Thursday, March 24, 2005

THE NEW YORK TIMES has updated information on the background of Dr. William P. Cheshire, the neurologist who decided that Terri Schiavo was "minimally conscious," and not in a persistent vegetative state, after visiting her for one hour without doing a physical examination, and watching some video clips provided by Mary and Robert Schindler.

He's a Christian bioethicist. He's either been quoted in or has written for Physician magazine, which is published by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, of gay Sponge Bob fame. He's had articles published in medical journals, but mostly on headache pain. None of his published work deals with persistent vegetative states. He opposes stem-cell research.

According to one of the real doctors quoted in the New York Times article (Dr. Ronald Cranford of the University of Minnesota Medical School), Terri Schiavo's CAT scan showed "massive brain shrinkage" (and you can see this when you look at the scan; there's just blackness where the cerebral cortex should be). The EEG done on Terri Schiavo is absolutely flat: no electrical activity coming from the brain at all.

But here is Dr. Cheshire's finding about Terri Schiavo's condition:

"Although Terri did not demonstrate during our 90-minute visit compelling evidence of verbalization, conscious awareness or volitional behavior," he wrote, "yet the visitor has the distinct sense of the presence of a living human being who seems at some level to be aware of some things around her."

That sentence should win first prize for the most qualifiers and the least meaning. Terri did not talk, try to talk, act with intent, or show any conscious awareness, but she did appear to be alive. No shit, sherlock. In other words, Terri Schiavo is not in a coma. She's in a persistent vegetative state.

As for Dr. Cheshire's "renown," the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Arthur Caplan, had never heard of him. When told that Dr. Cheshire had stated that his conclusions about Terri Schiavo were based on bedside observation and a review of her medical records, but no physical examination, Caplan said no one had a right to make statements about Terri Schiavo's medical condition or to dispute the existing medical records without doing a full-scale neurological scan.

Dr. Ronald Cranford, the neurologist and medical ethicist mentioned above, said, "I have no idea who this Cheshire is. ... He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You'll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say [Terri Schiavo]'s not vegetative."

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