In the realm of the “right-to-life” movement, the case of one woman made headlines and sparked debates all over the country and even overseas.
The Terri Schiavo case was one that caused a great deal of controversy. I know I remember it vividly. Her life and death stirred an uproar about issues like “right-to-life” and whether it was okay to take out the feeding tube of a person in a vegetative state and let the person die. Was it more humane to let the person continue living in such a state, with no hope of recovery? Or not? These issues led a lot of people think about what they would want if they were ever in such a condition, and to mark their choice in their will.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Terri Schiavo had had an eating disorder. She was anorexic. Terri had been severely overweight in her teens, but lost 65 pounds by the time she graduated from high school.
Sadly, her condition became so serious to the point where fitness and fasting were obsessions. Some time later, Schiavo limited herself to mostly liquids. Whatever food she ate, she forced herself to vomit.
Her family later said that while they worried, they didn’t know how quickly Schiavo’s health could deteriorate… or how dangerous it was for humans to starve themselves. As a result, they neither challenged her nor sought medical help for her condition.
In 1990, Terri went into a coma. Her doctors said that this was likely caused by an imbalance in blood potassium levels. Her liquid diet was flushing this mineral out of her body – a condition that eating would have remedied.
Eating wasn’t something she wanted to do.
Schiavo never recovered. Soon she was found to be brain dead. A lengthy court battle came about, and it became a national tragedy, states Dr. Patzer. 15 years later, Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005. She was 41.
The debate that ensued made it clear that eating disorders were poorly understood by the public. After this case, science made progress in understanding them.
Following Schiavo’s death, the Daytona Beach News Journal published an editorial that pointed out that the state and the federal had failed to educate the public about eating disorders. They continued by saying that teenage girls should be informed about this trend, and suggested that parents and teachers learn to recognize the warning signs. Insurance companies and public health agencies should broaden their medical coverage to include treatments for eating disorders.