Schiavo Autopsy Shows Massive Brain Damage

Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state, would not have been able to function even if fed by mouth, and was not abused prior to her death, according to the official autopsy. As predicted, however, the Schindler family continues to charge that Michael Schiavo abused her and that she would have recovered had she been fed.

Schiavo Autopsy Shows Massive Brain Damage (AP)

An autopsy on Terri Schiavo backed her husband’s contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state, finding that she had massive and irreversible brain damage and was blind, the medical examiner’s office said Wednesday. It also found no evidence that she was strangled or otherwise abused. But what caused her collapse 15 years ago remained a mystery. The autopsy and post-mortem investigation found no proof that she had an eating disorder, as was suspected at the time, Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin said.

Autopsy results on the 41-year-old brain-damaged woman were made public Wednesday, more than two months after her death March 31 ended a right-to-die battle between her husband and parents that engulfed the courts, Congress and the White House and divided the country.

Her parents cling to their belief that her condition could have improved, in spite of the autopsy report, their lawyer said.

She died from dehydration, Thogmartin said. He said she did not appear to have suffered a heart attack and there was no evidence that she was given harmful drugs or other substances prior to her death. He said that after her feeding tube was removed, she would not have been able to eat or drink if she had been given food by mouth, as her parents requested. “Removal of her feeding tube would have resulted in her death whether she was fed or hydrated by mouth or not,” Thogmartin told reporters. He also said she was blind, because the “vision centers of her brain were dead,” and that her brain was about half of its expected size when she died 13 days following the feeding tube’s removal.

The last fifteen years of Terri Schiavo’s life were a tragedy. These results seem to confirm the view of the various guardians ad litem and judges who looked at the case that Michael Schiavo was not a monster eager to kill his wife and the judgment of all the medical experts not employed by the Schindlers.

Update (1536): The medical examiners at NewsMax dispute the autopsy findings as well.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anjin-san says:

    I predict a roaring silence on this matter from the White House. There is no more political hay to be made off of the Schiavo tragedy. And after all, Bush is never wrong…. right?

    I also wonder if Frist will stand up and admit he was wrong… not holding my breath.

  2. Bob Waters says:

    How do you figure?

    Michael paid for his lawyers through a malpractice suit predicated on the cost of caring for Terri through a normal life span. He repeated over and over during this time that Terri had never expressed any preference to him with regard to being kept alive by extraordinary means. Then, when he had won his suit and was able to afford one of the top right-to-kill lawyers in the country, he changed his story and began to say that Terri had expressed a desire not to stay alive. He repeatedly asked in the presence of witnesses, “Is she dead yet?” and “When is that bitch gonna die?”

    Keep in mind, of course, that the idea that nourishment and hydration are in any sense “extraordinary means” is a legal fiction imposed by an activist Supreme Court. Terri Schaivo was killed by her husband, and with the connivance of the courts.

    Another point needs to be made: a finding that a person was in a persistent vegetative state cannot be made by autopsy. On the other hand, several neurologists who examined Terri while she was alive concluded that she was not.

    The monetary advantage gained by Michael through the malpractice suit gave him an advantage over the Schindlers- who had to rely on the pro-bono work of a non-specialist- which they could not overcome. She did not even raise Michael’s repeated previous statements that Terri had never fexpressed her wishes in the matter. Once the trial court, as finder of fact, had ruled, matters of fact were no longer as a practical matter admissable on appeal.

    Michael Schaivo is a despicable human being, a liar, and a murderer.

  3. David Levine says:

    Michael was by all credible accounts an amazing advocate for Terri. This report shows only what most rational people already knew. He never abused Terri, he loved her and followed his heart to carry out what he belived she would want. Of course we can have sympathy for the parents as well. We on the other hand can have none for the state or the religious right who clearly show thier obession with taking away choice and dignity all in the name of a twisted ideology that celebrates suffering over compassion.

  4. Anderson says:

    That so many people continue to insist that Schiavo had a functioning brain—contrary to all reliable evidence—makes it a little easier to understand those who insist that Bush has a functioning brain ….

    (Another moonbat twist to an otherwise innocuous subject! Yes!)

  5. Mike Loree says:

    Where, Mr. Waters, do you get this information? I have never heard of these statements (“Is she dead yet?” and “When is that bitch gonna die?”)attributed to Mr. Schaivo and suspect that they are fabricated due to their sensational nature. Your “timeline” also seems suspect as I have never heard this argument (from any party) and have, in fact, heard the exact opposite from the mainstream newsmedia.

    Don’t let your zeal turn you into a liar.

