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Terri Schiavo Dies at age 41

Aired March 31, 2005 - 11:56   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're watching the Schiavo case. Clearly a sad, sad moment for so many millions of people around the country. We're watching other news as well.
Certainly there is no doubt, though, that the passing of Terri Schiavo causing considerable grief. We'll have extensive coverage. The reaction coming up this hour on THE NEWS FROM CNN.

The death of Terri Schiavo this hour, the story that has gripped America and what still lies ahead.

Also, we're live here on the presidential commission's report. The U.S. intelligence commission -- community that is got it completely wrong as far as Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. You saw that in the past hour.

First though, this hour, after 15 years of crippling brain damage and 13 days without nutrition or water, Terri Schiavo died this morning at 9:05 Eastern in Pinellas Park, Florida. The exact cause of death not yet known, at least not to us. The husband, Michael Schiavo, was at the bedside. Terri Schiavo was 41 years old. She leaves behind an extraordinary struggle over conflicting notions of family and faith, science and law, and the role of elected officials in the lives of private citizens.

We'll start our coverage with CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's on the scene for us in Pinellas Park. Anderson, how sad are they down there?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it's obviously a very emotional day for people here. There is actually not that many protesters here right now. You know, there's sort of an ebb and flow to this. And throughout the day, the numbers build and the numbers fall. Right now, there's probably a few dozen here, though it's sort of the most die-hard protesters who are here. Many of them have been camping out these past -- well, it's nearly two weeks now.

We've also seen Randall Terry. Some of the more outspoken critics of what was happening to Terri Schiavo are here holding press conferences. There's also a memorial that has been going on. They had a mass for Terri Schiavo here in the protest areas.

The white van, two white vans left the hospice and reached the county coroner's office. We cannot confirm that Terri Schiavo was in one of those vans, but we believe that to be the case. Those two vans had a police escort. They arrived at the coroner's office just a short time ago, according to our Susan Candiotti. It has been a very emotional day, and the emotions, we expect, really will just continue to grow. We expect more protesters to be coming here throughout the day by this evening. We anticipate probably several hundred protesters will be here. As you said, George Felos, the attorney for Michael Schiavo, is going to hold a press conference at 2:30 to give their side of what happened.

CNN's David Mattingly just a short time ago was with a member of Michael Schiavo's new family, the brother of his fiancee and was actually there when he received the phone call that Terri Schiavo had passed away. It was a very emotional moment. We'll try to show you that videotape shortly.

But, Wolf, it just continues today. You know, there has been so much emotion here every day. And these people who have been here have been dedicated to being here, hoping -- even in these last hours, hoping that something could change, that somehow here feeding tube would be reinserted. That, of course, not the case -- the legal challenges all but ended yesterday when the 11th Circuit Court declined the latest appeal from the Schindler family.

We have not seen the Schindlers yet. We believe they are sequestered just about 30 or 40 feet from where I'm standing. We anticipate perhaps hearing from them a little bit later on.

I want to bring in CNN's David Mattingly because he has exclusive video that he shot earlier this morning just a few -- a short time ago. David, you were with a member of Michael Schiavo's new family, what his critics call it. Tell us about it.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. His name is John Centonze. He's the brother of Jodi Centonze, who is Michael Schiavo's fiance, the mother of his two children. And he was telling me what the family was going through.

We were there when he received the phone call at that moment. And we have that on tape, and we want to show it to you right now.


JOHN CENTONZE, JODI CENTONZE'S BROTHER: All right. All right, man. All right. Bye.

Everybody is crying.

MATTINGLY: What did she say?

CENTONZE: She's crying. She got the call from Mike, and he told her. And she just broke down crying. So I guess she was bringing her daughter to school.

MATTINGLY: This is really affecting you. You're getting goose bumps on your arm.

CENTONZE: Yes. It's sad. It's really sad.

But, you know, I'm happy for Terri. But it's still sad all the way around.

I know Mike is very upset. You know, my sister is crying. So it's very emotional.

It's been a long, long, hard fight. But I believe she's happy. Terri is probably happy now, you know, to be free and not be shown all over TV. And, you know, I would imagine if that was me, I'd be very embarrassed having everybody looking at my picture laying there, can't speak to anybody.

But it's going to be very hard for everybody right now.


MATTINGLY: To that phone call, John Centonze tells us that the family believes that Terri Schiavo was indeed past the point of no return. And based on information he had yesterday, John Centonze tells us that he did not believe Terri Schiavo would live throughout the day. And indeed, that phone call came just a short time later. It's still quite a shock to this family, who has been watching and been with this woman for so long.

COOPER: Literally, with this woman -- I mean, Michael Schiavo-- we were just talking about it -- has been sleeping at the hospice at least for these last two weeks or so.

MATTINGLY: They have residential quarters here for family members to stay overnight if they need to. The family for Michael Schiavo tells us that he actually had a room inside the hospice so he didn't have to come and go and leave the building.

So he's been in the hospice, they say, spending the nights there, spending almost every minute of every day there, leaving only occasionally sometimes to visit his attorney. That's what we're being told. So he's apparently been spending a great deal of time at the hospice.

