Lies Terri Schiavo's parents told me
The Terri Schiavo case has transfixed the right wing media while attracting comparatively little attention from the left. This is discrepancy is understandable. Once you know the facts, there's very little to argue about. The case is literally a no brainer.
The Schiavo case presents no intricate medical, ethical, or legal dilemmas. Abstract Appeal's comprehensive legal chronology shows just how straightforward this case should have been. Michael Schiavo is Terri's legal guardian, the courts have determined that Terri wouldn't want a feeding tube, and Michael asked the doctors to take the tube out. That's really all there is to it.
The campaign to "save" Terri Schiavo is a vicious and lavishly-funded propaganda campaign. Terri's parents and their allies are using pseudoscience and character assassination to destroy Michael Schiavo. Of course, the right wing is eating it up.
If progressives don't counter these blatant misrepresentations now, the Terri Schiavo myths will be used against us for years to come.
Myths about the Terri Schiavo case
1. Terri is conscious
Court-appointed, government-appointed, and private physicians have confirmed that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Schiavo suffered massive brain damage 15 years ago and ongoing neurological degeneration.
Terri is neither comatose, nor brain dead. She is in a vegetative state because her higher brain centers have been destroyed and replaced by fluid.
1.' A recent study showed that patients like Terri are more conscious than we thought
A recent fMRI by study found that two patients in a minimally conscious state (MCS) showed slightly more brain activity during speech recognition tasks than would have been predicted based on the severity of their injuries and behavioral observations (Schiff ND, Rodriguez-Moreno D, Kamal A, et al, 2005). When the study was released, some commentators inappropriately cited this result as evidence that Terri Schiavo's level of consciousness might have been underestimated.
Terri Schiavo is not in an MCS. According to the authors of the study, a diagnosis of MCS is reserved for a subset of patients who demonstrate "unequivocal, but intermittent, behavioral evidence of awareness of self or their environment." Unfortunately, Terri isn't conscious at all.
2. There are new treatments that might help Terri
Despite what Terri's parents say, there are no new treatments that could help their daughter. Anyone who claims that he can improve Terri's level of consciousness is a quack. You can't treat a brain that isn't there.
3. Terri's collapse is unexplained and/or suspicious
In an attempt to discredit Michael Schiavo, Terri's parents and their supporters are circulating unsubstantiated rumors of abuse and even accusations of attempted murder.
Former chief medical examiner for the city of New York and co-director of the Medicolegal Investigation Unit of the New York State Police, Dr. [Michael] Baden is often quoted in news reports and interviewed on television. [...] Dr. Baden, who has written three books on forensic pathology, told [Greta]van Susteren: "It's extremely rare for a 20-year-old to have a cardiac arrest from low potassium who has no other diseases . . . which she doesn't have. . . . The reason that she's in the state she's in is because there was a period of time, maybe five or eight minutes, when not enough oxygen was going to her brain. That can happen because the heart stops for five or eight minutes, but she had a healthy heart from what we can see." [Village Voice]
Terri Schiavo was not a healthy young woman. Her heart stopped because of a potassium imbalance induced by severe bulimia nervosa.[AP]
Hypokalemic cardiac arrests are rare in the population at large, but they all too common in young women with severe eating disorders. Michael Schiavo successfully sued Terri's doctors for failing to diagnose her condition. If there had been an alternate explanation for Terri's condition--like attempted murder by the plaintiff--you would think the doctors Schiavo sued would have brought it up.
Here's a transcript of the Greta van Susteren's interview with Dr. Baden on FOX News.
In the interview Baden alludes to Terri's alleged "history of trauma" and suggested that her brain damage might have been caused by a "head injury." Dr. Baden's insinuations don't hang together. Both Terri's bulimia and her potassium imbalance are well-documented. Whereas there is no evidence that Terri Schiavo's brain was destroyed by any kind of trauma.
BADEN: Yeah, your staff has provided me with a bone scan that you guys obtained ah from her initial admission in 1991 to the hospital. And that bone scan describes her as having a head injury. That’s why she’s there, that’s why she’s getting a bone scan. And a head injury can cause, lead to the vegetative state that Ms. Schiavo is in now, and it does show evidence that there are other injuries, other bone fractures, that on healing-stage, so that...
Dr. Baden says that the bone scan describes Terri as having a head injury. The implication is that the bone scan reveals that she suffered a head injury. The paperwork requesting the bone scan lists Schiavo as having had a head injury, but the bone scan doesn't show any evidence of head or neck trauma.
The head injury hypothesis is utterly far-fetched. Believe me, if Terri had been bleeding into her brain on the night in question, the ER would have noticed.
An even crazier theory of Terri's collapse is phantom strangulation. This one got a sympathetic hearing from both Hannity and Colmes. The evidence is that Terri was admitted with a rigid neck. So far, no one has claimed that Terri had any of the classic signs of manual strangulation. Patients who have been strangled tend to have bruises on their necks, petechiae (blood flecks) in the whites of their eyes, and bits of their assailant's flesh under their fingernails. Manual strangulation doesn't always leave marks, but why attribute to phantom stranglers what can be explained by hypokalemia?
4. Michael Schiavo abused Terri
There is no evidence that anyone abused Terri. A judge ruled the abuse allegation irrelevant years ago, but Terri's "supporters" are determined to keep meme alive just to destroy Michael Schiavo's reputation.
Dr. Baden alleges that a bone scan taken in 1991 showed that Terri had suffered trauma. Here is the deposition of the radiologist who analyzed Terri's bone scan, Dr. William Campbell Walker.
During the deposition, Walker acknowledges that the abnormalities on the bone scan could have been caused by Schiavo's collapse, vigorous CPR, an earlier car accident, prolonged immobility, or aggressive physiotherapy. Contrary to Dr. Baden's insinuation, the scan revealed no abnormalities in the head or neck.
By the time the scan was taken, Terri had already been in the care of a nursing home for several months. For all anyone knows, Terri's bones may have been damaged by neglect or abuse at the nursing facility.
5. Terri's brain damage was caused by a closed head injury
The head injury claim has been repeated over and over in the right wing media. Here's the only evidence I was able to find for this bold claim: In his deposition, Dr. Walker says that Dr. James Carnahan, Terri's rehabilitation physician, wrote "closed head injury" on a form requesting a radiological trauma work up. Maybe Schiavo has a history of closed head injuries, but it is absurd to think that a closed head injury caused her current vegetative state.
6. Michael Schiavo just wants to inherit Terri's fortune
What fortune? Even the pro-tube Terri Schiavo Foundation reports that of the nearly one million dollar malpractice settlement earmarked for Terri's future medical care, less than $50,000 is left.
The TSF is righteously indignant that a fair chunk of that money has gone to attorneys' fees. A judge authorized Michael Schiavo to spend that money on legal representation for himself and his incapacitated wife. It's odd that the TSF is so indignant, seeing as they picked the legal fight that depleted the account.
The TSF also acknowledges that Schiavo offered to donate whatever money he stood to inherit to charity if Terri's parents would stop trying interfere with his right to make medical decisions on behalf of his wife.
I just hope that these character assassins can be discredited before they ruin another person's life. Michael Schiavo has suffered enough.
[Cross-posted at Pandagon.]