Schiavo Autopsy Results Released To Public
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 15, 2005
LARGO, FLORIDA--Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Dr. Jon Thogmartin released the long-awaited results of Terri Schiavo's autopsy Wednesday.
The autopsy report showed that Terri died on March 31 of dehydration, rather than starvation, 13 days after the feeding tube that provided her with food and water was removed. It also showed that her heart had been strong before and after the mysterious collapse that left her brain without oxygen in February 1990.
Thogmartin wrote in his report that Terri's brain had shrunk to one-half the size of most women her age and size, and that most of the neurons in her brain had vanished. "No amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons," he explained.
In particular, he noted that the part of Terri's brain that processes visual images had been damaged to the point that she was blind.
The medical examiner concluded that Terri would not have been able to survive even if she was given food and fluids by mouth after the feeding tube was withdrawn. In fact, he surmised, she likely would have inhaled the food into her lungs and choked.
Dr. Stephen J. Nelson, Chief Medical Examiner for the 10th Judicial Circuit of Florida, contributed to the 39-page document. Regarding claims by Terri's husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, that she was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), Nelson noted that it is impossible to confirm or deny that claim based on the autopsy alone.
"Neuropathologic examination alone of the decedent's brain -- or any brain, for that matter -- cannot prove or disprove a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state or minimally conscious state," he explained.
Thogmartin said he was not able to rely on the autopsy to verify or reject claims by Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, that she had been strangled or beaten at the time of her brain injury. He said bone and tissue scans showed no evidence of trauma, only osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones which is common with people who, like Terri, have not moved for several years.
Not Dead Yet, the grassroots group that led the disability rights campaign to keep Mr. Schiavo from having his wife starve and dehydrate to death, responded in a press statement that the autopsy leaves more questions unanswered than it answers.
"It's always seemed to us that PVS isn't really a diagnosis; it's a value judgment masquerading as a diagnosis," explained Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet. "When it comes to the hard science, no qualified pathologist went on the record saying she couldn't think or couldn't experience her own death through dehydration."
Twenty-six disability-related groups signed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the Schindler family over the last few years. Disability activists joined right-to-life groups in protests and vigils outside the facilities where Terri's feeding tube was pulled on three separate occasions -- in April 2001, October 2003, and, finally, March 2005.
"The core issues remain the same," said Diane Coleman, Not Dead Yet's president and founder, "protection of the life and dignity of people under guardianship, and a high standard of proof in removing food and water from a person who can not express their own wishes."
"I still see Terri as a sister in the disability community," Heather De Mian, 34, a Not Dead Yet activist from Columbia, Missouri, told the Orlando Sentinel.
"She was abused by being denied rehab for 13 years, and so obviously her brain continued to degenerate."
"Schiavo's brain shrank by half" (Orlando Sentinel)
Terri Schindler-Schiavo Autopsy (Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner via St. Petersburg Times)
Not Dead Yet
"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)