When I first heard of Terri Schiavo I learned that there was a controversy over whether or not to continue artificially feeding a woman who had collapsed from a heart attack, suffered brain damage from a head injury, and was now in a persistent vegetative state that was considered permanent by her doctors. She had made known ahead of time that she never wanted to be kept alive by artificial feeding, and her loving husband just wanted to carry out her wishes. That's what you heard, too, right? Well, most of that information appears to be wrong.
Let's review what a persistent vegetative state is. Here is a definition of coma and persistent vegetative state from the Medical College of Wisconsin's HealthLink site (emphasis mine):
A coma is a profound or deep state of unconsciousness. The affected individual is alive but is not able to react or respond to life around him/her. Coma may occur as an expected progression or complication of an underlying illness, or as a result of an event such as head trauma.
A persistent vegetative state, which sometimes follows a coma, refers to a condition in which individuals have lost cognitive neurological function and awareness of the environment but retain noncognitive function and a preserved sleep-wake cycle.
These definitions show that a person in a vegetative state does not react to her environment. Now look at these video clips of Terri reacting to her mother, to the sight of a shiny balloon, to the taste of a swab (yuck!), and to instructions to open her eyes. Do you think these show a person unable to react to her environment? Neither did her nurse, whose testimony you can read here. This nurse tells us what Terri liked an disliked and how she reacted to her and her environment when she was in her care. This nurse has experience with patients in a persistent vegetative state, and gives her opinion that Terri is not one of them.
That nurse also tells us that Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, ordered that even the most basic care, such as range of motion therapy (to keep her muscles moving) be withheld from Terri. Her nurses were afraid of Michael Schiavo, but they gave Terri care in secret anyway, because it was the humane thing to do. Another thing withheld was recommended speech and swallowing therapy, and even a test to see if she was already able to swallow. The nurse knows she can, because she had given her juice on a washcloth and jello, which she "enjoyed immensely." She heard her speak, too. She saw her close her eyes when her priest prayed with her,and open them when he was done. Another nurse reports similar observations and concerns.
Dr. James A. Avery, by the way, says,
It is my professional opinion, within a reasonable degree of clinical certainty, that Terri Schiavo has a good or excellent prognosis for being able to be taken off her feeding tube. Mrs. Schiavo handled the swallowing of her own secretions of saliva without difficulty, in a normal manner. This raises the possibility that she may be able to swallow and take food and water orally, obviating the need for the gravity flow feeding tube. A swallowing study or pudding challenge is warranted.
So there is a debate about whether a woman who may be able to eat and drink orally should be denied food and water?
As to Terri's collapse and injuries, there isn't much possibility that she had a heart attack, according to this doctor's testimony. What was very unusual, when she was admitted to the hospital, was her very stiff neck. This doctor testified that he had only ever seen that type of injury once. He had seen it on the victim of attempted strangulation.
When Terri showed signs of pain when her body was moved a bone scan was ordered to determine if she had injuries. The bone scan showed multiple bone injuries including to her right femur, both knees, ribs on both sides of her body, both ankles, her back. Could these injuries have happened in a simple collapse and fall? This doctor testified that he didn't think so. In fact, while the stage of healing for some of the injuries was consistent with the time around her collapse, some of the injuries were older. The bone scan report said, "This patient has a history of trauma."
Michael Schiavo sued for medical malpractice and won a large award to be used for Terri's medical care. At that time he didn't mention, as he later alleged, that Terri had told him that her wishes under these circumstances would to have food and water withheld. In fact, he testified:
Q. Why did you want to learn to be a nurse?
SCHIAVO: Because I enjoy it and I want to learn more how to take care of Terri.
Q. You're a young man. Your life is ahead of you. When you look up the road, what do you see for yourself?
SCHIAVO: I see myself hopefully finishing school and taking care of my wife.
Q. Where do you want to take care of your wife?
SCHIAVO: I want to bring her home.
Q. If you had the resources available to you, if you had the equipment and the people, would you do that?
SCHIAVO: Yes, I would, in a heartbeat.
The jury heard Michael's claims and decided to give him the resources to take his wife home and care for her as he wished. Michael Schiavo was awarded $1.2 million to care for Terri. Did he take her home and care for her in a heartbeat? No, he has taken another woman home (not the first). He now denies Terri even the simplest, most humane care. How has the money for her care been spent?
My index page for posts about this case is here.
TerrisFight.org is the place to go to find out the status of Terri's current court cases, as well as a wealth of other information, photos, and videos.
There is a lot more information on this that you can read here. This site has posted source documents and excerpts of court testimony.
La Shawn Barber has taken up Terri's cause.