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Schiavo and its (In)Significance

23 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2005  

John A. Robertson

University of Texas Law School


The question of removing Teri Schiavo's feeding tube electrified the country in March, 2005. Florida, like most states, had adopted a substituted judgment paradigm for decisionmaking for incompetent patients. Under that approach the case appears to have been correctly decided, and should have been resolved after final review by the Florida courts. By reframing the case as one of starvation of a conscious person with a brain injury, lawyers for Teri Schiavo's parents were able to generate massive public support from right-to-life and disability rights groups. This led to additional litigation and both state and national legislative attempts to overturn the results of an on-going judicial proceeding. These events demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the substituted judgment paradigm, and the power of the right-to-life movement in judicial and policy decisions at the end of life. In the end the Schiavo case will have little significance in changing the law of end-of-life care. But it does show the influence that "culture of life" forces will exert on the legal and policy issues raised by biotechnology.

Keywords: medical ethics, constutional law, end-of-life, Schiavo

Suggested Citation

Robertson, John A., Schiavo and its (In)Significance. U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 86; Stetson Law Review, Vol. 35, pp. 101-121, 2005. Available at SSRN: or

John A. Robertson (Contact Author)

University of Texas Law School ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
512-232-1307 (Phone)
512-232-2399 (Fax)

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