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June 19, 2005 - Dead, Autopsy, Enough Said













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Last Wednesday brought the results of the autopsy of Terri Schiavo.  As you recall, Schiavo, 41, died March 31 at a Florida hospice thirteen days after her feeding tube was removed by a judge's order.  This was at the end of a seven-year legal battle between her husband and her parents – and that had turned into a big national controversy, and prompted action by Congress and the White House.  Much has been said of this, even in these pages, so there is not point in running it all down now.

Basic questions?  Was she really in a "persistent vegetative state" now, and maybe since she fell into a coma in 1990 – or could she recover?  (Husband said yes, parents said no, doctors all said yes, Senator Frist, also an MD, said no.)  Did she say she wanted an end to extraordinary measures to keep her body alive if such a thing were to happen to her?  (Husband said yes, parents said no, courts said the husband has the call, Republicans said the courts were, while following the law regarding the husband's claim, doing something very wrong that was very much like murdering the merely helpless or unlucky.)

Secondary question raised by conspiracy theorists?  Did her husband beat her into a coma so he could get all the money and run off with another woman, thus making this really a murder in progress that he was asking the government to take part in by using the courts in this manner?  Why did he want the rest of her body dead, not just her brain?  What was this evil man up to?

Regarding the basic questions, the autopsy settled matters.  Regarding the secondary question – the murder plot – the autopsy showed no evidence of any beating, but on Friday, June 17, Florida governor Jeb Bush, the President's brother, set in motion the legal arm of the state government to go after the husband.  He's not satisfied.

What did the medial examiner find in the autopsy? Basically this

 

... his examination turned up no sign of abuse or trauma - allegations leveled by Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, against her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo.

A report from a neuropathologist who served as a consultant to the autopsy said Schiavo's brain was "grossly abnormal and weighed only 615 grams (1.35 pounds)." That weight is less than half of that expected for a woman of her age, said the report written by Dr. Stephen J. Nelson. "By way of comparison, the brain of Karen Ann Quinlan weighed 835 grams at the time of her death, after 10 years in a similar persistent vegetative state."

… Schiavo's brain damage "was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons," Thogmartin said.

He said, the vision centers of her brain were dead, meaning she was blind. And his examination showed she would have been unable to take nourishment by mouth because of the danger she might aspirate the food."

 

So what was the big deal?  Why was the whole nation up in arms?

And why do the parents now say the autopsy proves nothing?

Over at Corrente see this

 

Ever since the Rodney King video made self-delusion a national past-time, more and more people have been navigating by the comfortable worldmaps inside their own heads, rather than seeing what's right in front of their eyes. Now Schiavo's parents, confronted by information on their daughter's condition that fails to support their own beliefs, simply choose to ignore it, and are joined and even encouraged in this sad shadow play by the vultures of life.

But why not? Hasn't the political and public reaction to the revelations of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram Air Base demonstrated that Americans have a talent for this that is nearly phenomenal? Eventually respect for the truth and the desire to seek it out must begin to wear thin, when you live in a world where no evidence is ever enough. You start to suspect that, ultimately, finding out what's real and sharing that with others is not only a waste of time, it could even get you hurt. You stop trying.

And maybe that is the point.

 

Too cynical.

And what of Senator Frist, the former doctor who said he watched selected video clips of the still functioning body and said this was a woman who had been misdiagnosed.

The problem is here

 

Frist: "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

Autopsy report: "The vision centers of her brain were dead."

 

Majority Leader Frist being interview by Matt Lauer on "The Today Show" here

 

LAUER: But when you stood on the floor and you said, "She does respond," are you at all worried that you led some senators...

FRIST: I never said, "She responded." I said I reviewed the court videotapes - the same ones the other doctors reviewed - and I questioned, Is her diagnosis correct?

 

Huh?

What he said on the senate floor, Feburary 17, 2005 - "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli"

What he said on the senate floor, March 17, 2005 - "I have looked at the video footage. Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she does respond."

The MSNBC story from two days later

 

Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a renowned heart surgeon before becoming Senate majority leader, went to the floor late Thursday night for the second time in 12 hours to argue that Florida doctors had erred in saying Terri Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state."

"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards.

"She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

 

Oh, it doesn't matter.

Something else that doesn't matter?  He said he reviewed the court videotapes.  Not exactly.  See this - he only saw edited outtakes.  What did he miss?

