardian and had the powers to make those decisions," he said.

Michael Schiavo's brother Scott said his sister-in-law's ashes would be interred at an undisclosed location near Philadelphia. But, "if Mike knew they would come in peace, he would have no problem with" her immediate family also attending, Scott Schiavo told The Associated Press.

Michael Schiavo did not want Terri Schiavo's funeral to turn into a media spectacle, his brother said.

A spokesman for the Pinellas County medical examiner's office said Schiavo's body would be returned to her husband by Friday, but that autopsy results may not be available for weeks.

Felos announced earlier this week that there would be an autopsy of Terri Schiavo's body, though Florida law mandates a medical examiner's investigation. Felos said his client hoped to settle once and for all questions over her physical state as well as some recent allegations that Michael Schiavo abused and attempted to kill his wife after she was hospitalized in 1990.

The Schindlers have not objected to the autopsy; they hope the findings will prove their daughter was not in a persistent vegetative state as had been diagnosed by numerous doctors. They and their supporters have said, against all known medical evidence, that Schiavo was able to communicate and respond. In one emergency legal filing last week, they claimed she had said she wanted to live.

Americans Divided?

Protesters who had kept vigil outside the hospice for nearly two weeks were seen crying, screaming, praying and singing hymns after Schiavo's death was announced. Some held signs comparing Schiavo's predicament to the passion of Jesus Christ.

The scene outside the hospice was hardly a microcosm of the rest of the nation. The latest FOX News poll shows 54 percent of Americans saw the removal of the feeding tube as "an act of mercy," compared with 29 percent who called it murder. Many polls, including FOX's, show that in a medical catastrophe most Americans want the right to determine when to die. Most Americans also feel that the government has no business meddling in their end-of-life decisions.

But the loudest talking heads in the media have been conservatives who opposed removing the feeding tube.

"It seems to me the right has been more powerful in expressing its views than the left," said Eric Burns, host of "FOX News Watch."

"They seem to have common sense on their side — it seems to be a better idea to live than die. When you defend the position that Terri Schiavo's husband has taken, you invite your opponents to sound so pious and moralistic. You invite them to say, 'I'm moral and you’re not.'"

Indeed, Michael Schiavo has largely avoided talking to the media, whereas the Schindlers and their supporters have all but saturated the airwaves for the past two weeks.

While Michael Schiavo's supporters have praised him for treating the matter of his wife's death with seeming restraint and sobriety, Burns said: "It's not just a matter of dignity. So many people in the media have cast him as the villain ... superficially speaking, he's in the more villainous position."

Burns said because Schiavo's position was on the surface the more indefensible one, it was wise of him to limit his exposure.

But the fact that the majority of Americans backed Michael Schiavo pointed to the limited power of even 24-hour blanket news coverage, Burns said.

"The other side played to the media in almost outrageous fashion. But isn't it interesting that the side that got the most of the coverage was the side that most Americans disagreed with?"

New Laws Ahead

Legal analysts said to expect legislatures across the country to examine their end-of-life laws.

"In my view, the most material question is the status of a guardian," said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University who has followed Schiavo's case closely.

"I personally believe that the Schindlers had good ground to question whether Michael Schiavo should have continued as the guardian after he formed a new family with another woman and ultimately had two children by that individual," Turley told

Michael Schiavo has repeatedly refused to give up legal guardianship of his wife despite her parents' pleas. Schiavo has always said, and the courts have affirmed, that his wife did not want to be kept alive artificially. But the Schindlers have insisted that Terri Schiavo wanted to be kept alive, and have even disputed the consensus of court-appointed doctors that she would never recover.

FOX News' Judge Napolitano said even if it turned out Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state, her husband could not legally be held liable because the courts have consistently sided with him.

Napolitano also predicted that legislatures would lay down specific guidelines for courts in ruling on such cases, pointing to the fact that Judge Greer, who has presided over the Schiavo case from the beginning, has never gone to see her himself.

"I insist on going to the bedside" in cases like this, Napolitano said. "I want to see this person. There is no rule of law telling me to do so, just as there was none telling Judge Greer to do so.

"Had he done that, there would have been a little more acceptance of his decisions. I think you'll find the legislature making judges perform these visitations," Napolitano said.

George Washington's Turley also said the extraordinary measures Congress took two weekends ago to prolong Schiavo's life hurt the Schindlers' case.

"Congress' political intervention shifted attention away from the merits of the [Schindlers'] case to a constitutional controversy. It essentially poisoned the well for later legal arguments, and goes into the category of how the best of intentions can produce the worst of results," Turley told

Because of a 1990 Supreme Court ruling on which most right-to-die legislation was built, courts are tasked with determining what the patient's wishes would be, most often based on the spouse's testimony absent written instructions. The parents' wishes or the wishes of the government cannot override what the patient would have wanted.

The Schindlers' attorneys may have known what they were up against, hence some of the more novel arguments they made as time ran out, including that Schiavo was speaking but only in the family's presence, and that her husband was abusive, an allegation that did not surface until well after the two sides of the family stopped speaking.

Napolitano predicted that the battle over Schiavo would cause legislatures and courts to re-examine the issue of self-determination to prevent more such contentious cases.

"Where it is not crystal clear what the patient would have wanted, or where there is great dispute over what she would have wanted, or where the patient inarticulately or imprecisely expressed her wishes, then courts should err on side of life," Napolitano said, adding that most people, if given the choice, would want to live in all but the most extreme instances.