Terri Schiavo lies in a Florida hospice, subject to a judge's order that will cause her to die of starvation and dehydration commencing this Friday, March 18, at 1:00 P.M. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have fought for over a decade to prevent her death. They have repeatedly gone to court in their efforts to stop Terri's husband, Michael, from removing the tube that provides her with food and water.
The court battle has gone largely against the Schindlers. Last week, Pinellas County Circuit Court judge George Greer issued a steady stream of rulings denying almost every motion the Schindlers raised. He denied some of them summarily, without hearing arguments or evidence. Among the motions Judge Greer denied was a request for new testing and examination of Terri by independent and qualified specialists. David Gibbs, attorney for the Schindlers, submitted 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals contending that Terri's condition should be reevaluated. About 15 of these affidavits are from board-certified neurologists. Some of these doctors also say that Terri could benefit from therapy. Judge Greer was unmoved.
Many people believe that Terri Schiavo has had "the best of care," and that everything has been tried by way of rehabilitation. This belief is false. In fact, Terri has had no attempts at therapy or rehabilitation since 1992, and very little had been done up to that point. Terri has not even had the physical therapy most doctors would regard as normative for someone in her condition. The result is that Terri suffers from severe muscle contractures, which have caused her body to become contorted. Physical therapy could remedy this, but husband Michael has refused to provide it.
Terri has also suffered from what many professionals would regard as neglect. She had to have several teeth extracted last year because of severe decay. This decay was caused by a lack of basic dental hygiene, such as tooth-brushing. She also developed decubitus (skin) ulcers on her buttocks and thighs. These ulcers can be prevented by a simple regimen of regular turning: a basic nursing task that any certified nurse's aide can perform. The presence of these easily preventable ulcers is a classic sign of neglect. Bob and Mary Schindler have repeatedly complained of Terri's neglect, and have sought to remove Michael as guardian on that basis. Judge Greer was unmoved by those complaints as well.
And, quite apart from the question of Terri's therapy and care, it is entirely likely that Terri has never been properly diagnosed. Terri is usually described as being in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS), and indeed Judge Greer ruled as a finding of fact that she is PVS; but this diagnosis and finding were arrived at in a way that has many neurologists expressing surprise and dismay.
I have spent the past ten days recruiting and interviewing neurologists who are willing to come forward and offer affidavits or declarations concerning new testing and examinations for Terri. In addition to the 15 neurologists' affidavits Gibbs had in time to present in court, I have commitments from over 30 others who are willing to testify that Terri should have new and additional testing, and new examinations by unbiased neurologists. Almost 50 neurologists all say the same thing: Terri should be reevaluated, Terri should be reexamined, and there are grave doubts as to the accuracy of Terri's diagnosis of PVS. All of these neurologists are board-certified; a number of them are fellows of the prestigious American Academy of Neurology; several are professors of neurology at major medical schools.
So how can Judge Greer ignore the opinions of so many qualified neurologists, some of whom are leaders in the field? The answer is that Michael Schiavo, his attorney George Felos, and Judge Greer already have the diagnosis they want.
Terri's diagnosis was arrived at without the benefit of testing that most neurologists would consider standard for diagnosing PVS. One such test is MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). MRI is widely used today, even for ailments as simple as knee injuries--but Terri has never had one. Michael has repeatedly refused to consent to one. The neurologists I have spoken to have reacted with shock upon learning this fact. One such neurologist is Dr. Peter Morin. He is a researcher specializing in degenerative brain diseases, and has both an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Boston University.
In the course of my conversation with Dr. Morin, he made reference to the standard use of MRI and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans to diagnose the extent of brain injuries. He seemed to assume that these had been done for Terri. I stopped him and told him that these tests have never been done for her; that Michael had refused them.
There was a moment of dead silence.