The Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The sister of Terri Schiavo said Saturday that her family's failed struggle to keep the brain-damaged woman alive shows a society that has "lost sight of the value" of human life.
Suzanne Vitadamo, Schiavo's sister, was the featured speaker at the "Stand Up For Life" rally, sponsored by the South Carolina Citizens for Life. About 1,000 people turned out in front of South Carolina's capitol to listen to Vitadamo recount her sister's ordeal.
Vitadamo said Schiavo did not want to die and was not terminal when she died of dehydration in March, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed. Schiavo's husband, Michael, had a court order allowing him to remove the feeding tube.
"Our society has shifted to a quality of life mentality and has lost sight of the value (and) sacredness of all human life," Vitadamo said. "We now as a nation are deciding when it is OK or not OK to kill those suffering from disabilities."
Terri Schiavo was 26 when she collapsed in her St. Petersburg apartment in 1990 and was left with irreversible brain damage. Her parents and siblings fought to keep her alive, contending that she had some level of consciousness and interacted with them when they visited.
For years her collapse was attributed to an eating disorder, but medical examiners could not say for certain what caused it. The autopsy supported Michael Schiavo's contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state with no consciousness and no hope of recovery.
The dramatic case reached all the way to Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Vatican and White House as Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, tried to prevent their daughter's death.
Lisa Van Riper, president of South Carolina Citizens for Life, said the group holds such rallies each year, usually focusing on the organization's fight against abortions. This time, Van Riper said, Vitadamo's recounting of her sister's tale shows the "slippery slope that came from the Roe vs. Wade" decision.
"When you begin to disregard the sanctity of life at one stage, that basic philosophy will begin the erode the sanctity of life at other stages," she said.
Groups from several different religions unfurled banners supporting life on the Statehouse steps as Vitadamo spoke. Other dignitaries attending were U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., and Bishop Robert Baker, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston.
Vitadamo had harsh words for the courts that handled her sister's case, the mainstream media that covered it and even Catholic bishops in Schiavo's Florida diocese who she said "offered no help or spiritual support for Terri and my family."
Vitadamo said if those Catholic clerics had strenuously denounced what was happening to Schiavo "there would have been such an enormous outcry of support from parishioners in our diocese and from Catholics around the world that my sister could very well be alive today."
There were lessons to learn from Schiavo's death, Vitadamo said. It is important, she said, to have proper legal documents that detail your wishes and who you want making such decisions if you cannot.
Vitadamo said she learned from her sister to appreciate every minute of life. "She taught me that life isn't fair and that we're all here on this earth for a reason," she said. "Most importantly, she taught me where there is life, there is hope."
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