Schiavo had irreversible brain damage-autopsy 1 hour, 17 minutes ago
LARGO, Fla. (Reuters) - Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who died in March after a fierce right-to-die battle that went all the way to the White House, was massively and irreversibly brain-damaged, pathologists announcing the results of an autopsy said on Wednesday.
The results supported clinical findings and the contention of her husband that Schiavo had been in a "persistent vegetative state" since collapsing 15 years earlier from a cardiac arrest that deprived her brain of oxygen, said Dr. Stephen Nelson, a forensic pathologist who assisted in the autopsy.
"She would not have been able to form any cognitive thought," said Nelson, speaking with Pinellas County Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin at a news conference. "There was a massive loss of brain tissue."
During a long and bitter family feud over Schiavo's fate, courts consistently ruled in support of Schiavo's husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, that Schiavo would not have wanted to live in such a state. A persistent vegetative state meant she was unable to think, feel or interact with her environment.
Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, insisting she responded to them and could improve with treatment, fought for seven years to keep her alive, joined by right-to-life activists, Christian evangelicals and the Vatican.
Their battle ultimately failed and Schiavo died on March 31, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed under a court order. She was 41.
The autopsy found no amount of therapy would have helped to regenerate Schiavo's brain, and determined she was blind, belying videotapes that appeared to show her eyes following objects. The videos were cited by her parents' supporters as proof she should be kept alive.
Schiavo's brain weighed about half of what a healthy human brain would, Thogmartin said. "Her brain was profoundly atrophied ... This damage was irreversible."
MYSTERY OVER COLLAPSE REMAINS
The autopsy, however, did not solve the mystery of what led to her 1990 collapse.
The Schindlers' cause rallied the Christian right and prompted President Bush and the Republican-led Congress to rush through laws giving the federal courts jurisdiction in what is normally a matter for state courts.
The Vatican denounced court orders that allowed her nutrition to be withdrawn.
But the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, declined to order the feeding tube reinserted.
Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, said the autopsy results supported his client's contention on the extent of Schiavo's brain damage.
"He was very pleased to hear the results," Felos said. "Mr. Schiavo has received so much criticism. We have seen baseless allegations in this case fall by the wayside time and again."
David Gibbs, an attorney for the Schindlers, disputed the autopsy's findings. "I don't know if she was totally blind. She was clearly interactive," he said. "I believe she did have a life that was worth saving."
The autopsy found no evidence to support accusations that Schiavo was abused and cast doubt on a theory that she had an eating disorder before her collapse.
Supporters of Schiavo's parents had complained she was being starved to death when the courts allowed the feeding tube to be removed. But Thogmartin said Schiavo died of dehydration and did not starve to death.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and surgeon who supported federal legislation in the case, has not reviewed the autopsy report, his spokesman said.
Frist, a surgeon, said on the Senate floor at the time that he had questions about Schiavo's diagnosis based on video he had viewed. He called her a "living person who has a level of consciousness, but cannot feed herself."
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank (news, bio, voting record) said the legislation in the Schiavo case was "a mix of ideology, religious zealotry, and political pandering -- it was one of the worst legislative witches' brews that we have ever seen."
"Sen. Frist was talking about making eye contact with a blind person," he said.