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Schindler family statement

Read response to autopsy report from Terri Schiavo's kin

Editor’s note: This statement from the Schindler family was released June 16.

On June 15, 2005, the Pinellas County IME has released his report regarding Terri. We would like to thank the IME for his time and effort in making this report. We are not challenging the findings in his report, but we would like to make a few comments publicly. We do not intend to take questions afterwards.

First, the IME’s report confirms Terri’s physical condition and disability. We all knew Terri was seriously brain-injured before the IME report. This is nothing new. The IME’s report also confirms that TERRI WAS NOT TERMINAL. THAT TERRI HAD NO LIVING WILL, THAT TERRI HAD A STRONG HEART, and THAT TERRI WAS BRUTALLY DEHYDRATED TO DEATH.

Second, our family would encourage the media to remember that this case was allegedly about “Terri’s choice.” There is absolutely no evidence that Terri wanted to die of dehydration, or that she believed that that the level of one’s disability gives anyone the moral and legal right to end another’s life.

Third, the IME said clearly that dehydration, not her brain injury, was the cause of her death. Terri was dehydrated to death before our eyes The moral shame of what happened is not erased because of Terri’s level of disability. No one would say that “blind people” or “brain-injured” people should be put to death. That would be an irresponsible and heartless position to take. Tragically, that is what happened to Terri. As a society, it seems that we have lost our compassion for the disabled.

We asked our attorney, Mr. Gibbs, to meet with the IME prior to the press conference, to attend the IME’s press conference, and to speak to the media for our family afterward. In our opinion, some of the significant items from the IME’s report are as follows:

– Terri had a strong heart according to the IME. In addition to her strong heart, Terri also demonstrated a very strong will to live.

– Terri was not terminal. The IME said with proper care Terri would have lived at least another 10 years even in her disabled condition. Terri’s case was NOT an end-of-life case. Terri’s case was about ending a disabled person’s life.

– Terri was brain-injured. This does NOT mean that she was brain-dead. Many seem not to understand this absolutely critical distinction.

– The IME essentially ruled out bulimia and heart attack as causes for Terri’s condition. In one sense the IME’s report created as many questions as it may have answered. The major question for our family that now remains is what happened? A troubling 70-minute gap appears in the timeline on the day Terri collapsed in 1990:

– According to Michael Schiavo, Terri collapsed at 4:30 a.m. Mr. Schiavo said this on “Larry King Live” and he also re-confirmed it to the IME during his investigation.

– 911 was called at 5:40 a.m. Emergency services arrived at 5:52 a.m.

– Both Bobby Schindler Jr. and the original police report gave similar descriptions as to Terri’s state – laying face first, on the floor, hands crossed and up high against her chest, making gurgling noises.

– Our family doesn’t understand what led to Terri’s collapse. Our family doesn’t understand why this major discrepancy in time is not fully understood. When a person is without blood and oxygen to their brain, 70 minutes is a terribly long time when each second counts.

– With the IME effectively ruling out bulimia, the underlying basis of the malpractice case appears to now be disproved. Our family would encourage Michael Schiavo to do the right thing and return the funds that were paid by the innocent doctors who were sued for Terri’s collapse. In addition to returning the funds to the doctors who were sued, we would also ask Michael to bring closure to Terri’s death for our family by allowing us to give her a proper Christian burial as required by our faith. To this day, we have no idea where Terri’s ashes are. That is particularly hard on our mother.

– The IME’s report stated that Terri’s inability to swallow was the result of muscle atrophy. Terry was denied therapy for 12 years, and muscles atrophy when they are not used. We will never know if therapy would have helped.

– The IME clearly stated that PVS is a clinical diagnosis made on a living patient. That is something an IME cannot do by looking at a corpse.

– Dr. William Cheshire, a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic, agreed with our family’s perception that Terri was awake, aware, and at least minimally cognitive.

– We knew that Terri was visually impaired, but we did not know to what extent. Our attorneys and other witnesses clearly saw Terri recognize her mother and father and treat them differently. According to the IME’s report, it appears that after her severe dehydration, Terri was blind at the moment of her death.

– The IME stated that no conclusive medical studies have been done on what a MCS brain should look like as opposed to a PVS brain in an autopsy.

– According to the IME, Terri was given morphine for pain as she died. This seems contradictory that if Terri could feel no pain, as some would say, why would these drugs be necessary? In our opinion, the treating health care officials understood that Terri felt pain.

I would like to restate a few words from our family’s statement to Terri that we issued on March 31, 2005, the date of Terri’s death:

“Our prayer at this time is that our Nation will remember the plight of persons with disabilities and commit within our hearts to defend their lives and their dignity for many generations to come.”

In closing, the love, prayers, and concern for our family from so many around the nation are deeply appreciated. God has sustained us through these most difficult days, and we do hope that no other family ever has to live though the nightmare that our family and Terri endured. No mother and father should have to watch their child that they love more than life itself, be dehydrated and starved before their eyes. Civilized societies should not tolerate such barbaric acts.

Our family stands by its strong belief that Terri was not in PVS, and we appreciate the many noted neurologists, including Dr. Cheshire who saw Terri just weeks before she died, who agree with our position. We also thank the brave men and women in public office in Florida and Washington, D.C., who nobly stood on the side of life regardless of one’s disability. While their valiant efforts were not able to ultimately save Terri, our family is forever grateful to them for their compassion and for their conviction to do the right thing.

Once again, we will not be taking questions, and we would ask that all media requests for interviews be directed to Gibbs Law Firm at this time.

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