COOPER: And he's come under a lot of criticism for the Schindlers because Michael Schiavo controls access to Terri Schiavo. Not only medical decisions on her behalf, but who gets to see or how long they get to stay.

MATTINGLY: That's right. John Centonze does not know about the controversial today about her final minutes. But he was telling us, to his knowledge, that Michael Schiavo has never denied them when they requested to go in and visit their daughter.

COOPER: Bring us up to date on the controversy about her final minutes. What is the point of contention here? The Schindlers say the priest who was there and her brother were asked to leave.

MATTINGLY: That's what that family is saying. The -- and again, John Centonze with the Schiavo family is telling us that Michael Schiavo was in the room at the time of her passing. What actually transpired between the two of them we may find out later as other sources begin to confirm this. COOPER: It's very orchestrated who gets to see her and when. The two sides really don't want to run into each other, they don't want to be seeing each other.

MATTINGLY: That's right. This has been a long-running agreement they had that whenever they wanted to come over there they would let Michael Schiavo know about this and he would make sure he was not in the room. They would come over and do their visitation.

COOPER: David Mattingly with an exclusive report. We're learning really for the first time, according to members of Michael Schiavo's family, Michael Schiavo was in the room when Terri Schiavo died in those last few minutes of her life.

Let's go to Susan Candiotti, who is standing by at the county coroner's office. She joins us on the phone where these white vans have just a few moments ago arrived.

Susan, what can you tell us?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, it's not unusual when the remains of victims who die naturally, and of unnatural causes, arrive here at the medical examiner's office each and every day. But certainly this was an unusual reception set up and arranged in advance for Terri Schiavo.

In fact, the parking lot is cordoned off to the general public. You cannot drive through the main entrance and park where you normally would. But about two-and-a-half hours ago, in fact, Terri Schiavo did arrive in a plain white unmarked van escorted by a police motorcycle officer as they pulled into this driveway quite a distance from us, paused at a tall steel door that is the entrance to the building. And as that door lifted and then pulled inside.

Now, of course she is here, as was prearranged, to have an autopsy performed. This was announced on Monday of this week when the attorney for Michael Schiavo said that in fact that he had been thinking about it and had decided just in the last few days that he would allow an autopsy to be performed on his wife to try to determine the extent of brain damage and to perhaps clear up any possible misconceptions in that regard.

Although, interesting perhaps to note, in the last few days, as we talked to various experts in this field, there seem to be some differences of opinion as to how much new information they may be able to learn after the autopsy. Certainly they'll be able to determine the exact cause of death.

The autopsy will be performed by the chief medical examiner here, John Cogmartin (ph). After the autopsy is complete, there will be cremation. It is unclear whether that will happen here at this exact location. But after that, and even controversy about this, the remains will be transported to Pennsylvania, Michael Schiavo's family home -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Susan, you mentioned this autopsy. It's interesting, because I was talking to Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN just last night who was saying that it probably, as you indicated, will not give final answers to either side of this family.

It will give what Sanjay Gupta called data points, perhaps a little bit more information about what actually was happening inside Terri Schiavo's brain. But it's not going to solve conclusively the bitter divisions that have gone on in this family of about whether or not Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state, as the courts have said she was, as doctors who testified before those courts have said she was, or she was in a minimally conscious state, as the Schindler family believes she was and had doctors on their side saying she was.

So we may learn more about the exact cause of death and what was happening in her brain, how much of her brain tissue had dissolved. Because there were even conflicting reports about that. Some said, you know, that 25 percent of her brain tissue was gone, that the spinal fluid had replaced much of her brain tissue.

So we will learn some answers from her autopsy. But it will not be enough to conclusively prove one way or another which side of this family's medical experts actually were correct.

Susan, I don't know if you've talked -- I talked to Brother Paul O'Donnell, who is the spiritual adviser to the Schindlers the other day, who said that even though the Schindlers have been fighting for an autopsy, now they say, you know, it doesn't really matter what the results are, that we know Terri was there, that Terri was present and was communicating. Do you think if this autopsy does show perhaps that she -- you know, that gives more evidence to the fact that she might have been in a persistent vegetative state, do you think the Schindler family will at all change their position?

CANDIOTTI: Gee, I think, Anderson, that after following this for 15 years, the divisions that started that long ago and have continued to this hour, I think that it would be difficult to say whether they will ever -- there will ever be resolution among these two families (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Whether an autopsy would be performed, what you might learn from an autopsy, where she will be buried, there is such division among this family that it's hard to predict whether they will ever be able to agree on anything at this point.

As you well know, there have been differences of opinion among doctors along the way, despite court rulings. And I suspect that they will last for years to come.

COOPER: This family permanently divided, it seems. No doubt about that. Susan Candiotti, thanks for that.

And David Mattingly, thank you as well.

Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer now in Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, before I let you go, let's recap these two contentious issues, potentially very contentious issues, even in the aftermath of Terri Schiavo's death. First of all, on the autopsy, do the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo both agree that the autopsy should be performed by the people, the doctors who will be performing it?

