Terri Schiavo Autopsy Released

The full autopsy report on Terri Schiavo is now available [PDF/Summary]. The major finding was that her brain was half the size of a normal brain for a woman her age. Despite strong organ health her higher brain function (especially her sight) was damaged beyond repair. Among the many interesting items noted is that a therapeutic level of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) was found in her blood stream. It seems odd that a pain reliever would be administered to a woman doctor (and the evidence) said was, in effect, brain dead. Certainly there was a reason for the drug to be administered, but the report doesn’t address it.

Along with some seriously sloppy reporting on the autopsy (such as stating that the autopsy confirmed she was in a persistive vegetative state), one of the major memes played out this afternoon is that anyone who argued for Terri’s life to be spared owes Michael Schiavo an apology. The other meme is that anyone supporting Terri is a wingnut/moron/fundie/theocon (pick you slur) for their beliefs. See Andrew Sullivan for this line of thought.

Certainly the vilification of Michael Schiavo was a particularly revolting aspect of the story, and who have claimed Michael murdered or abused Terri (including her parents) probably do owe Michael an apology. Of course Michael and particularly his attorney are hardly blameless in the family disagreement degenerating into a media-feed pissing match. If you thoroughly read the autopsy you’ll see much of the evidence those who were making wild claims of abuse or murder are actually addressed in the report – the broken bones, the MRI, the claims of surreptitious injection – in a manner consistent with the voluminous court and DCF records on the case. As with all good conspiracy theories the abuse/murder claims start with shreds of truth which are then spun into conclusions that go well beyond the facts.

What is mostly overlooked is that not everyone who opposed the court-ordered death made those kind of conspiratorial arguments. Some made ethical or religious argument against ending Terri’s life, while others argued that Terri’s wishes were never truly known. In all of Wizbang’s coverage of Terri Schiavo the main point addressed was the court’s determination of Terri’s intent. See Clear and Convincing Evidence, and Why Is Terri Shiavo Going To Die? for my take on the case.

To me Terri’s wishes were the beginning and end of the case. According to the Supreme Court Michael Schiavo had no right to end Terri’s life unless by “clear and convincing evidence” her wishes not to be kept alive artificially were made known beforehand. The claims that Terri had expressed her desire not to be kept alive by machine were neither timely nor particularly convincing, and Michael was aided by much better counsel on this critical issue. The determination of Terri’s intent was made by Judge Greer as a finding of fact which was never seriously reviewed any appellate court. Lot’s of issues were reviewed, but a de novo review of Terri’s wishes was never performed, even after Congress acted.

Update: Do read INDCJournal, Josh Trevino, Darleen’s Place, and Rightwingsparkle.

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  1. Sean June 23, 2005