 

The judge in the Schiavo case notes that elsewhere on the hours of videotape her father "tried several more times to have her eyes follow the Mickey Mouse balloon but without success." The Times reports that at one point

 

... her father gets gruff while trying unsuccessfully to get her to follow [the] balloon. "Come here, Terri, no more fooling around. No more fooling around with your dad." He pokes her in the forehead to make sure she's awake. "No more fooling around with your dad. Listen to me. You see the balloon? You see Mickey?" Later, he apologizes, telling her others have admonished him for his tone.

 

This is what happens when you deny reality. First you lose your senses, then your mind, then your soul. It isn't Terri Schiavo who's refusing to see what's happening in that awful scene. It's her dad.

 

Doctor Bill, our Senator Frist, wasn't given that segment.

Frist has ambitions to run for president in 2008, and perhaps he now will not use his fantastic medical skills - he can make the diagnosis everyone else missed, remote, by watching selected bits of video - to convince folks of his superiority over other mortals.  He'll have to be known as the man who, in God's name, got rid of the filibuster as a traditional senate procedure, although that didn't go so well and most people don't give a hoot.  Maybe he has another trick up his sleeve.

And Frist just wants to move on.

But this whole business may create problems for Mark Fuhrman.  Remember him - the LAPD detective from the OJ Simpson trial? Screwed up the evidence and seems to have lied on the stand and left town with his tail between his legs?  He's now a conservative radio talk show host in Idaho and writes books.

Fuhrman has a blockbuster coming out on June 28 - Silent Witness : The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo's Death:

 

We all watched Terri Schiavo die. The controversy around her case dominated the headlines and talk shows, going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House, and the Vatican.

And it's not over yet. Despite her death, the controversy lingers. In Silent Witness, former LAPD detective and New York Times bestselling author Mark Fuhrman applies his highly respected investigative skills to examine the medical evidence, legal case files, and police records. With the complete cooperation of Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings, as well as their medical and legal advisers, he conducts exclusive interviews with forensics experts and crucial witnesses, including friends, family members, and caregivers.

Fuhrman's findings will answer these questions:

- What was Terri and Michael Schiavo's marriage really like?

- What happened the day Terri collapsed?

-What did Michael Schiavo do when he discovered Terri unconscious?

- How long did he wait before calling 911?

- What do medical records show about her condition when she was first admitted to the hospital?

- What will the autopsy say?

The legal issues and ethical questions provoked by Terri Schiavo's extraordinary case may never be resolved. But the facts about her marriage, her condition when she collapsed, and her eventual death fifteen years later can be determined.

With Silent Witness, Fuhrman goes beyond the legal aspects of the case and delves into the broader, human background of Terri Schiavo's short, sad life.

 

It's hard to predict how this book will do now.  Pre-publication orders at Amazon show it is already moving, as it is at eight-eight on their list of most popular books, and rising.

We could just move on, as Senator (Doctor) Frist suggests, but over at the Washington Post E. J. Dionne is wanting an apology

 

We are entitled to our moral, ethical and philosophical commitments. We are not entitled to our own facts.

So why is this basic rule of argument often ignored by politicians whose certainty about their righteousness convinces them that they can say absolutely anything to further their causes?

The autopsy in the Terri Schiavo case provides a rare moment of political accountability. We should not "move on," as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested. No, we cannot move on until those politicians who felt entitled to make up facts and toss around unwarranted conclusions about Schiavo's condition take responsibility for what they said - and apologize.

Nothing in the autopsy report prevents those who opposed removing Schiavo's feeding tube from continuing to insist they were right. It's legitimate and honorable to argue on philosophical grounds that every medical decision in a tragic circumstance such as Schiavo's should be made on the side of keeping the sick person alive.

But those who supported an extraordinary use of federal power to force their own conclusion against the judgment of state courts knew that philosophical arguments would not be enough. Most Americans were uneasy about compelling Schiavo's husband, Michael, to keep his wife alive if - as the state courts had concluded and as the autopsy confirmed on Wednesday - she had suffered irreversible brain damage and was incapable of recovering.

So the big-government conservatives had to invent a story. They had to insist that they knew, just knew, more about Terri Schiavo's condition than the doctors on the scene. They had to question Michael Schiavo's motives and imply that he wanted to, well, get rid of her.

