Autopsy: Schiavo Was Not Abused

Terri Schiavo (search) died from dehydration and was not abused before her 1990 collapse, an autopsy report revealed Wednesday.

The autopsy report also showed there was no evidence Schiavo was given harmful drugs or other substances before her death. The severely brain-damaged woman, who was at the heart of a right-to-die battle, died March 31, 13 days after being disconnected from her feeding tube.

Jon Thogmartin (search), the Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner, told reporters that the 41-year-old Schiavo would not have lived after her feeding tube was removed even if she had been fed or given liquids by mouth.

"Removal of her feeding tube would have resulted in her death whether she was fed or hydrated by mouth or not," Thogmartin told reporters.

The autopsy also confirmed that Schiavo's mind was compromised at the time of death. "There's nothing in her autopsy report that is inconsistent with a persistent vegetative state," said Dr. Stephen J. Nelson, a medical examiner who assisted in the autopsy.

Thogmartin also said Schiavo was blind, her brain was half its normal size and she was suffering from severe osteoporosis at the time of death. Her "bones were pulpally soft from severe osteoporosis," Thogmartin said.

"The brain weighed 615 grams, roughly half of the expected weight of a human brain. ... This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons."

Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), had fought their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo, in court for seven years over her fate.

The Schindler family's attorney, John Gibbs III, said the report still leaves many questions unanswered.

Gibbs questioned the finding that there was no abuse, and said the window of time where Schiavo was unconscious after her Feb. 25, 1990, collapse is troubling. Gibbs said Schiavo collapsed at 4:30 a.m. but her husband did not call for help until 5:40 a.m. and she did not receive medical attention until 5:52 a.m.

"Those 70 minutes are very, very troubling," Gibbs told reporters Wednesday. "Clearly, when you have a brain that is not getting blood, these are emergency moments and every second is precious. 4:30 to 5:40 is a significant time period."

He said the family plans to discuss the autopsy with other medical experts and may take some unspecified legal action.

"We are, at this point, examining every option and no decisions have been made," Gibbs said.

Michael Schiavo's (search) attorney, George Felos, said his client "was pleased to hear the hard science and evidence of those findings."

"It's a hard fact, it's a scientific fact that Terri Schiavo was blind," Felos said. He said Michael Schiavo plans to release autopsy photographs of her shrunken brain in the near future.

In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that the autopsy results did not change the president's position on her case.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with her family and friends," McClellan said. "The president was deeply saddened by this case."

Thogmartin said doctors treating her in the hours after her collapse tested her thoroughly for signs of abuse and trauma and did not find anything.

Thogmartin said the investigation was unable to determine what caused Schiavo's collapse.

The autopsy revealed there was no conclusive evidence that Schiavo had an eating disorder. Thogmartin said Schiavo reportedly drank a lot of tea and caffeine could have led to her collapse in 1990, but is unlikely.

"No one observed Mrs. Schiavo taking diet pills, binging or purging, or consuming laxatives," Thogmartin told reporters.

Thogmartin said a review of hospital records of her collapse showed she had a diminished potassium level in her blood. But he said that did not prove she had an eating disorder, because the emergency treatment she received at the time could have affected the potassium level.

The cause of her collapse has never been definitely proven, but testimony in a 1992 civil trial indicated that she probably was suffering from an eating disorder that led to a severe chemical imbalance.

The Schindlers, though, don't believe she had an eating disorder and have accused Michael Schiavo of abusing his wife, a charge he vehemently denied.

Speaking before the report was issued, Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, said the Schindlers continue to engage in a "smear campaign against Michael to deflect the real issues in the case, which were Terri's wishes and her medical condition."

Bill Pellan, chief investigator for the medical examiner's office, said Tuesday that Thogmartin reviewed police reports, medical records and other documents in trying to determine the cause of her brain damage.

During the long legal battle, numerous abuse complaints made to state social workers were ruled unfounded.

Michael Schiavo convinced the courts his wife would not want to be kept alive artificially with no hope of recovery, contending that she made statements to that effect before her collapse.

Her parents doubt she had any such end-of-life wishes and also disputed that she was in a persistent vegetative state. They believed she could get better with therapy.

Over the years, the Schindlers had sought independent investigation of their daughter's condition and what caused it. Abuse complaints to state social workers were ruled unfounded and the Pinellas state attorney's office did not turn up evidence of abuse.

During the seven-year legal battle, federal and state courts repeatedly rejected extraordinary attempts at intervention by Florida lawmakers, Gov. Jeb Bush, Congress and President Bush on behalf of her parents.

Supporters of the Schindlers harshly criticized the courts. Many religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, said the removal of sustenance violated fundamental religious tenets.

About 40 judges in six courts were involved in the case at one point or another. Six times, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene. As Schiavo's life ebbed away following the final removal of her feeding tube, Congress rushed through a bill to allow the federal courts to take up the case, and President Bush signed it March 21, but federal courts refused to step in.

The autopsy report was based on 274 external and internal body images, and an exhaustive review of Terri Schiavo's medical records, police reports and social services agency records.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.