“Please take Terri Schiavo into protective custody to see that she receives the rights to which she is entitled to as a human being,” a New York resident wrote in an email to Jeb Bush on March 18, 2005.
The case of Terry Schiavo, a woman who had been in a vegetative state since 1990, caught the eye of the nation as her husband fought to have her effectively pulled from life-support by removing her feeding tubes. A state judge had denied the request of Schiavo’s parents to take custodianship of her, and Bush received thousands of emails, mostly from non-Florida residents, pleading him to save Schiavo’s life.
Jeb Bush cut his vacation in Texas short and flew back to Florida to sign an emergency legislation that moved the case to a federal court, where the custodianship was again denied, and Schiavo died on March 31th.
Bush had already done a great deal to keep Schiavo alive. After her husband obtained a court order to pull her life-support in 2002, Bush worked with the state legislature to pass a bill that would give the governor the power to reinsert Schiavo’s feeding tubes. The law was struck down unanimously by the Florida Supreme Court in 2004.
Ten years later, Terri’s husband Michael Schiavo still hasn’t forgotten about Bush, and has promised to campaign against him in the GOP primary, blaming him for dragging out the inevitable process of ending Schiavo’s life.
“The truth about Jeb Bush is that he used my wife for his own personal political gain,” Schiavo wrote in a letter to the Miami Herald. “What Bush did was disgraceful and hurtful. He abused the power of government to impose his personal religious beliefs on me and my family.”
A majority of Americans had supported pulling Schiavo off life-support in 2005, and since then public opinion has moved even farther away from view that a patient’s life must be extended at all costs. Brittany Maynard, a 29-year old with terminal brain-cancer who ended her own life in November of 2014, became a cause célèbre and pushed the right-to-die movement into the mainstream.
In the month after her death, a HealthDay/Harris Poll found that 74 percent of Americans supported that terminally ill patients in great pain had the right to die.
It’s unlikely that the Schiavo case becomes a major issue for Bush, who has successfully waffled on far more controversial issues like gay marriage, but could cost him marginal support at a critical moment. By 2016, the Schiavo imbroglio will be more than 11 years old, plenty of time for a plausible “evolution” in Bush’s views on the case.