- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

LARGO, Fla. (AP) — An autopsy on Terri Schiavo found that she had massive and irreversible brain damage and was blind, the medical examiner’s office said yesterday. It found no evidence that she was strangled or otherwise abused.

But what caused her collapse 15 years ago remains a mystery. The autopsy and postmortem investigation found no proof that she had an eating disorder, as was suspected at the time, Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin said.

Autopsy results on the 41-year-old woman were made public yesterday, more than two months after her death on March 31 ended a right-to-die battle between her husband and parents that engulfed the courts, Congress and the White House and divided the country.

Her parents cling to their belief that her condition could have improved, in spite of the autopsy report, their lawyer said.

She died from dehydration, Dr. Thogmartin said. He said that she did not appear to have suffered a heart attack and that there was no evidence that she was given harmful drugs or other substances prior to her death.

He said that after her feeding tube was removed, she would not have been able to eat or drink if she had been given food by mouth, as her parents requested.

“Removal of her feeding tube would have resulted in her death whether she was fed or hydrated by mouth or not,” Dr. Thogmartin told reporters.

He also said that she was blind, because the “vision centers of her brain were dead,” and that her brain was about half of its expected size when she died 13 days after the feeding tube was removed.

Mr. Schiavo said his wife never would have wanted to be kept alive in what court-appointed doctors concluded was a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, doubted that she had any such end-of-life wishes and disputed that she was in a vegetative state.

Regardless of the autopsy findings, the Schindlers continue to think their daughter was not in a persistent vegetative state, their lawyer, David Gibbs III, said after Dr. Thogmartin’s report.

He said they plan to discuss the autopsy with other medical experts and may take some unspecified legal action.

“We are, at this point, examining every option, and no decisions have been made,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mr. Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, said his client “was pleased to hear the hard science and evidence of those findings.”

“It’s a hard fact, it’s a scientific fact that Terri Schiavo was blind,” Mr. Felos said.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Mel Martinez, the Florida Republican who spearheaded the congressional intervention on behalf of Mrs. Schiavo, said he doesn’t regret that action, regardless of the autopsy.

“You do what you think is right,” he said, adding that politics did not factor into the intervention.

He said he doesn’t think it’s likely Congress will be faced with another such case.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he had yet to review the autopsy report.

Groups that fought to reinsert Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube said the autopsy report doesn’t change the fact that Mrs. Schiavo deliberately was starved to death.

“Terri Schiavo’s autopsy results confirm what was feared — she was disabled, and her death was due to the deliberate denial of hydration,” said Wendy Wright, senior policy director at Concerned Women for America.

Staff writer Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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