Thursday, June 16, 2005

Shoot first, question later


Schiavo Autopsy Leaves Most Important Questions Unanswered

Forest Park, IL, June 15, 2005 -- Today's release of findings in the autopsy of Terri Schiavo leave the central issues in her life and death unanswered, says a national disability rights group.

For example, contrary to articles stating the autopsy report "supported" the diagnosis of "persistent vegetative state (PVS)," a neuropathology expert today was careful to say that PVS is a clinical diagnosis rather than a pathological one. He added that nothing in the autopsy was "inconsistent" with a PVS diagnosis.

The real elephant in the living room, of course, is whether or not we can really know how conscious anyone labeled "PVS" really is. Several studies have revealed high misdiagnosis rates, with conscious people being mistakenly regarded as totally and irrevocably unaware.

The autopsy also documented significant brain atrophy, and the medical panel called the damage "irreversible."

This is not the same as saying she had no cognitive ability.

"It's always seemed to us that PVS isn't really a diagnosis; it's a value judgment masquerading as a diagnosis," said Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group that filed three amicus briefs in the case. "When it comes to the hard science, no qualified pathologist went on the record saying she couldn't think or couldn't experience her own death through dehydration."

Diane Coleman, president and founder of Not Dead Yet, agreed. "The core issues remain the same. Protection of the life and dignity of people under guardianship, and a high standard of proof in removing food and water from a person who can not express their own wishes. These are issues of great concern to the disability community - evidenced by the 26 national disability groups that spoke out in favor of saving Terri Schiavo's life over the past few years."


I’d add that the case for keeping Terri alive rather than killing her was never that she had a chance to make a full recovery. At most, the question was whether she could improve with therapy.

In addition, the question of whether she could improve with therapy was secondary to the question of whether she should be kept alive rather than executed by the state.

Finally, an autopsy is a belated substitute for PET scan.

To suppose that her autopsy vindicates her judicial execution is predicated on a series of straw man arguments.

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