Response to Cathy Young of the Boston Globe
Dear Ms. Young,
I writing in response to your column, “Haleigh Poutre is no Terri Schiavo”.
After reading all of the dishonesty that you purport as truths in regard to my sister Terri, I have to say that this is not only the most irresponsible article that I have yet to read from the media regarding Terri’s situation, but possibly the most egregious.
You wrote that, “Schiavo had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, and had undergone a barrage of tests showing that she had no higher brain functioning and no consciousness – a fact on which all unbiased medical experts agreed.”
I want to know how you’ve researched Terri’s case, and how you’ve obtained this information. Could it be that you’ve gathered your ‘facts’ from the other opinion pieces similar to the one you’ve written about Terri?
If you are referring to autopsy that ostensibly proved that Terri was PVS, then you are entirely wrong. The Independent Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy, Dr. Jon Thogmartin, went to great lengths to caution those reviewing Terri’s autopsy that a post-mortem, forensic examination could neither confirm nor refute a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state. This is because PVS is a clinical diagnosis based on the behaviors of a living patient and not forensic pathology.
Moreover, Dr. Stephen Nelson – a consulting pathologist who assisted Dr. Thogmartin with the autopsy report – admitted that, while Terri’s symptoms were consistent with PVS, he could not rule out the possibility that Terri was in a minimally conscious state.
And there are numerous pathologists and physicians that have responded to the autopsy finding as being misleading and ambiguous. This information could have been and still can be easily provided to you.
I wonder if you were you aware that – as indicated in Terri’s medical records – she was talking when given rehabilitation in the months following her injury? This completely refutes the PVS diagnosis.
Additionally, did you know that there were more doctors on record with the court (from some of the most distinguished institutions from across the country) stating that Terri was not in PVS than there were doctors that said she was? Furthermore, most of these affidavits (there are more than 42 in total) submitted by these doctors said that if Terri was given proper therapy, her functioning capacity could have improved. Why was this never reported by the media?
Did you know that a recent British Medical Journal has reported that nearly 43% of all PVS diagnoses are, in fact, misdiagnoses? Based on this report, the Independent Medical Examiner findings, the sworn testimony and affidavits of over 42 physicians, neurologists and other healthcare professionals contradicting that Terri was in PVS, I believe it is incredibly reckless for you to make the sweeping statement that Terri was PVS.
The fact that my sister received no therapy for more than thirteen years, which also was rarely if ever reported by the media, only added to the deterioration of her condition. No autopsy report could have ever determined how much Terri would have improved if she was receiving proper rehabilitation and therapy during the past thirteen years.
To make the statement that, “. . . all unbiased medical experts agreed” as to the condition of my sister is so completely disingenuous that the only conclusion I can draw is that you did absolutely no research into the doctors that evaluated Terri.
Dr. Ronald Cranford, hired by Michael Schiavo, has testified in almost every major case that the removal of the feeding tube should be permitted. He even takes pleasure in the moniker, Dr. Humane Death. To call him ‘unbiased’ is like calling Rush Limbaugh a liberal democrat. And one of the other doctors that testified in my sister trial, Dr. Peter Bambakidis, was later discovered as having ties to same organization as Michael Schiavo’s attorney George Felos.
But aside from all this, what is really sad is that your article and so many others like yours does nothing but discriminate against the disabled by labeling them with this dangerous and subjective PVS diagnosis. The PVS diagnosis was created for one reason and to serve only one purpose – to kill those that are the weakest and most vulnerable among us.
No amount of damage to the brain or level of disability should give anyone the authority to kill. But this is exactly what you are saying - and is now happening all the time - that we can justify the killing of human beings because they have reached a level of profound brain damage that is unacceptable for us to care for them anymore. So, tell me, how long do you give Haliegh to improve before you give up on her and decide that she must die?
What is really shameful though is that I have to respond to articles like yours and defend my sister’s life and explain why her family should have been permitted to love her.
Columnist Nat Hentoff commented on the media and how they have handled my sister’s case. He said that it was so shoddy and inaccurate that it was the worst case of ‘journalistic malpractice’ that he’s seen in 25 years.
Source: Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation