Dr. Cheshire Cat

Ken AshfordAssisited Suicide/Schiavo, Health CareLeave a Comment

Jeb Bush has found a neurologist who claims that Terri Schiavo’s diagnosis ha been wrong all these years.  He claims that Terri, rather than being in a "persistent vegetative state", is actually in what the medical profession calls a "minimal conscious state".

That doctor’s name is Dr. Cheshire.  Let’s take a look at him, shall we?

Perhaps one place to look is a poem he wrote entitled Exit Ramp.  It appears in a magazine called Ethics & Medicine.  And what is Ethics & Medicine magazine?  Why, it bills itself as a magazine for "guidance to a perplexed world from the Judeo-Christian worldview". 

Uh-oh.  I see there this is going. 

Anyway, here is an excerpt from Dr. Cheshire’s "Exit Ramp":

And if a noble benefit
Is gained by choking respiration
Then why withhold from those unfit
To voice their fatal last petition?

Such killing fast degenerates,
Despite concern for patients’ best,
Into a plot that terminates
Without explicit prerequest.

And exercise of “right to die,”
If done with regularity,
Would drive the expectation high
That suicide is one’s duty.

The notion of a right to die
In reason finds approval nil,
From such a harsh judicial lie
Would obligate doctors to kill.

Okay.  So it is pretty clear that we know this Dr. Cheshire’s bias even before looking at his evidence.  But what is his evidence that Terri is in a "minimally conscious state"?

Let’s look closely at the key quote from Dr. Cheshire’s affidavit:

"Although Terri did not demonstrate during our 90-minute visit compelling evidence of verbalization, conscious awareness or volitional behavior," he wrote, "yet the visitor has the distinct sense of the presence of a living human being who seems at some level to be aware of some things around her."


That’s medical evidence?  Gee, there are no compelling evidence of conscious awareness, but he gets the distinct sense that she is aware of things around her?

You know what? I get the distinct sense that Dr. Cheshire is letting his personal bias interfere with his medical objectivity.  Perhaps he sees dead people, too.  In any event, well-meaning as he might be, he clearly cannot be taken seriously when his "medical" evidence is nothing more than a sixth sense, goosebumps, hairs on the back of his neck, gut feelings, and intuition.

UPDATE:  Seems Dr. Cheshire isn’t very well respected, or known, in the medical community.  Read this from Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, founder of the American Council on Science and Health (and a lifelong Republican):

While we at American Council on Science and Health have been determined to remain on the sidelines of the raging national debate about the fate of Terri Schiavo (this is largely a legal and ethical issue, not a scientific one), we cannot remain silent about the outrageous misrepresentation of scientific facts about this case that has been occurring in the past ten days.

The medical reality of Ms. Schiavo’s case is this: She has been in what is medically referred to as a "permanent vegetative state" for the past 15 years, ever since her heart temporarily stopped (probably due to the severe effects of an eating disorder), depriving her brain of oxygen. Brain scans indicate that her cerebral cortex ceased functioning — probably just after she experienced cardiac arrest in 1990. Ms. Schiavo’s CAT scan shows massive shrinking of the brain, and her EEG is flat. Physicians confirm that there is no electrical activity coming from her brain. While the family video repeatedly shown on television suggests otherwise, her non-functioning cortex precludes cognition, including any ability to interact or communicate with people or show any signs of awareness. Dozens of experts over the years who have examined Ms. Schiavo agree that there is no hope of her recovering — even though her body, face and eyes (if she is given food and hydration) might continue to move for decades to come.

Those are the harsh facts.

Yesterday, there was another public challenge to Ms. Schiavo’s well-established diagnosis: Florida governor Jeb Bush announced that a "very renowned neurologist," Dr. William Cheshire, had concluded that Terri had been misdiagnosed and that she was really only in a state of "minimal consciousness" rather than a persistent vegetative state. He used this "new diagnosis" to argue that "this new information raises serious concerns and warrants immediate action."

As it turns out, Dr. Cheshire is not "renowned" as a neurologist — his limited publications focus on areas including headache pain and his opposition to stem cell research. Dr. Cheshire never conducted a physical examination of Ms. Schiavo, nor did he do neurological tests. Dr. Cheshire is director of biotech ethics at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, a nonprofit group founded by "more than a dozen leading Christian bioethicists." Everyone is free to be guided by a personal agenda — and it is clear that Dr. Cheshire has his.

Let’s call tripe when tripe is served. All of us are entitled to our own personal views on the Schiavo case, what her fate should be, and who should make decisions for her. But all of us should be united in rejecting politically-generated junk science.