Schiavo's Parents Dispute Autopsy Report

An autopsy that found Terri Schiavo (search) suffered from severe and irreversible brain-damage has done nothing to sway her parents' position that she deserved to live and may have gotten better with therapy.

The long-awaited report Wednesday found Schiavo's brain had shrunk to about half the normal size for a woman her age when she died March 31 after her feeding tube was disconnected. The autopsy also determined she was blind.

Bob and Mary Schindler (search) disputed the results, insisting their daughter interacted with them and tried to speak. Their attorney said the family plans to discuss the autopsy with other medical experts and may take some unspecified legal action.

"We knew all along that Terri was profoundly brain damaged," said Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler. "We simply wanted to bring her home and care for her. It all goes back to this quality of life."

• Read the autopsy report (pdf)

The findings vindicated Schiavo's husband in his long and vitriolic battle with his in-laws that engulfed the courts, Congress and the White House and divided the country. Michael Schiavo (search) and court-appointed doctors have said she had no hope of recovery. She died at age 41.

The autopsy also found no evidence that Terri Schiavo was strangled or otherwise abused before her sudden 1990 collapse — countering allegations by the Schindlers that she was abused by her husband.

However, Gov. Jeb Bush said Thursday he might ask a state attorney to investigate other allegations by the Schindlers that Michael Schiavo waited more than an hour to call 911 after his wife's collapse.

"There's some doubt about when she did collapse and how long it took ... for the 911 call to be made," Bush said. "Which I think is worthy of some investigation. I don't know what form it would take."

Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, didn't return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.

Medical examiners could not say for certain what caused the collapse, long thought to have been brought on by an eating disorder.

George Felos, attorney for Michael Schiavo, said the findings back up their contentions made "for years and years" that Terri Schiavo had no hope of recovery. He said Michael Schiavo plans to release autopsy photographs of her shrunken brain.

"Mr. Schiavo has received so much criticism throughout this case that I'm certain there's a part of him that was pleased to hear these results and the hard science behind them," Felos said.

The Schindlers fought their son-in-law in court over their daughter's fate for nearly seven years, battling to the end with conservatives at their side.

The autopsy counters a widely seen videotape the Schindlers released of Schiavo in her hospice bed. The video showed Schiavo appearing to turn toward her mother's voice and smile. She moaned and laughed. Her head moved up and down and she seemed to follow the progress of a brightly colored Mickey Mouse balloon.

Schiavo's parents said that showed she was aware of her surroundings, but doctors said her reactions were automatic responses and not evidence of thought or consciousness.

"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 neurological portion of the autopsy.

The cause of death was dehydration from removal of the feeding tube, but the underlying reason for her brain damage was officially listed as "undetermined."

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

Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Dr. Jon Thogmartin (search) said that the autopsy produced no conclusion on what triggered the temporary heart stoppage that caused her collapse and brain damage.

He said there was no evidence of drug use, though he cautioned that Schiavo was not tested in 1990 for every conceivable substance that could have been in her blood.

He said there was no proof she suffered from an eating disorder such as bulimia (search), which can disrupt the body chemistry with lethal effect. The main piece of evidence cited for an eating disorder — the low levels of potassium in her blood in 1990 — could have been caused by the emergency treatment she received at the time, Thogmartin said.

While she had lost more than 100 pounds since high school, Schiavo never confessed to an eating disorder, she did not take diet pills and no one had witnessed her purging food, the medical examiner said.

He discounted the possibility that she had overdosed on caffeine from drinking large amounts of tea in an effort to keep her weight down.

In addition, the autopsy found no traces of morphine in her system at her death, although she had been given two doses in the days before she died. The Schindlers had contended that morphine might have been used to speed their daughter's death.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the autopsy did nothing to change President Bush's position that Schiavo's feeding tube should not have been disconnected. He had signed a bill, rushed through by Congress in March, that was a last-ditch effort to restore her feeding tube.

Experts said that the autopsy demonstrates how difficult it is for people to recover from severe brain damage.

"People should understand that sometimes, for known or unknown reasons, individuals sustain massive brain injury that for which healing is not possible," said Dr. Karen Weidenheim, the chief of neuropathology at Montefiore Medical Center (search) in New York. "Everything that could have been done was done for this lady for 15 years, and this case is very tragic."