COOPER: As far as we know. I mean, it's not really an issue that is up for debate.

This man, the county coroner in Pinellas County, is going to conduct the autopsy. The Schindlers, you know, would like to have some say in it, but they really don't have any say in this. This was Michael Schiavo's decision all along.

Michael Schiavo repeatedly, the courts have repeatedly backed up his right to make decisions on behalf of the woman who was still his wife. Even though he has another woman in his life who he has two children with, Terri Schiavo is still his wife. And he can make the decisions.

And he has decided just in these last few days -- remember, for a long time he had opposed the notion of having an autopsy. But there has been so much said about this, so much written, that he doesn't want to leave the impression that they're trying to hide anything, that they're trying to cover up her death in any way. So he agreed to have this autopsy. And because she died here in Pinellas Park, it is the county coroner here in Pinellas Park who will be conducting that autopsy.

BLITZER: And the other contentious issue remains the cremation of Terri Schiavo's remains...


BLITZER: ... as opposed to a more traditional burial, whether in Florida or in Pennsylvania. It's the husband, Michael Schiavo, who has made this decision. And there's no appealing it down the road, I take it. This is a done deal, is that right, Anderson?

COOPER: It's a done -- yes, it's a done deal. Just as the autopsy is a done deal, Terri Schiavo is going to be cremated, unless Michael Schiavo decides to change his mind in these last few hours. Though that seems highly unlikely.

He has said that Terri Schiavo indicated she wanted to be cremated all along. And he is going to be returning those ashes and burying them in Pennsylvania, where the two were born, where the two first met.

Her parents want her body buried in the ground, whole, intact, here in the state of Florida. They say that's more in line with their Catholic traditions.

Cremation is allowed under Catholicism, but her spiritual adviser and her family says it is more in keeping with their traditions, and they want her body here in Florida. That is not going to happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson. We're going to get back to you. Anderson Cooper reporting for us from the scene in Florida.

Joining us now on the phone, Dr. James Dobson, the Christian evangelical leader.

I know you've been in touch, Dr. Dobson, with the Schindler family in recent days. First of all, your reaction to the death of Terri Schiavo?

JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: Well, Wolf, this is a very, very sad day, not only for the Schindler family, but for the entire human community. You know, we've -- we've all been diminished by this slow agonizing killing of a woman who had done absolutely nothing to deserve such cruelty. And I just regret the entire episode, and I believe it will ripple for years and years to come.

BLITZER: Well, who will it ripple against? Because, as you know, the courts in Florida reviewed this repeatedly over many years. The U.S. Supreme Court had ample opportunity to take a look at this. All of them decided to step aside and let that feeding tube be removed.

Who will this ripple effect that you're talking about be against?

DOBSON: Well, it will have two consequences. One, is I think that it will open the door to the killing of those who are inconvenient for one reason or another. All a person has to do is find a judge who is willing to believe them when they say, well, my incapacitated or mentally handicapped relative wanted to die. And so it has great implications there.

But the aspect of it that concerns us the most is that all the great moral decisions in this country, whether it's the sanctity of life or the definition of marriage, or what we can do with the Ten Commandments, all of them are made by the courts. Our founding fathers intended that this would be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. But now the final arbiter of every significant moral issue comes down to unelected, unaccountable judges to the judiciary.

BLITZER: But isn't this -- Dr. Dobson, isn't it the nature of the American legal system, the separation of powers between the executive branch, the judicial branch, the legislative branches? That there are these checks and balances that have guided this country for more than 200 years?

DOBSON: Absolutely, Wolf. I appreciate you're asking the question, because that's the very heart of it.

Yes. I was told when I was in the fourth grade that there was something called checks and balances. And we all know that the executive branch is checked by the legislative. And the legislative branch is checked by the executive branch.

But neither of them check the courts. They're totally out of control. And there is, you know, almost a feeling of futility when it comes to the courts handing down decisions that contradict the will of the people.

You know, we saw it two weeks ago with regard to executing minors. Seventy percent of the people disagree with that. It doesn't matter what the people think and the -- neither the executive nor the legislature will step in.

BLITZER: But Dr. Dobson, let me interrupt for a moment. If the legislative or the executive branch, for that -- for that issue, would like to change the law, they can go ahead and write new laws and get them passed. In fact, they can have constitutional amendments if they want to do that as well. There are options for the executive and legislative branches of the government to overrule, in effect, decisions made by the Supreme Court.

DOBSON: Yes, and they will use it. Let me quote to you -- I won't quote it, but tell you where it is.

The Constitution, Article III, Section I, says that the Congress shall have the right to set up and provide jurisdiction for all the courts below the Supreme Court. They can cancel them at will. They can change them. They can -- they could take away the franchise, if you will, for, say, the 9th Circuit out in California and re-establish it the next day.

They've got all kinds of power in dealing with the courts. But they haven't had the political gumption to deal with it. As a result, the courts are just telling us how -- what kind of people we are.

BLITZER: So one final question, Dr. Dobson, before I let you go. Are you bitter? Are you angry at the president of the United States? Are you angry at Governor Jeb Bush for failing to deal, from your perspective, adequately with Terri Schiavo?

