Wednesday, March 30, 2005

This is Surreal

OK, let me get this straight: Michael Schiavo has insisted for years that when Terri dies, there will be no autopsy and her body will be cremated. Three weeks ago, Judge Greer confirmed Michael in these decisions, ruling against the Schindlers' motions to allow an autopsy and ordinary burial.

Now, out of the blue, Michael says he will permit an autopsy. George Felos said Michael "wants definitive proof showing the extent of her brain damage."

So, Michael will permit an autopsy to determine the true extent of her brain damage after she's dead, but he won't permit additional exams or testing to ascertain her brain function while she's still alive.

Dr. William Bell, a neurologist whom I interviewed for my recent NRO piece, reacted to this development by calling it "bizarre".

Bizarre is an understatement. This is like something out of a Kafka novel.

And the problem is that this autopsy will, in fact, "prove" next to nothing. In an article at MedPage Today, Dr. Michael De Georgia, head of the neurology/neurosurgery intensive care unit at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, said that the diagnosis of PVS "cannot be confirmed by autopsy." Another neurologist added:
The [pathologic examination of the] brain can't tell if there is a persistent vegetative state or not," says Harvard neuropathologist E. Tessa Hedley Whyte, MD. "The autopsy will show damage -- probably mostly scarring now -- and that damage will most likely correspond to some extent to what was seen on images."

While an autopsy will likely show that Terri has had significant brain damage and loss of brain cells, Dr. De Georgia added that "there is no standard cutoff that says if you lose this many brain cells you are in a persistent vegetative state."
Michael Williams, MD, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, puts it this way. "If you only had the brain to look at and you didn't know anything about the history of the patient, pathology alone cannot prove or disprove a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state."

Dr. Bernardine Healy, a former Director of the National Institutes of Health, made a similar point today on MSNBC. She said that an autopsy will tell us what is physically there, but will tell us nothing about her neurological function.  In other words, an autopsy can tell us nothing about Terri's state of awareness or consciousness. She pointed out that there are very simple tests that can assess Terri's brain function now. But, of course, Terri would have to be alive in order for these tests to be performed.

It looks, then, as though Michael's consent to an autopsy is an empty gesture. It will give him and Felos a few more sound bites to fuel the MSM disinformation machine. Felos and Michael are allowing it because it can't cost them anything. The autopsy will reveal severe brain damage (which no one has ever denied), which they will attempt to invest with greater significance than it can have. What appears to be a concession in fact is part of the Schiavo/Felos/Greer campaign to prevent additional information from coming to light. Having precluded the possibility of obtaining the truly significant and relevant information which new neurological exams could provide, they are more than happy to give us pseudo-information which only serves their purpose.