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Book Review: Fighting For Dear Life by David Gibbs

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Once in a while I try to read something that has the stack decked against it in my head. In one of the biggest Right-To-Life cases of the past few years, the death of Terry Schiavo, my mind is at best riding the fence, and my opinions skew from both sides to something in the middle. That's why I to read Fighting For Dear Life (copyright 2006, Bethany House), by David Gibbs, the attorney for Terry's parents. But I'm still skewed.

The author has the unique position of having spent time with Terry and her family. The public wasn't allowed to see much of the interaction because of various legal blocks made by her husband, Michael Schiavo, and so we collectively had no idea how alert she was or not, how coherent she was or not, how alive she was or not. Rightly or wrongly, this case didn't get as much scrutiny or soundbite publicity as other cases have over the last decade or so.

Where many cases are "tried in the media", this one was tried more by what was left out. The book that Gibbs writes is trying to show that other side for the first time, trying to breathe some life literally and figuratively into Terry Schiavo for the world to experience. In doing that, he does a wonderful job – there's a real humanity that can be shared in the tears and angst of parents simply fighting for a daughter's life, and in a daughter whose life has evidently meant so much to so many.

But the problem I've had from the beginning is the demonization of her husband, Michael, and Gibbs continues some of that from the opening pages. It read to me more like Michael was on trial than anything else, and I'm not sure that was fair. Should this have happened? Should Terry's feeding tube have been removed? I don't know, to be honest. I think this goes beyond black and white to a grey area we too often want to avoid.

And putting the parents' wishes for their daughter above the husband's wishes for his wife – giving both sides the benefit of the doubt, both parties wanting what was best for Terry – I would like to err on the side of the marriage. I think that's biblical, and I don't think he dropped the ball in doing what he felt was right. The cards stacked against him by his own possibly poor or impatient choices may have been used to skew the perspective, but I still want to give him the benefit of having tried to do right by his wife.

Was there something wrong here? Probably. Was the right decision made? Maybe not. But to demonize one side over the other is in effect victimizing again, adding to the muddle instead of helping clear a way for peace and healing. In the end, it might have been the fight itself that had the most devastating impact on the family, I think.

All that to say – I think Gibbs has written an excellent first-person account of what went on inside the walls, sharing life we weren't allowed to see. He shares similar stories where the sure-to-die to indeed recover – holding out hope, prayer, and persistence are all good things, and he lifts them up admirably as examples of what could've happened here if Terry had been allowed to have that opportunity. But again, there's the temptation to question and demonize a husband caught in the unimaginable place of losing his love, his partner, his friend, too.

So while I think this book goes far in sharing the family's side, it also continues to skew towards their anger and tendency to blame, and the the skew against her husband is too pronounced and uneven, leaving me to wonder if real forgiveness and repentance on all sides is possible if the story ends here.

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About Rick Stilwell

  • R

    Gibbs adds important “evidence” for those who really don’t understand the medical side of this.

    Very frequently now, we hear of folks in VS/PVS who appear to be aware to some degree. Certainly their stories are not identical to Terri’s story, but I think we have to ask if it is really ethical to dehydrate people.

    I’ve seen too much in this case that alarms me. Tests can be performed poorly (i.e. EEG) and be of little value. In Terri’s case, she wasn’t given the benefit of an fMRI. I suppose the electrodes (wrongly LEFT in her brain) were the problem, but surely she could have had a PET scan.

    Gibbs shares some inspiring stories. It should be, but it won’t be a book for everyone

  • Don

    First, I am now about 30 or so pages in and, so far, I do not see the husband being demonized beyond what he did to himself. It was Michael who barred press coverage from Terri’s room and kept visitors to an absolute minimum right to the end. Why? Simple: His whole case in support of her death was built upon his claim that Terri wasn’t really “there” anymore. If this book is true, Terri actually WAS “there” right up to the end and Michael knew it. If the lawyer’s accounts of Terri’s capacities are true, letting the press in for unrestricted coverage would have blown Michael’s entire case out of the water and probably have opened him up to all kinds of trouble. So if you’re going to take the time to review this book, you owe it to your readers to make the choice: decide whether this book is a pack of lies, or if Michael Schiavo is a monster who deserves far more demonization than he’s gotten.

    Second, I have to wonder if you actually read this book: her name was Terri, not “Terry” as you repeatedly spell it in your review.

  • First, thanks for taking the time and for catching the typo on her name. I hope that’s my only sign of disrespect towards her or her husband. Second, I didn’t think it was necessarily right for the work to be so subjectively one-sided when questions on the “other side” were just as valid. In my opinion, if one has to demonize the “other” in order to make it look bad, then there might not be much of a case there.

    Thanks for taking the time – really appreciate your thoughts and do not necessarily disagree. I just wish there was some way to communicate “I don’t know” as a viable grey area in some of these cases.

  • Randy

    I read the whole book and I felt that David Gibbs went out of his way not to demonize the husband. Can you give us an example from the book where you felt that David Gibbs was demonizing the husband? Reference to your argument that the book was one sided. I have found that the major news media was one sided in presenting information that is in favor of the husband. That is not journalism. No mention from the media that the expert misdiagnose PVS 40% of the time. Or the fact that 40 doctors or physicians believed that Terri was not in a PVS. And the 3 doctors that did say she was in a PVS did not spend as much time as 1 hour to examine her. Is 20 minutes enough time to determine whether or not she is in a PVS? I don’t think so.

  • I think the best thing for this conversation is for others to post their own reviews. In re-reading my original post, my comments were about an overall tone that skewed one way against the other. But I don’t have the desire to debate – it was my biased opinion against that of others, and that’s okay.