Jon Thogmartin, medical examiner for Florida's District Six, which includes Pasco and Pinellas counties, said the cause of death was "marked dehydration."
Thogmartin said that the autopsy did not determine the cause of her collapse. He released her autopsy results Wednesday.
He said 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."
Quinlan suffered brain damage following a collapse and kept breathing after her life-support machines were disconnected. She remained in a coma until she died in 1985.
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.
The response from the Schindler camp is interesting and, unfortunately, quite telling:
"Their report shows what we have said -- that Terri was not terminal," said the Schindlers' attorney, David Gibbs. "Terri Schiavo was not in an end-of-life situation. The decision was made to end her life, and we believe it was done in a barbaric manner."
He also said the autopsy still leaves unanswered questions, most notably what he called an unexplained gap between the time Michael Schiavo has said his wife collapsed, at 4:30 a.m., and the time a 9-1-1 call was made, at 5:40 a.m., according to the medical examiners' report.
"I think those 70 minutes are very, very troubling," Gibbs said. "Michael Schiavo is the only person who was there."
He said he did not know if the gap was investigated at the time.
What the attorney failed to mention is that the report also showed the opposite of what the Schindlers have said in their continuing allegations of attempted murder and abuse. Instead of saying, "Thank God that there was no abuse after all", the attorney insists on going on with the finger-pointing.
What I would love to hear from the Schindlers, either directly or through one of their spokespersons, either publicly or --- at the very leastst --- to those on their mailing lists, "We are so thankful to discover that Terri's collapse was not due to attempted murder or abuse, nor was her death caused by drugs or poison. We regret having made such false accusations. Unfortunately, there is no way we can undo the damage we have done."
It seems that the reasons for her collapse will never be known.
As for the cause of Terri Schiavo's initial collapse, her husband has theorized that perhaps she had bulimia that caused her potassium levels to plummet, as low potassium levels were found upon her arrival at a hospital.
Thogmartin, however, said those measurements were taken only after Terri Schiavo had received more than a quart and a half of intravenous fluid and epinephrine, both of which can cause low potassium levels. In addition, no one who knew Terri Schiavo had ever seen any symptoms of an eating disorder, including her husband, he said.
Thogmartin said he looked at other causes for the collapse. Drugs and strangulation were ruled out, as was a possible heart attack. He even considered caffeine toxicity from the tea she liked to drink, he said, but believes that was unlikely unless she was taking a supplement containing additional caffeine.
What is now known is that there was no sign of abuse or trauma. It would be wonderful if those accusations could be finally put to rest along with Terri's remains.