DOBSON: No, I'm not angry at the president or the governor. I wish that they had been more articulate in the things that they had said. But they're not the enemy.

I am angry at Judge Greer and the federal courts that did not accept the demand or the order that came down from the Congress that this case be reviewed. I think that's an outrage, and I regret it.

BLITZER: Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, joining us on the phone from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Thanks for spending a few moments with us on this sad day.

We're going to have extensive coverage this hour, throughout the day, in fact, on the death of Terri Schiavo. We'll take a quick break. Much more coverage, reaction right after this.


BLITZER: People are gathered in Pinellas Park, Florida, outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo passed away a little bit more than three hours ago. Welcome back to NEWS FROM CNN. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Reaction to Terri Schiavo's death has been quite emotional. That includes the Florida governor, Jeb Bush, who tried to stop in several times to have her feeding tube reinserted. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: It's heartbreaking, to be honest with you. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, to all the people that wanted -- wanted her to live. And to everybody.

This was very, very emotional couple of weeks. And I would hope that from this that all of us can grow as people in terms of our appreciation for end-of-life issues.

I wish I could have done more. That's the sadness in my heart, is that the duties I have, I take seriously. And, you know, for the last -- last year and a half, this has been a front-burner issue, at certain times more than others, but in this office.

And there are a lot of really dedicated people that have worked really hard to protect Terri Schiavo in this office. And in the end, there were limitations on what we could do.


BLITZER: Those sentiments echoed by the govern's brother, President George Bush. Here's what he had to say just a few minutes ago.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today millions of Americans are saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo. Laura and I extend our condolences to Terri Schiavo's families. I appreciate the example of grace and dignity they have displayed at a difficult time.

I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and value and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others. The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak. In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in the favor of life.


BLITZER: When word of Terri Schiavo's death reached Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee, they stood and paused for a moment of silence. Some in that chamber had sought to keep her alive through legislation.


DENNIS BAXLEY, FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: Terri Schiavo is now a martyr. And her death is not in vain. We do have a cultural crisis, and the public policy debate balancing our value of the right to die with dignity and our value of every human life, no matter their disability, is not resolved.


BLITZER: And we're just getting this statement in from the House majority leader, Tom DeLay. Let me read it to you, a short statement.

"Mrs. Schiavo's death is a moral poverty and a legal tragedy. This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change."

He goes on to say -- listen to this -- "The time will comfort men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today." He goes on to say, "Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to god this fate never befalls another. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schindlers and with Terri Schiavo's friends in this time of deep sorrow."

A spokesman for Tom DeLay clarifying what the House majority leader saying in reference to "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." Dan Allen saying the statement from DeLay reflects -- "There clearly is disappointment in the way the federal judiciary," he says, "ignored the clear intent of what we passed," referring to the legislation in Congress. Dan Allen refused to comment further, saying DeLay would have his own news conference scheduled for around 2:30 p.m. Eastern in Houston, Texas.

Let's bring in Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. He's joining us on phone as well.

What do you make of Tom DeLay's statement, Senator, that "The time will come for men responsible for this to answer for their behavior?"

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Well, first, Wolf, let me say that this is a tragedy. This is an enormous tragedy. And everybody sees it for that.

An innocent woman dead. A family is grieving. On all sides difficult things.

I think the majority leader, he can speak for himself later on. But probably there is a lot of people here looking and saying the courts are generally looked to, to protect life. And here you have a case where the court sanctioned the death of a life by starvation and dehydration. And I think a lot of people just look at that as skewed and skewed application of the law and thinking.

BLITZER: Well, I don't know if you heard my interview with Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, a Christian evangelical leader, very, very disappointed, very frustrated, very bitter at the system. Bitter at the judicial branch of the U.S. government, saying that this is inappropriate, this is outlandish for what the judicial branch of the government does, in effect, creating the laws of the land.

BROWNBACK: Well, I think a number of people are very disappointed in the judiciary at this point in time, that they see the judiciary constantly, constantly pushing in on them, constantly going at their set of values, whether it's issues of life or it's the issues of marriage.

And then they don't get a chance to vote on judges. They don't get a chance to really have what they would deem a legitimate impact in a democracy. And they're saying, where is the democracy here? Where is the balance of power? Where is the input that we thought the people ran the country?

And I think that frustration, you're just seeing that continue to come forward time and time again.

BLITZER: Legislatively speaking, Senator, what, if anything, do you want to see done in the aftermath of Terri Schiavo's death?

BROWNBACK: I would hope a number of states would take up the issue of feeding and hydration at end-of-life stages, particularly when there is no direction from the individual themselves, and say that this is just not -- it's not ethical, it's not right, it's not humane, and that this would not take place. That would be at a state level.

At the federal level, I hope what we can do is really get some good hearings on people that are in that condition, what they need. And I hope we also can look at this issue of judges overall in this society. And I hope we can move forward on appointing some judges that attend to strict construction of the Constitution.

BLITZER: In the U.S. Supreme Court, if you take a look at the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, there is no shortage of conservatives or Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court justices right now. But they repeatedly sided with the lower courts, the state courts, the lower federal courts, in rejecting the motions from the Schindler family.

