Let us begin with some medical facts. On February 25, 1990, Terri Schiavo had a cardiac arrest, triggered by extreme hypokalemia brought on by an eating disorder. As a result, severe hypoxic–ischemic encephalopathy developed, and during the subsequent months, she exhibited no evidence of higher cortical function. Computed tomographic scans of her brain eventually showed severe atrophy of her cerebral hemispheres, and her electroencephalograms have been flat, indicating no functional activity of the cerebral cortex. Her neurologic examinations have been indicative of a persistent vegetative state, which includes periods of wakefulness alternating with sleep, some reflexive responses to light and noise, and some basic gag and swallowing responses, but no signs of emotion, willful activity, or cognition.
There is no evidence that Ms. Schiavo is suffering, since the usual definition of this term requires conscious awareness that is impossible in the absence of cortical activity. There have been only a few reported cases in which minimal cognitive and motor functions were restored three months or more after the diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state due to hypoxic–ischemic encephalopathy; in none of these cases was there the sort of objective evidence of severe cortical damage that is present in this case, nor was the period of disability so long...
Friday, April 1, 2005
This is a paper by Timothy Quill from the New England Journal of Medicine on the Terri Schiavo case. (Link to full text.)