Autopsy on Terri Schiavo Planned Before Michael’s Decision

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 30, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Autopsy on Terri Schiavo Planned Before Michael’s Decision Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 30
, 2005

Pinellas Park, FL ( — Yesterday, George Felos stood in front of dozens of reports and announced that Terri Schiavo’s estranged husband Michael had changed his mind and would allow an autopsy to be conducted on Terri if she dies.

The altruistic statement declared Michael wanted to exonerate himself on accusations he abused Terri and to show Terri is very severely brain damaged.

Yet, t he decision to conduct an autopsy had already been made when Felos spoke with the media — and not by Michael or Felos.

Jon Thogmartin, medical examiner for Pinellas and Pasco counties, tells the St. Petersburg Times newspaper he made the decision to conduct an autopsy if necessary and said it had nothing to do with Michael’s change of heart.

"We have determined to be involved because of the statutes and because the people of the state of Florida say we are involved," Pellan said. "Not because Michael Schiavo wants us involved."

Florida statute 406.11 requires local officials to determine the cause of death of anyone who dies in an "unusual circumstance."

The law also requires medical examiners to look into a death even with the deceased is scheduled to be cremated, as Michael wants to do if Terri dies.

Pellan told the Times that Felos asked his office about the procedures for requesting an autopsy and then on Monday, Pellan notified Felos he would conduct one because Florida law requires it.

Felos’ media appearance came on Tuesday, after Pellan’s decision and the medical examiner told the St. Petersburg newspaper, "There was not a call from Mr. Felos."

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."

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.

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 –