Was Terri Schiavo Beaten in 1990?
There is a new dimension in the fierce battle over whether Terri Schiavo's life is worth saving. A federally funded investigation has begun into certain medical judgments made by her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, including decisions in recent months. But more important is whether the inquiry will discover what actually caused Terri Schiavo's alleged cardiac arrest in 1990, which is said to be the reason her brain was deprived of oxygen, resulting in her condition for the past 13 years.
The degree to which this investigation is widely reported by the media may help determine whether Terri Schiavo lives or dies. Her husband is in court again to demand that her feeding tube be removed once more.
If the courts continue to support the husband, she may die before the investigation is completed. But even in that case, the results may lead to a change of state laws that could save other lives.
Conducting the investigation is the Advocacy Center for Persons With Disabilities (ACPD). Its website says it is "Florida's protection and advocacy program for persons with disabilities." As reported by Jeff Johnson on cnsnews.com (October 29), the agency has, according to its website, "the authority to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect when reported if there is probable cause to believe the incidents occurred."
As Jeff Johnson writes, "How quickly ACPD makes a determination will depend on how difficult it is for the agency to gain access to Mrs. Schiavo's medical records and to the people it needs to interview on both sides of the legal battle."
I have learned that ACPD has sent Michael Schiavo's lawyer a request that he authorize the release of Terri Schiavo's medical records. There was initial resistance, but the records have been turned over.
What gives this investigation the potential for a dramatic reassessment of previous court decisions on the legitimacy of Michael Schiavo's guardianship is in the lead of Jeff Johnson's story: "The Schindler family [Terri Schiavo's parents, who are fighting for her life] has found a new ally in the battleone it did not seek outin the person of a famed New York forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Baden." Former chief medical examiner for the city of New York and co-director of the Medicolegal Investigation Unit of the New York State Police, Dr. Baden is often quoted in news reports and interviewed on television.
In one such interview on Fox News Channel's On the Record With Greta Van Susteren, I heard Baden agree with a panel of lawyers that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, and will not recover. But on a subsequent October 24 appearance on that program, Dr. Baden had a different perspective on the origins of the Terri Schiavo case.
Baden had now seen a 1991 bone-scan report that cast considerable doubt on a claim in Michael Schiavo's successful medical malpractice suit, that Terri's brain injury was caused by a potassium imbalance that led to a heart attack depriving her brain of oxygen.
Dr. Baden, who has written three books on forensic pathology, told Van Susteren: "It's extremely rare for a 20-year-old to have a cardiac arrest from low potassium who has no other diseases . . . which she doesn't have. . . . The reason that she's in the state she's in is because there was a period of time, maybe five or eight minutes, when not enough oxygen was going to her brain. That can happen because the heart stops for five or eight minutes, but she had a healthy heart from what we can see." (Emphasis added).
Dr. Baden then addressed the 1991 bone-scan report on Terri Schiavo, which was completed on March 5 of that year by Dr. W. Campbell Walker in order to "evaluate for trauma" that may have been caused by a suspected "closed head injury." In the report, Walker wrote:
"This patient has a history of trauma. The presumption is that the other multiple areas of trauma also relate to previous trauma." (Emphasis added).
Here we get to what focused Dr. Baden's attention. On cnsnews.com, Jeff Johnson reported, "Walker listed apparent injuries to the ribs, thoracic vertebrae, both sacroiliac joints, both ankles and both knees."
In his interview with Greta Van Susteren, Dr. Baden noted "that the bone scan describes her having a head injury . . . and head injury can lead to the 'vegetative state' that Mrs. Schiavo is in now."
But, Baden continued, the bone scan "does show evidence that there are other injuries, other bone fractures that are in a healing stage [in 1991]."
Those injuries could have happened, Baden continued, from "some kind of trauma. The trauma could be from an auto accident, the trauma could be from a fall, or the trauma could be from some kind of beating that she obtained from somebody somewhere. It's something that should have been investigated in 1991 . . . and maybe [it was] by police at that time." (Emphasis added).
Why not see if there was a police report on those traumas to Terri in 1990? The Advocacy Center for Persons With Disabilities should look into this during its investigation of possible incidents of abuse and neglect of Terri. Moreover, Pamela Hennessy, spokesperson for Terri's parents and her brother, told cnsnews.com, "This is what the family and their doctors have been saying for a number of years."
I asked Hennessy to clarify that statement. "From the beginning," she told me, "they had serious doubts as to the reason for Terri's collapse. Then, when they first heard about the bone-scan report in November of last year, they tried to file a report with the police on a possible battery on Terri. But the police wouldn't help them."
The family believes that after Terri and her husband had a violent argument earlier on the evening she collapsed, Terri might have been strangled later that night. Says Pat Anderson, the lawyer for Terri's parents:
"Governor Jeb Bush should order the state-wide prosecutor of Florida to convene a jury to investigate all of this." And the Advocacy Center for Persons With Disability has that 1991 bone-scan report. Will the courts wait for the investigationsor hurry to send her into eternity? Should Michael Schiavo have the guardianship power to terminate her?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.