May 20, 2024

Debate flares up again after Schiavo autopsy

Terri Schiavo before she became brain-damaged

The long-awaited release of Terri Schiavo’s autopsy has failed to quench the debate over her husband’s decision to withdraw food and water and to allow her to die of dehydration. Instead of declaring the painful case closed, Florida governor Jeb Bush told a state prosecutor to investigate what happened on the night that Mrs Schiavo collapsed 15 years ago. He feels that her husband Michael has to account for a discrepancy of an hour between the time that he rang 911 for help and the time he said she collapsed.

The autopsy by Dr Jon R. Thogmartin revealed that Terri’s brain had atrophied to about half its normal weight because it had been starved of oxygen. She was blind because the area of the brain which handles vision had been destroyed. She would not have been able to eat or drink by mouth. Dr Thogmartin was unable to determine the cause of the brain injury and dismissed the theory that she had an eating disorder. He found no evidence of abuse or strangulation, which appears to put to rest theories that her husband had tried to kill her.

The New York Times issued a stinging editorial which declared that opportunistic politicians and agenda-driven agitators” had been wrong to foster hopes that Mrs Schiavo might eventually have responded to treatment and that the courts were right to let her die. This was clearly aimed at Governor Bush, who responded with a blast at the Times’ “grotesque and chilling disrespect for the sanctity of life”. “In cases where patients do not have an expressed written directive regarding end-of-life decisions and where the patient’s guardian has a conflict of interest,” he wrote in a letter, “it only makes sense to err on the side of life.”