[Updated] Nat Hentoff alleges that Terri Schiavo “is not brain-dead or comatose, and breathes naturally on her own. Although brain-damaged, she is not in a persistent vegetative state, according to an increasing number of radiologists and neurologists.” How does he know? On Democracy Now, he claimed that at the trial, five neurologists testified. Two of these testified for Michael Schiavo’s side, two for Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, and a fifth was a supposedly neutral, court-appointed neurologist, who joined with the neurologists on Michael Schiavo’s side. Which means that Nat Hentoff doesn’t know.
Given cherry-picking by both sides, we can devalue the neurologists called by Michael Schiavo and by Terri’s parents. The court, then really based its ruling on the testimony of one neurologist, who happened to fall on the side of Michael Schiavo. Hentoff alleges that “Terri Schiavo has never had an MRI or a PET scan, nor a thorough neurological examination” and quotes Republican Senate leader Bill Frist, a specialist in heart-lung transplant surgery:
“I would think you would want a complete neurological exam” before determining she must die.
Frist added: “The attorneys for Terri’s parents have submitted 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals,all of whom say that Terri should be re-evaluated.”
Nat Hentoff claims, “Ignoring the absence of complete neurological exams, supporters of the deadly decisions by Judge Greer and the trail of appellate jurists keep reminding us how extensive the litigation in this case has been—19 judges in six courts is the mantra. And more have been added.”
Although credible neurologists frequently dispute the accuracy of a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, some cases are open and shut. The case of Terri Schiavo is one of those, says neurologist Ronald Cranford, MD, who has examined her.
In emphatic tones, Dr. Cranford, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said in an interview that the real take home message from the Terri Schiavo case is this: “no credible neurologist came forward to challenge that diagnosis.”
Meanwhile, a social conservative judge on the 11th Circuit Court, in response to yet another Schindler petition, went “out of his way to directly criticize the Congress and President Bush for what they’ve done,” David J. Garrow, a legal historian at Emory University, said. According to the New York Times,
- Judge [Stanley F.] Birch wrote, a provision of the new law requiring a fresh federal review of all the evidence presented in the case made it unconstitutional. Because that provision constitutes “legislative dictation of how a federal court should exercise its judicial functions,” he wrote, it “invades the province of the judiciary and violates the separation of powers principle.”
As if in response, “House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Thursday blamed Terri Schiavo’s death on what he contended was a failed legal system and he raised the possibility of trying to impeach some of the federal judges in the case.”
Hentoff is clearly outraged. Appearing with him on Democracy Now was Jamin Raskin, professor of Law at American University, whose last intelligible words on the program were an attempt to extract from Hentoff an answer to a simple question: Would Hentoff, if Terri Schiavo were known to be effectively brain-dead, agree to let her die? At that point, both spoke over each other, rendering themselves unintelligible.
In the unlikely event a mistake has been made, it is now moot. According to a UPI report,” Terri Schiavo’s body was loaded into a white van Thursday and taken to the Pinellas County, Fla., medical examiner’s office for an autopsy,” which had been agreed to both by Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers, but that “Doctors are divided over how far the autopsy would go to settle the dispute. Many say it is not expected to do much more than confirm what brain imaging has already shown.” [emphasis added]
Brain imaging? What would be the point of an MRI or a PET scan if not to image the brain? According to the Los Angeles Times, a CT scan was taken in 2002. “[D]octors said it was probable that pathologists would find severe damage.”
The physical state of a brain is no clear evidence of consciousness. Patients can have relatively normal-looking brains, yet suffer from profound brain damage, said Dr. Martin A. Samuels, chairman of the department of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Hentoff raises serious-sounding questions. But he jumps from an absence of evidence to a presumption that Terri Schiavo was indeed in a minimally conscious state. And, being wrong about the absence of brain imaging, he denies the existence of evidence which has already been submitted to the judiciary and reviewed in so many courts.