BROWNBACK: Well, I was hopeful that the federal court would take the issue up. That's why we passed that particular release bill. And it was passed on a bipartisan margin in both the House and the Senate. So I'm disappointed that the federal judiciary did not take that up at the lower court level.

But the disappointment in the judiciary doesn't end there. It's been on an overall basis the -- one of the major social issues in the country today is marriage. And this is a court-put-forth issue. It's not something that's been put forth by the legislative bodies. And I think that's why you continue to see that frustration with how the courts are operating in America.

BLITZER: Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, spending a few moments with us on this day. Terri Schiavo has passed away. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

Our Anderson Cooper is on the scene in Pinellas Park, Florida. He's joining us once again with additional information.

What are you learning, Anderson?

COOPER: Well, Wolf, we continue to wait for this press conference that's going to be at 2:30, George Felos, the attorney for Michael Schiavo. Want to hear more details about exactly what happened in that room, how Michael Schiavo is doing. He has been, of course, at the hospice now for the last two weeks. And as CNN's David Mattingly told us first right here on CNN, that Michael Schiavo was in the hospital room, according to his family, at the time Terri Schiavo passed away.

I'm joined on the phone right now but Florida Senator Bill Nelson.

Senator Nelson, your thoughts on the passing of Terri Schiavo.

SEN. Bill NELSON (D), FLORIDA: A tragedy just for our country. And perhaps one thing that might come out of this is that this woman who was described by friends when she was living as very shy, this shy woman has sensitized an entire nation to the need for a living will, an advanced directive, so that people will not get into this situation where there becomes the big fight. And we've got the legislation ready to go in Congress next week.

COOPER: Legislation for what?

NELSON: Anderson, I've got two versions. But as you know, whenever you get a driver's license in a state, they ask you if you want to be a donor of your organs.

I want to use that point of contact, that information about living wills, sending them to a Web site or obtaining a living will, encouraging them to talk to their attorney or their doctor, and let's see if we can avoid this kind of tragic situation that this family has just been through.

COOPER: Senator Nelson, do you have a living will? Do you have an advanced directive?

NELSON: Yes, sir. Both my wife and I. As a matter of fact, I was on the board of one of these organizations called Aging with Dignity, ten years ago. And my wife and I have also sat down with our grown children, who are in their 20s, and we discussed them filling out a living will, as well.

COOPER: Senator Nelson, we've just heard from Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas, who said he's concerned about what they term activist judges. Do you think the judicial side, the judges involved in this case, exceeded their authority, misused their authority in any way?

NELSON: No, I do not. As a matter of fact, to the contrary. I feel like if the legal system worked its will and the rule of law is supreme. We are a nation of laws, not of men and women. And as such, you've seen this case go all the way to the Supreme Court of Florida, and the United States, several times. And I think we can have the confidence that the rule of law has prevailed.

COOPER: Senator Bill Nelson, we appreciate you joining us this very difficult day. Thank you very much. Senator Bill Nelson from the state of Florida.

NELSON: I'm joined on the phone now by T.D. Jakes, who is a pastor out of Dallas. Your thoughts on the passing of Terri Schiavo?

REV. T.D. JAKES, POTTER'S HOUSE, DALLAS, TEXAS: Well, Anderson, thank you, first of all for the opportunity to express to the family and to the broader national family our condolences. I think that this is something that's really struck the heart of the nation, because we have the opportunity as the nation to watch this tragedy and to feel sorrow for all the people involved in it.

NELSON: I also, Pastor Jakes, want to bring in Reverend Jesse Jackson, who is standing by as well, and have you both talk and just have a conversation about this day, about what this case means, about where the country and this issue goes from here.

Pastor -- actually, Reverend Jackson, where does this issue go from here? I mean, Terri Schiavo has brought her journey to death, her life, her example, has brought so many people together from so many disparate groups. What happens now?

REV. JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Well, that simply mentions -- and hello, Dr. Jakes.

JAKES: Hello, sir.

JACKSON: One is this issue of faith in God and eternal life as a kind of refuge. For many people, that is their sanctuary. On the other hand, the issue of separation of powers. The legislative and the judicial branch -- I think that that is the wrong fight, the Congress trying to impose its rule upon the courts. But I do think that we have a situation here where a woman's tube -- feeding tube was pulled, and we watched her die and that was the painful journey for many of us to take.

I would hope that those in the future would see that law must be informed by mercy to be just. Law without mercy is crude and cold. We saw a merciless episode here where her death was induced by starvation, dehydration. And that to me, Pastor Jakes, has been the painful part of this last ordeal.

JAKES: One of the things I'd like to add, Anderson, and I'm sure Reverend Jackson can relate to this as well -- the clergymen, we're often called into these critical situations to see, to walk families down this winding road. And it's unusual for a case like this to get as much attention, but that it happens every day in hospitals all over America where people have to make tough choices. It has been stated countless times how important it is to have a living will. I certainly concur and agree with that.

