Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Their news report on the autopsy includes this:

In response to the allegations that Terri's collapse was the result of a physical assault, Thogmartin noted that she received nearly 30 X-rays, CAT scans and ultrasound examinations during the medical examination that followed her collapse.

"Any fractures - including rib fractures, leg fractures, ankle fractures, skull fractures, spine fractures - that occurred concurrent with her initial collapse would almost certainly have been diagnosed in 1990, especially with the number of physical exams, radiographs and other evaluations she received during her initial hospitalization," Thogmartin said. "No fractures or trauma were reported or recorded."

There was also, Thogmartin said, "no evidence to support or the evidence did not support," various allegations that Terri was abused or neglected after her initial brain injury.

Was Terri in a Persistent Vegetative State?

Thogmartin brought in Dr. Stephen Nelson, an expert in pathology of the brain and central nervous system, as a consultant during the autopsy. Nelson stressed numerous times that the diagnosis of a "Persistent Vegetative State," which was used to justify the removal of the feeding tube that kept Terri alive, "is a clinical diagnosis, it's not a pathologic diagnosis that has precision associated with it." But he did not dispute the finding.

"There is nothing in her autopsy report, in her autopsy that is inconsistent with Persistent Vegetative State," Nelson said, adding that there was evidence to support the finding.

"A normal brain weight for somebody who is approximately 41 years of age ought to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 to 1,300 grams," Nelson explained. "Her brain is 615 grams and is largely reduced to what is termed granular atrophy ... associated with the loss of blood flow that happened many years prior.

"Those all are consistent with what is reported in the literature for Persistent Vegetative State," Nelson added. "We found nothing that is contrary to what has previously been reported for Persistent Vegetative State."

Nelson compared the physical condition of Terri's brain to that of Karen Ann Quinlan, the New Jersey woman who died in 1985 -- nine years after her parents won a court battle to remove her from a respirator.

"Her brain, Karen Ann Quinlan's, weighed more than Terri Schiavo's brain weighed," Nelson said. "The findings here are, perhaps, worse, even, than Karen Ann Quinlan."

Thogmartin also concluded that Terri's brain injury was irreversible.

"Her brain was profoundly atrophied," the medical examiner concluded. "This damage was irreversible and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons."

Michael Schiavo relied on the diagnosis of a Persistent Vegetative State when he sought permission from the Florida courts to remove Terri's feeding tube. He and two of his relatives testified that Terri had said she would not want to be kept alive in such a condition. Thogmartin discussed the contention by many right-to-life advocates that Terri's family should have been allowed to offer her food and water by mouth after that feeding tube was removed.

"She would not have been able to consume sustenance safely or in sufficient quantity by mouth," Thogmartin said. "Mrs. Schiavo was dependent, therefore, on nutrition and hydration by her feeding tube and removal of her feeding tube would have resulted in her death whether she was fed by mouth or not."

In layman's terms

After a technical explanation of his findings, laden with medical language, Thogmartin was asked to summarize his findings in an exchange with one unidentified reporter:

REPORTER: "In layman's terms, did Terri Schiavo starve to death?"


REPORTER: "Did she suffer any neglect or abuse?"


REPORTER: "Will we ever know what caused her death?"

THOGMARTIN: "I don't know."

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