Catholic World News News Feature
Schiavo autopsy reactions June 17, 2005
After a Florida medical examiner on Wednesday released the results of the autopsy performed on Terri Schiavo-- the disabled woman who died on March 31 after a court-ordered removal of food and water-- those who fought for her life dismissed the findings as ultimately beside the point.
The results of the autopsy were highly anticipated given many unanswered questions around the controversial case, especially the cause of her initial collapse in 1990. Schiavo's parents and siblings have often alleged, throughout their decade-long battle to protect Terri from the legal attempts of her husband Michael to have her euthanized, that Terri was being abused at the time of her collapse, and that asphyxiation by strangulation may have been the immediate cause of her condition.
These suspicions seemed to gain some credence after Terri's death when Michael Schiavo asked that an autopsy not be performed on Terri and that he would cremate her body. Throughout the case Shiavo's motivations were repeatedly questioned on account of a million dollar insurance payout, as well as the fact that he has been living with another woman for some years with whom he has had two children. In the end, however, the autopsy was performed without requiring his approval.
Terri's mourners have been skeptical that an autopsy almost fifteen years after her collapse could reveal conclusive evidence of abuse. Terri's family, however, had hoped to achieve some sort of closure on the possible cause of what remains a mysterious and inexplicable illness. Today, the possibility of such closure seems to have permanently slipped from their hands.
While most media coverage focused on the autopsy's conclusion that Terri's brain at the time of death was "severely atrophied," the report also concluded that she was not terminally ill, that she had a strong heart, and that the cause of death was dehydration.
Terri's family issued a statement on Thursday regarding the report: "Terri was dehydrated to death before our eyes. The moral shame of what happened is not erased because of Terri's level of disability. No one would say that 'blind people' or 'brain-injured' people should be put to death. That would be an irresponsible and heartless position to take. Tragically, that is what happened to Terri. As a society, it seems that we have lost our compassion for the disabled."
The family also pointed out that the medical examiner ruled out bulimia and heart attack as causes for Terri's condition and called on Michael Schiavo to return funds that were paid out as part of a malpractice suit against her doctors which had claimed that bulimia was the cause.
Many of the pro-lifers who lobbied on behalf of Terri against those who wanted to allow her to be dehydrated and starved to death said the autopsy was ultimately irrelevant. "The results of Terri Schiavo's autopsy provide some answers concerning her physical condition," said American Life League president Judie Brown, "but in no way do these findings justify the cruel death by dehydration that was imposed on a living human being."
Austin Ruse, president of the Culture of Life Foundation, said, "Terri was severely brain-damaged. All she needed to continue living was food and water. Some, including those she trusted, concluded that these basic life-sustaining necessities should be taken from her.
"We should remember that it took Terri two long weeks to die of thirst. We would not do this to a dog. We owed our sister more than this. We owed Terri much than this. In Terri's case, we abdicated our moral responsibility."
[Additional reporting provided by LifeSiteNews.com.]