A post-mortem investigation found that Terri Schiavo had massive and irreversible brain damage, was blind, and was in a “persistent vegetative state,” according to reports released by the medical examiner’s office Wednesday. The autopsy results were made public today – more than two months after Schiavo died from having her feeding tube removed.
The investigation, however, did not reveal the cause of her collapse 15 years ago. Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin told the Associated Press that his office found no proof of an eating disorder, heart attack, or physical abuse – all suspected reasons for her fall.
The 41-year-old Schiavo had been at the center of an internationally watched right-to-life battle that ended on March 31. Schiavo’s parents had fought to keep their daughter alive against the wishes of their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo, who contended his wife would not have wanted to live in her condition. After a seven-year-long legal battle, the court sided with the husband and ordered Schiavo’s feeding tube removed; she died after 13 days of dehydration and starvation.
Throughout the 13-day ordeal, dozens of pro-lifers were arrested for trespassing and attempting to feed Schiavo against a court order.
According to Thogmartin, Schiavo died from dehydration, and would not have been able to eat or drink even if she had been given food by mouth as her parents – and their supporters – requested.
"Removal of her feeding tube would have resulted in her death whether she was fed or hydrated by mouth or not," Thogmartin told reporters.
He also told AP that she was blind because the "vision centers of her brain were dead” and that Schiavo’s brain was about half the expected weight of a human brain by the time she died.
"The brain weighed 615 grams, roughly half of the expected weight of a human brain," he said to AP. "This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons."
Meanwhile, Fr. Frank Pavone, a close friend of Schiavo’s parents and one of the few people allowed to be near the brain-damaged woman in her final hours, said the autopsy does not change the “moral evaluation” of what had happened.
“No details of this autopsy change the moral evaluation of what happened to Terri. Her physical injuries and disabilities never made her less of a person,” Pavone wrote in a Press Statement. “No amount of brain injury ever justifies denying a person proper humane care. That includes food and water.
“A person with a 'profoundly atrophied' brain needs profound care and love,” he continued. “Terri did not die from an atrophied brain. She died from an atrophy of compassion on the part of her estranged husband and those who helped him to have her deliberately killed.”