What You Don’t Know About Terri Schiavo’s Case

I haven’t posted much about the Terri Schiavo case in Florida because there’s not much I can add beyond my prayers to the many fine posts and exhortations already out there.

I have been following this closely, however, and I’ve pondered what generally appears to be a shrug-like response from much of country when it comes to the possibility that a profoundly disabled woman may be starved to death.

This, by the way, in a country where death threats are made on the life of someone who proposes legalizing the hunting of feral cats in Wisconsin and where opponents of capital punishment easily capture the ear of the media in an effort to spare the life of even the most heinous criminals. I wonder what the reaction would be if a judge agreed with Michael Schiavo that Terri’s life wasn’t worth living, but instead of going through the mental and legal gymnastics of interpreting food and water as extreme medical measures that can legally be withheld, simply said “you have the State’s permission to shoot her.” Or, what if Scott Peterson’s sentence were to be carried out by starvation? And are there no prominent feminists who find anything of interest in this at all?

To be fair, I think most people simply figure this is an unfortunate situation and assume that the current state of events has come about only after exhaustive medical and ethical deliberation. Now it appears that that may be far from the case, and that Terri’s condition may have been diagnosed on the flimsiest of tests and her treatment has been based – most charitably – on convenience or at worst on an agenda.

Read this article from the National Review Online to find out why several expert, board-certified neurologists are asking for, at the least, a reevaluation of Terri’s condition, citing that even basic tests such as an MRI or Positron Emission Tomography (PET) haven’t been conducted and that there are other gaps in her care that are questionable.

Please read the NRO article. I’ll warn you that it is rather long and may be a bit of an inconvenience. If so, it will be only a minor one and I apologize in advance. There is someone else out there, however, who may find that being inconvenient is a capital offense.


On Wednesday, March 23 the National Review Online posted the following affidavit from William P. Cheshire, Jr., MD. Dr. Cheshire is a neurologist and certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is an appointed volunteer with the Florida statewide Adult Protective Services team, in which capacity he conducted an independent, 90 minute examination of Terri Schiavo on March 1, 2005. To date, the courts have not admitted this affidavit.

The link is to a PDF file of the original document and is somewhat fuzzy. I have retyped an excerpt of seven observations made by Dr. Cheshire below. You can use the link above to read the document in its entirety, including the footnotes to clinical studies in the original that I have omitted in my retyping. These observations, again, are from an expert who has been able to visit Terri Schiavo recently, and may be illuminating to anyone who has the impression that she is little more than a houseplant.

Based on my review of extensive medical records documenting Terri’s case over the years, on my personal observations of Terri, and on my observations of Terri’s responses in the many hours of videotapes taken in 2002, she demonstrates a number of behaviors that I believe cast a reasonable doubt on the prior diagnosis of PVS. These include:

1. Her behavior is frequently context-specific. For example, her facial expression brightens and she smiles in response to the voice of familiar persons such as her parents or her nurse. Her agitation subsides and her facial demeanor softens when quiet music is played. When jubilant piano music is played, her face brightens, she lifts her eyebrows, smiles, and even laughs. Her lateral gaze toward the tape player is sustained for many minutes. Several times I witnessed Terri briefly, albeit inconsistently, laugh in response to a humorous comment someone in the room had made. I did not see her laugh in the absence of someone else’s laughter.


Other Articles of Interest:

Go here to read the remarkable account of Kate Adamson, a woman who was incapacitated and had her feeding tube removed after suffering a double brainstem stroke in 1995. She describes the horror of being able to hear what people were saying, understanding what was being done to her, and being unable to react. After her husband succeeded in getting her feeding tube reattached she went on to a miraculous recovery.

Also from the Night Writer: Who Suffers By Letting Terri Schiavo Live?, Abraham Lincoln on Terri Schiavo and Where’s an Activist Judge When You Need One?.

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