 

So? That's politics.

But the real gripe here?

 

Right-to-life politicians have done terrible damage to a serious cause. They claimed to know what they did not, and could not, know. They were willing to imply, without proof, terrible things about a husband who was getting in their way. Instead of making the hard and morally challenging case for keeping Terri Schiavo on life support, they spun an emotional narrative that they thought would play well on cable TV and talk radio.

 

Let's see, politicians making a hard and morally challenging case for something.

No. Not likely to happen. Not prudent.

But this could have been predicted -

Probe Sought in Terri Schiavo 911 Call
Friday, June 17, 2005 10:11 PDT Tallahassee, Fla. (AP)

 

Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday that a prosecutor has agreed to investigate why Terri Schiavo collapsed 15 years ago, citing an alleged time gap between when her husband found her and when he called 911.

Bush said his request for the probe was not meant to suggest wrongdoing by Michael Schiavo.

"It's a significant question that during this ordeal was never brought up," Bush told reporters.

Michael Schiavo's attorney has said his client called for help right away.

... Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother, said Friday his family believes more questions were raised than answered by the autopsy report and that a new legal review is appropriate.

"Anything that can shed some light on the cause of Terri's collapse is going to be welcomed by our family," he said from Bloomington, Minn., where the family is speaking at an anti-abortion convention.

But the request was immediately criticized by some lawmakers.

"Enough is enough," said Democratic Sen. Ron Klein. "I don't want to see it on TV any more, I don't want to hear politicians talk about it. Let her be at peace."

Bush acknowledged in his letter that an investigation may be difficult.

"I understand that these events took place many years ago, and that you may not be able to collect all the relevant records and physical evidence. However, Mrs. Schiavo's family deserves to know anything that can be done to determine the cause and circumstances of her collapse 15 years ago," Bush wrote. "The unanswered questions may be unanswerable, but the attempt should be made."

 

To what end?

Frist may not run for president in 2008, but Jeb certainly will.

 

 

 

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Note:

 

Views That Facts Can't Shake

Ellen Goodman, The Washington Post, Saturday, June 18, 2005; Page A19

 

Case closed? As the news conference replayed, the television screen spelled out a question for cable viewers: "Does This Change Opinions?" Did the facts of a case that had so divided the country, so politicized the fate of one woman, actually make a difference?

 

For Schiavo's parents, the answer was no. The Schindlers still insist their daughter related to them and tried to speak. Their lawyer said it only proved that "she was not terminal." The president said only that he "was deeply saddened by this case." His brother, the governor of Florida, said he would still have tried to keep Schiavo alive.

 

… This case was never solely about medicine. But the question on the TV screen illustrated the times we live in - times when facts can exist in a separate universe from opinions. And a country in which science is seen not as a matter of black and white but increasingly as a matter of red and blue.

 

The Schiavo case is not the only example. The climate is equally apparent in the struggle over what the Bush administration calls "climate change" -- and everyone else calls global warming. The only way to justify doing nothing about global warming now is to deliberately muddle the science. It's not an accident that Philip Cooney, the White House official caught editing reports on greenhouse gases, left for Exxon Mobil, which has indeed funded doubts.

 

So, too, the struggle over evolution is no longer overtly between scientists and religious fundamentalists. It's between the science establishment and the handful of front men with PhDs who support "intelligent design." Their credentials make it seem as if evolution were also a matter of genuine scientific debate.

 

Meanwhile, reports of a link between breast cancer and abortion reappear on Web sites with the tenacity of urban legends. Stories continually report, most recently in Ohio, fantasies presented as facts in abstinence-only education programs being funded by the government. They link birth control pills with infertility, and HIV with French-kissing. But when they are debunked, "Does This Change Opinions?"

 

James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth describes the trend this way: "If science doesn't fit the ideology, you shop and find your own science." Just last week the Heritage Foundation, an overtly conservative think tank, was given a government platform to attempt to debunk, indeed to attack, an earlier study on virginity pledges.

 

… At the height of the Schiavo furor, I saw a protester carrying a sign that asked: "How do you kill someone while she's smiling at you?" Now we know beyond any doubt that Terri Schiavo couldn't smile. Does this fact change even one opinion?

 

We really do live in interesting times.  When facts don't matter, what is one to do?

 































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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