So today Terri Schiavo is scheduled to have her feeding tube removed. Will it actually happen? I have no idea. (Update: Zuzu in the comments reports that Terri’s feeding tube has now been removed.) But even if her feeding tube is removed today, her body won’t die for a week or two, so this issue isn’t over.
Today, two Houses of Representatives – Florida’s and the country’s – passed laws intending to save Schiavo. Neither Senate went along, however. The newest delaying tactic is to subpoena Terri to testify before Congress (and forbidding anyone from removing her feeding tube in the meanwhile). Currently it appears that her feeding tube will be removed regardless. The subpoena seems to me almost a mockery – Terri can no more answer congress’ questions than she can fly counterclockwise around the Earth to turn time backwards. Several bloggers, who feel the same way I do, are pissed off by this latest development, and by the perceived cynicism – see Schussman.com, Stone Court, and Rude Pundit (who, I should warn you, lives up to her/his name).
But I realize that folks on the other side don’t look at it the same way. Some activists are going on a hunger strike to protest; I’m appalled, but I nonetheless admire their idealism and dedication. I hope they don’t harm themselves.
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I hesitate to publish these next images. I’ve decided I’m going to, because the physical condition of Terri Schiavo’s brain is essential to any serious discussion of Terri Schiavo’s condition. By including these images, I don’t intend any disrespect to Terri Schaivo whatsoever.
On the left is a CT scan of Terri Schiavo’s brain (source). On the right, for comparison’s sake, is a CT scan of a healthy human brain. (You may also find it useful to look at these medical illustrations of the human brain, here and here.)
As I understand it – and goodness knows, I’m no doctor – the sparsely detailed dark areas in Terri’s CT scan (both the large dark area in the center and the smaller dark areas around the edges) are where Terri’s brain has been replaced with brain fluid. To quote myself: The conclusion the court came to is that, based on medical testimony and Terri’s CAT scan, her cerebral cortex has basically turned to liquid. The cerebral cortex is the seat of all our higher brain functions. Without a cerebral cortex, it is impossible for a human being to experience thought, emotions, consciousness, pain, pleasure, or anything at all; nor, barring a miracle, is it possible for a patient lacking a cerebral cortex to recover.
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I’m not convinced that there is any legitimate doubt on this point. A National Review article (hat tip: Bob Hayes) quotes a few doctors arguing that CT scans are “useful only in pretty severe cases”; but what has happened to Terri Schiavo’s brain is, in fact, very severe.
When people argue that a CT scan could not possibly tell us anything about Terri Schiavo’s condition, logically they must believe one of the following two things:
1) CT scans cannot reliably detect when someone’s cortex has mostly turned to liquid.
2) That someone’s cortex has turned mostly to liquid does not tell us anything important about their condition.
I don’t think either of those propositions are defensible; therefore, I don’t think the proposition “a CT scan can’t tell us anything about Terri Schiavo’s condition” is defensible.
Finally, the National Review article implies that there’s some sort of death-cult conspiracy between the judge and the doctors to hide Terri’s true condition. I think that sort of conspiratorial thinking is ridiculous. But in any case, for it to be correct, it’s not only Michael Schiavo, the judge, and the two doctors hired by Michael who would have to be in on it; two court-appointed doctors and at least three more judges (pdf link) must be in on the conspiracy too. Not to mention all the other medical experts who have commented on the case and disagreed with the National Review’s conclusions (see the neurologists quoted in this article, for example). How far does the conspiracy go?
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I thought this Abstract Appeal post – explaining why the question of “would Terri Schiavo have wanted to be kept alive?” wouldn’t normally come up during the malpractice lawsuit – was particularly well done. In general (and I know I’ve said this before), Abstract Appeal is the absolute-must-read blog for Terri Schiavo related news.
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UPDATE: I’ve edited the post to remove an argument that I didn’t think I could stand behind; I’ve put the argument in the comments for posterity’s sake. I’ve also “promoted” an argument I made in the comments to the main post.