MIAMI — The father of Terri Schiavo, who became a national symbol in a closely watched right-to-die fight, has died, his son said Saturday. Robert Schindler was 71.
Schindler, a tireless activist through years of legal wrangling, died from heart failure at a hospital in St. Petersburg.
"I am heartbroken over the loss of my father and yet I know at this moment he is rejoicing with my sister, Terri," his son, Bobby Schindler, said Saturday in a statement.
Terri Schiavo, who courts ruled was in a "persistent vegetative state," died in 2005 after the feeding tube that had nourished her for years was removed according to her husband's wishes.
Schiavo's heart stopped in 1990, but her family insisted she wanted to live and could be helped with therapy. Schiavo was able to breathe on her own but relied on a feeding and hydration tube to live.
Her husband, Michael, said his wife would not have wanted to live in a vegetative state and had the feeding tube removed twice. Legal maneuverings continued for years as the case became a political lightning rod with media camped outside Schiavo's Clearwater nursing home around the clock.
The 40-year-old woman left no written will, but in Florida a person's wishes must be honored even if they are expressed orally.
Congress eventually passed a bill allowing a federal court to intervene and keep the feeding tube. At the time, President George W. Bush left his Texas ranch to sign it into law.
A federal judge refused to order her feeding tube reinserted, a decision upheld by a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
An autopsy supported Michael Schiavo's contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state with no consciousness and no hope of recovery.
Throughout the emotional debate, family members described Schindler as a compassionate man who led with a quiet strength during the hardest times.
"Even at the height of the battle to save my sister Terri's life, when his patience and temperance was near exhaustion, he managed to display a gentleness of spirit," Bobby Schindler said.
Robert Schindler and other family members founded the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation after her death in 2005.