But in addition to that, I think it is important also, as your relationships with different people change, divorce, separations, spousal abuse, be sure that you update those living wills and legal documents to reflect your request. The decision you make at 20 may not be the same attitude that you have toward the person at 35 or 40. Make sure that you have current documents that reflect who you would trust to make these final decisions on your behalf.

JACKSON: I think also, along that same line, is that we saw in this case where -- the second only to the brain damage has been the family feud. I mean, even to point of the family not being in the room at the last few minutes, this thing has just ripped up. And now the family wants a funeral, it seems, in Florida. The husband chooses cremation in Pennsylvania. And so, the family bitterness has been a huge piece of this.

And so that's why prayer and faith and reconciliation are such important sub-themes on this. But I also think that while faith has sustained the family, the medical malpractice lawsuit helped to sustain her, too. Medicaid has helped to sustain her, too. I hope the Congress will derive from this a need for long-term healthcare and healthcare, public policy, for all Americans.

JAKES: It is a critical situation.

COOPER: Reverend Jakes, you talked about the Schindler family. You know, in many senses, as you've said, this is a story which has captured the attention, the heart of the world. Certainly the United States. People watching this day after day after day. Even when there weren't any new developments. And so today I think there are many people sitting in their homes, sitting at work, who are watching us right now, who feel a sense of loss and a sense of grieving. What do you say to them? You counsel families who have faced tragedy. What do you say to people who didn't know Terri Schiavo and yet feel they do know her?

JAKES: You know, one of the great things about being a believer is to be able to cast your cares on the lord and to know that he cares for you. And even though human intervention is often confusing, as we've seen depicted in the last -- Terri Schiavo's family, it is nice to know that God is sovereign, that ultimately, eternal life is the primary goal, much longer than natural life.

I think that those of us who have fought so ardently to protect Terri's right to life are confident that we might have grief, but we don't have guilt. When you've done all that you can do, grief comes, it's a natural reaction to a human experience. But it is so nice when you can experience grief void of guilt, because you've done everything that you can do.

And to Terri's family, I think it's very, very important that while they may be grief-stricken, they've certainly done everything they can do to fight for her life and to her husband. He can only be comforted if he is sure that he's carried out her will. And that's something that's between him and God and I hope that he has done the right thing because his decisions are irrevocable at this point.

JACKSON: You know, Pastor Jakes, and this point I also thought was critical is that when insurance can no longer bring you comfort or money, only faith in God gives that you that strength that does surpass understanding. And it was Job who said, after having lost all, and said, my worst fears come upon me, and yet, I know my redeemer lives. And yet will I trust him. It is that kind of faith that can help dry your tears and get through this dark passageway.

JAKES: I think you gentlemen might agree, but one of the things that made this case so pronounced -- we often think about life and we often think about death, but what we seldom think about is getting stuck in between. And what Terri depicted for us, that it is possible to find a debilitating disease to occur, so overwhelming that we are neither living life abundantly as the Bible says that we should and as most people want to live their lives, an abundant life, nor not quite dead.

And to be stuck in between those places is where we need to make the most improvements in long-term healthcare. As Reverend Jackson has talked about over and over again, it is a critical issue, but also making decisions. Who is going to make decisions when you cannot? Updating those decisions when possible, and ultimately relying on a God who causes all things to work together for the good of them who love him.

JACKSON: You know, Father, at the very end, in King David struggles, they had to be sure that all vital signs were gone. And of course, in this case, Pastor Jakes, what struck me so differently, you and I have counseled people where cancer and then coma and then the pulse goes down and you pull the plug. And there you have no choice.

In this instance, it seemed that had choices. On the one hand, she needed food and water. On the other hand, we had it and didn't give it. And to watch her die under those conditions touched something deep, profound and transcended, I think, the walls that usually divide people.

JAKES: It's completely different for a life support situation that we deal with on a daily basis.

JACKSON: Indeed.

JAKES: It's total different circumstances.

COOPER: Reverend Jackson, Reverend Jakes, we appreciate you joining us today on what is a difficult day, not only for the families involved in this, but really, for so many people around the country, around the world, who feel as if they know Terri Schiavo. We appreciate your words of healing. Thank you very much.

Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer now, in Washington.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson. Thank you very much. And thank the Reverend Jackson, the Reverend Jakes, as well. We're going to take a quick break, but we're going to have more reaction to the death of Terri Schiavo. Coming up, I'll speak with one doctor here in Washington who deals with these kinds of issues on a nearly daily basis. Also, our Dr. Sanjay Gupta standing by, as well. And Jeff Greenfield, with his thoughts.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our coverage, the death of Terri Schiavo. She died shortly after 9:00 a.m. Eastern earlier today. We're watching the reaction from around the country.

Joining us now, Dr. Carlos Gomez. He's the associate director at Capital Hospice, which specializes in end-of-life care.

Dr. Gomez, thanks very much for joining us.

You see this kind of drama played out on a personal level on a nearly daily basis, don't you?

DR. CARLOS GOMEZ, CAPITAL HOSPICE: I see the cases played out. I don't know that the drama I see comes even close to this one.

BLITZER: You ever seen anything like this?


