Terri Schiavo Autopsy Could Answer Abuse Questions, Not PVS

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 29, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Terri Schiavo Autopsy Could Answer Abuse Questions, Not PVS Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
March 29
, 2005

Pinellas Park, FL (LifeNews.com) — While Terri Schiavo clings to life and her parents hope and pray for a last-minute miracle to stop her painful starvation death, questions are looming as to what will happen if she dies. Now that her estranged husband Michael has agreed to an autopsy, Terri’s family wonders if that will shed light on Terri’s condition now or what happened when she collapsed in 1990.

An autopsy would not likely help resolve the debate over whether Terri’s condition is a persistent vegetative state or if, as some neurologists and doctors suggest, she is minimally conscious and able to interact on a limited basis.

"Persistent vegetative state or minimally conscious state is a clinical diagnosis," Michael De Georgia, head of the neurology/neurosurgery intensive care unit at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, says. "It cannot be confirmed by autopsy."

George Felos, the euthanasia advocate who is Michael’s lead attorney, told reporters that Michael switched his position on the autopsy in part to be able to prove his contention that Terri is PVS.

Yet, according to a Medpage report, Harvard neuropathologist E. Tessa Hedley Whyte said the brain "can’t tell if there is a persistent vegetative state or not."

"The autopsy will show damage — probably mostly scarring now — and that damage will most likely correspond to some extent to what was seen on images," Whyte said.

Though the autopsy will confirm that Terri is severely mentally disabled as a result of her collapse and the deprivation of oxygen to her brain, Dr. De Georgia warns of reading too much into it and concluding that it shows Terri was a PVS patient.

"[T]here is no standard cutoff that says if you lose this many brain cells you are in a persistent vegetative state," he told Medpage.

Michael Williams, an associate medical professor at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, adds that "pathology alone cannot prove or disprove a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state."

What the autopsy could do, however, is help determine whether Michael abused Terri, leading to her collapse.

A bone scan conducted a year after the collapse showed signs of possible trauma and broken bones.

Dr. Michael Baden, chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, told the Associated Press that autopsies can detect whether an adult’s bones had ever been broken and healed, even years ago.

Baden told AP that the autopsy couldn’t detect when the bones were broke but could confirm they broke at some time.

Some neurologists and a group of 30 doctors submitted briefs on Terri Schiavo’s behalf last week contending that Terri is in a minimally conscious state and is able to respond to interaction with her family members and friends who visit her.

They say Terri would be able to make a partial recovery from her condition if Michael would provide her the appropriate level of medical care and rehabilitative therapy he has denied her since the early 1990s.

Related news stories:

Terri Schiavo’s Parents’ Last Motion on Terri Saying "I Want to Live"

Terri Schiavo Case Reveals How We Treated Disabled Americans

Neurologists: Terri Schiavo Not in Persistent Vegetative State

Terri Schiavo’s Hospice Nurses Want Her to Die, Dissenter Fired

Related web sites:
Terri Schiavo’s parents – https://www.terrisfight.org