Tuesday, March 22, 2005

VIA A READER, here is a Knight-Ridder article about Dr. Jay Wolfson, the man appointed by the Florida court system to be Terri Schiavo's guardian ad litem. It was his job to try to represent Terri, not as her attorney or her doctor, but as an unbiased third party trying to determine, quite literally, what was going on inside her head.

The article makes clear that Dr. Wolfson is a compassionate, sensitive, and intelligent man who wanted very, very much to conclude that Terri Schiavo was aware; that she had wishes she could communicate if only he could figure out a way to elicit a response from her. But after spending many hours with Ms. Schiavo, he was forced to the opposite conclusion: that she was indeed in a persistent vegetative state, with no awareness, no thoughts, no ability to respond to anything.

At first, walking into Schiavo's room, he was struck by her presence, even though he knew in advance that she drifted between wakefulness and sleep.

"She's a person, like you or I, and the first disconcerting part is that she's awake," said Wolfson.

When awake, Schiavo's eyes rolled about the room. She made random noises that sounded like groaning or the start of a laugh or cry.

But court documents said Schiavo's cerebral cortex, where reason and emotions are housed, had degenerated to fluid. So Wolfson set about trying to determine whether Schiavo's noises and jerks were merely reflexive or if they indicated something more.

He played Elton John CDs for her, and Bach and Mozart and music from the late 1980s, when she was in her 20s, prior to her collapse. He held her hands, squeezing them, and stroked her hair and face.

He put his face close to hers and tried to make eye contact, pleading desperately, trying to will her into giving him any kind of sign.

"I would beg her, `Please, Terri, help me,'" he said. "You want to believe there's some connection. You hope she's going to sit up and bed and say, `Hey, I'm really here, but don't tell anybody.' Or, `I'm really here, tell everybody!'"

But Schiavo never made eye contact. When Wolfson visited her when her parents were there, she never made eye contact with them either, he said. And for all of Wolfson's pleadings and coaxing, he never got what he most wanted: a sign.

Wolfson was asked what he thought of Barbara Weller, an attorney for the Schindlers, saying that Terri tried to talk. (Tom DeLay also made this claim, of course.)

"Terri does not speak," he said. "To claim otherwise reduces her to a fiction."

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