BLITZER: What -- why do you think this sparked such a nerve across the country, whereas the cases that you see on a day-to-day basis almost become routine, these end-of-life cases?

GOMEZ: The easy answer is that she didn't have a living will, and so we ultimately cannot know with anybody with any sort of certainty what she would have wanted. We have said all along that the spouse is the first person who can make this sort of decision. That now appears to be in dispute. There are issues that we thought were settled, both medically and legally which seem to have resurfaced now, and I think that's probably what's causing most of the controversy.

BLITZER: Which issues specifically have resurfaced in your mind?

GOMEZ: Well, there are a couple. Medically, this question of PVS has been brought up.

BLITZER: Persistent vegetative state.

GOMEZ: Exactly.

And there is some evidence that there are degrees of PVS. There is some evidence from Europe. And I think that that merits research. And I think we need to know more. The more we know, the better we'll be at making decisions.

I also think that we need to decide as a society not just this question of life and death, but the kind of life that we want to live until we die. And that's something the Reverend Jakes made the point, that most of us don't think about the in-between. Well, most of us are going to be in the in-between. We're going to die of a chronic disease that's going to take months, sometimes years, to take us. And those are decisions that are very, very tough, and rather than the dramatic decisions over whether to take somebody off of a ventilator or off of a tube feed, I think those are ultimately going to be much harder.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Dr. Gomez. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our CNN medical correspondent, is joining us. He's in Atlanta. Sanjay, these videotapes that came out last night showing her in recent years, what, if anything, from a medical perspective, can we learn from these new pictures that we've just seen?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what we're learning is just how confusing this remains, Wolf. First of all, you know, a lot of people have been making a lot of assumptions base on just looking at these videotapes. I think that's a mistake. I don't think any doctor who's responsible is going to say for sure that Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state or not based on looking at some videotapes.

What was sort of striking to me was you had two neurologists who both examined her and very much the same way, and arrived at just dramatically different conclusions. One said she clearly was not in a persistent vegetative state, and could be rehabilitated significantly to the point where she could speak. And the other one said she was close to brain dead. So I think what Dr. Gomez just said, maybe there are varying degrees of persistent vegetative state. This is sort of a soft underbelly of neuroscience. There aren't a lot of absolutes here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will we know for sure whether she was in a persistent vegetative state as what degree once the autopsy is completed, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Great question. We've been talking to neuropathologists around the country about this. I can say this with some degree of confidence, that we're going to know a lot more than we do now about what areas of the brain that were affected and what those parts of the brain actually did. Take a look on the left, Wolf. That is a healthy brain. The brain on the right was the brain of a person who was known to have persistent vegetative state. Even the layperson can see a dramatic difference here. Lots of loss of areas of brain tissue.

But I think every neuropathologist we've talked to said they would take one step back from saying conclusively, even with this best evidence of and autopsy, actually looking at the brain itself, that we can say clinically she was in a persistent vegetative state. So we may never know the answer absolutely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know, Dr. Gomez, that's not necessarily your specialty, the autopsy. But what's your opinion? How much will we know in the aftermath of an autopsy?

GOMEZ: Well, I think Dr. Gupta is right, we will know more. But he's also correct in saying that the diagnosis of PVS, at least right now, is a clinical diagnosis, and it's a diagnosis that's made over time.

It actually doesn't surprise me that two neurologists would be that diametrically opposed in their diagnosis. Who knows when they examined them, who knows what was going on at the time. And that's, I think, exactly what makes it tough. So when people are looking -- if people are looking to an autopsy to give them a definitive answer, they are going to be very dissatisfied.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Jeff Greenfield, our senior analyst.

Jeff, as you've been watching the Terri Schiavo case unfold in these past few weeks, and now she has passed away, why has this story become -- has resonated so much with the American public?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Apart from what Dr. Gomez said earlier, you cannot ignore us. Ever since the birth of mass media, it's core power in my view is the power to take ordinary individuals in an extraordinary situation and make millions of people feel as if we are intimately connected to them. You can you go all the way back to 1925 when a guy named Floyd Collins was trapped in a mine cave-in I think in Kentucky. It became national news. Remember Jessica McClure, the little girl who fell down a well?

In this case, you have 24-hour news, which covers this story constantly. And unlike so much of what we cover, which if I may be blunt, is often unworthy and is covered simply because we have so much time to fill, this is literally a life-and-death matter. There is not a person in this country who can't identify either with Terri Schiavo, with the spouse or with the parents. So you have an enormous emotional issue, you have a split in the family. You have the omnipresence of the media. You have the extraordinary involvement of the Congress of the United States and the president involving itself. It's, if you pardon the expression, a perfect storm. And this is one case, Wolf, whereas I say, unlike so much of what we cover, this one also merits a lot of attention because there is not a person around who isn't going to be facing this question sooner or later.

BLITZER: What do you make of the statement released by Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, a part of it in which he says the time will come for men responsible for this to answer for their behavior. That sounds like he's issuing a warning, a threat there.