  6. Anjin-san says:

    Bob,

    Please document your claims. The Enquirer does not count as a source BTW…

  7. DaveD says:

    I am one of those folks who was a bit turned off by the zeal with which many wanted to see basic sustenance withheld from Terri Schiavo. The autopsy results, however, come as no surprise to me. The atrophy of the brain considering Ms. Schiavo’s long term intellectual incapacitation should be no surprise. I do not understand what the relevance is noting her being blind. Blind people can respond to the direction of sound and if ocular muscles are working, will look in the direction from whence the sound originates. I guess my discomfort from the whole affair arises from my perception of the progressive institutionalization of deciding what is a worthwhile life. In this case we had two parties which felt they were speaking, despite opposing views, on behalf of Ms. Schiavo’s well-being. One side saw no more hope and a life he felt his wife would never have wanted and one side still clung to the very, very thin thread of hope. But I just was uncomfortable with the type of people who seemed to be backing Mr. Schiavo. There seems to be progressively larger numbers of people, and I include the bioethicists in this, who think that they know best how to judge what a worthwhile life is. And they are eerily dispassionate in their judgements of the worth of irreversibly incapacitated individuals who they perceive to be burdens on society. They seem to feel your emotional attachment to loved ones who are incapacitated clouds your judgement as to doing what is best. I can understand why Michael Schiavo made the judgement he did. But I do not know why people where upset at the Schindler’s. No matter how old you get, you are still your parent’s child. And the Schindler’s nurtured Terri through another period of life when she also needed assistance for her every essential need. I can see why a parent would look at Terri’s situation the way they did. If you feel they used the media to advocate for her, well duh, it kind of was a life and death situation in their eyes.

  8. DaveD says:

    Anderson, she didn’t need a ventilator to breath so her brain was working. That is a fact. She was also blessed at not having the capacity to write irreverent and insipid sarcasm like you are burdened with.

  9. Anderson says:

    Anderson, she didn’t need a ventilator to breath so her brain was working. That is a fact.

    Okay, partially functioning. Bush, too, breathes and moves largely on his own (tho it’s still unclear whether he can independently answer debate questions).

    She was also blessed at not having the capacity to write irreverent and insipid sarcasm like you are burdened with.

    “Irreverent”? Check. “Insipid”? Zounds! No more so, I hope, than Mr. D’s preceding comment.

    I guess my discomfort from the whole affair arises from my perception of the progressive institutionalization of deciding what is a worthwhile life.

    Institutions are bad? Maybe everyone should just go out in a field, pick a few wildflowers, and then magically agree and hug one another? Fine. But when they don’t agree, institutions are a good thing, unless Mr. D. is an anarchist?

    But I just was uncomfortable with the type of people who seemed to be backing Mr. Schiavo.

    As opposed to the “type of people” backing his in-laws? Jeepers.

    There seems to be progressively larger numbers of people, and I include the bioethicists in this, who think that they know best how to judge what a worthwhile life is. And they are eerily dispassionate in their judgements of the worth of irreversibly incapacitated individuals who they perceive to be burdens on society. They seem to feel your emotional attachment to loved ones who are incapacitated clouds your judgement as to doing what is best.

    Wow, where would they get an outlandish idea like that? Oh, wait, it’s common sense. —Am I being insipid again?

    But I do not know why people were upset at the Schindler’s.

    Maybe because they helped promote vicious lies about their son-in-law? Or because they insisted on abusing the legal process to secure rights which they simply were not entitled to at Florida law? Or because they actively sought to mislead people about Terri’s actual condition with their doctored video? Now you know.

    No matter how old you get, you are still your parent’s child.

    How very true. But once you’re an adult, your parents aren’t allowed to decide where you live, or who you marry, or what job you can get, or whether your vegetative shell should be kept alive indefinitely. That seems to have escaped the Schindlers.

    They had their shot in court, and the judge found them utterly non-credible, a determination which every state in the nation leaves to finders of fact (here, the judge). They fought the law, and the law won. Cue the freakin’ violins.

  10. Patrick McGuire says:

    Amazing! She goes two weeks without hydration and her brain is shrivelled to half its normal size. Who woulda thought?

  11. Margaret says:

    Two weeks without hydration does not cause one’s brain to atrophy.

    Point of comparison–Schiavo’s brain was smaller than that of Karen Ann Quinlen when she died.

    Here’s the problem:
    1) Michael, not the parents, is the legal next of kin.

    2) Michael, not the parents, should–and after 15 years eventually did–have legal and medical custody over his wife.

    Ultimately, that’s the issue. Or, it should have been.

  12. Mike Loree says:

    For the most part cells won’t shrink too much when they are in a state of dehydration because they produce more proteins which tend to cause an osmotic pressure to move fluid from the extracellular space, into the cells.

    Anyhow, the CAT scans showed this much damage when she was alive so we shouldn’t be surprised

  13. Examiner releases Schiavo autopsy

    Associated Press (via Yahoo News): LARGO, Fla. – The autopsy released Wednesday on Terri Schiavo backed her husband’s contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state, finding she was severely and irreversibly brain-damaged and blind as well. …

  14. John Burgess says:

    Mr. Waters errs also in alleging that an “activst Supreme Court” brought this on. Which Supreme Court would that be, Mr. Waters?

    The Florida legislature wrote a law saying that artificially providing food and water, and specifically noting the use of a feeding tube, was “extraordinary.” The only role the Florida and US Supreme Courts played was in applying that law. If that’s “activist,” you’re using a very different dictionary from mine.

  15. Denis says:

    Who paid for the autopsy of Terri Schiavo?? Was there a Court-ordered witness to the autopsy?