GREENFIELD: Well, I mean if his spokesman is right, then he meant the federal judiciary. Look, there are two things he could have meant. He could have meant in the general sense that everyone has to answer to their maker. Or he could mean that the -- I mean if you want to take it as a political threat, the one power that the Congress has over judges -- you were talking about that with James Dobson, is the power to impeach. I find it difficult to imagine that that's what he's talking about. But I imagine majority leader DeLay will have a press conference, and he can explain that for himself.

BLITZER: Let me bring back Dr. Gomez. In these final days, these past two weeks, she lasted two weeks. You weren't surprised that she lasted that long without food and water?

GOMEZ: The question that's been posed over and over again is, what is the average. The average is seven to 14 days typically. But remember, averages are bell curves. I've seen people die in the first hour that we removed feeding tubes, and I've seen people go as long as 27 days. So no, she was a young woman. She was obviously very well cared for, and that's something that hasn't been emphasized enough. She clearly got excellent medical and nursing care, and it doesn't surprise me that somebody in that condition could have lasted 14 days. BLITZER: Are these people, in these seven to 14 days, in these final days of their lives, going through incredible pain? I know they give them morphine to deal with the pain. Sometimes a little bit more morphine. That supposedly accelerates the process leading to death. But how much pain are they in?

GOMEZ: Let me respond to a couple of things.

BLITZER: Sorry. There may be a myth in what I just said.

GOMEZ: I don't think the morphine accelerated her death. Unless they were giving her massive quantities with the intent to kill her, I just don't think that. I've seen morphine used judiciously too many times in these instances, and I simply don't buy it.

Your question about suffering and pain in this situation -- let me start by saying that nothing in medicine is certain. We speak with more authority, I think, than we're entitled to. However, physiologically, we know that pain, thirst and hunger, which is really what we're talking about, not dehydration and starvation, are very complex, very involved reactions to the brain and the brain in response to the body. Ms. Schiavo was very damaged. The question is, was she so damaged that she couldn't sense this thing. And I can't answer that.

However, I will tell you that I have taken care of many, many patients in renal failure -- and that's what I think Ms. Schiavo died of -- who were conscious, who were lucid, and they did not complain of hunger and thirst. They did complain of pain, which we treated. They did complain of anxiety, which we treated. They were also depressed, which we treated. So there are things that I think we know are treatable symptoms that are treatable. Thirst and hunger, quite frankly, don't strike me as the ones that we would worry about in this situation.

BLITZER: I'm going to have Dr. Sanjay Gupta weigh in on this as well, but we have to take a very short break. We'll continue our conversation on the death of Terri Schiavo right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our coverage on the death of Terri Schiavo. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our medical correspondent -- living wills. There are limitations, as the medical profession has to consider as far as living wills are concerned. Explain those limitations.

GUPTA: Well, you know, what's interesting here, Wolf, is that a lot of living wills, most living wills actually focus not so much on a specific diagnosis -- meaning you don't say something like, "If I'm in a persistent vegetative state" -- but they're more specific to the sense of what you can no longer do.

Am I a person who is incapacitated to the point where I can no longer make decisions for myself? Am I requiring some sort of sustenance in a feeding tube or ventilator or something like that? They're more focused on individuals as opposed to what we've focused on and the legal system has focused on so much -- persistent vegetative state verses a minimally conscious state.

So I think that's an important point. You know, the terms are important. But I think most of the public and families of patients sort of get that there are subtleties here. Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, there are going to be political ramifications, medical ramifications, moral ramifications out of this whole Terri Schiavo case. What are you going to be looking at in the days to come?

GREENFIELD: A couple of things. One, I'm curious to see whether or not -- if the surveys are right, that the majority of Americans favored the decision that the husband made, and an even bigger majority disapproved of the Congress stepping in to this, the question is, will the intensity of feeling in what we'll broadly call the so- called pro life community and its influence among the Republican rank and file, will that have more impact than what seems to be a majority view of, step back, we should have let the husband decide.

I'm loathe to say there are going to be near-term political consequences. This isn't like Elian Gonzales, which happened in the spring of a presidential election year. But my question, what I'm going to be looking for is whether the death of Terri Schiavo and the really strong feelings this has engendered is going to solidify the Republican conservatives who will want no truck with, say, a more pro- choice kind of Republican, some of whom are looking toward higher office. Listen, we're at a very speculative point.

The second thing I'm going to look at is whether or not those conservatives who have objected to the intrusion, on either federalist grounds or libertarian grounds, that this is none of the government's business, whether they're going to begin to speak out against what they might see as what their congressional leaders and their president tried to do.

I can't answer these questions. But you asked what I'll be looking at, and that's what I'll be looking at, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be looking along with you. Jeff Greenfield, thanks very much. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks to you as well. Also Dr. Carlos Gomez here in Washington. Excellent, excellent discussion on the death of Terri Schiavo and the fallout from that.

I'll be back later today, every weekday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." We'll have much more on the day's top stories, including more from Florida on the passing of Terri Schiavo.

Until then, thanks very much for watching IN THE NEWS from CNN. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LIVE FROM" with Carol Lin and Miles O'Brien, they're coming up next to pick up our coverage.


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