The woman who sparked a national right-to-life debate had brain damage that was "irreversible"

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 15, 2005 08:40 AM

Terri Schiavo died from dehydration and her brain was about half the normal size when she passed away, according to autopsy results released Wednesday.

Schiavo, 41, died last March, some 13 days after the feeding tube that had kept her alive was removed under a court order obtained by her husband, Michael Schiavo. Her parents wanted her kept alive. The family’s battle erupted into a national right-to-life debate.

Florida’s Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin said Schiavo did not appear to have suffered a heart attack and suffered no trauma such as strangulation before her 1990 collapse, reports the Associated Press. He added that she would not have been able to eat or drink if she had been given food by mouth as her parents’ requested.

“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 report also showed there was no evidence Schiavo was given harmful drugs or other substances before her death.

Her death ended a bitter legal battle between Michael, who said his wife did not want to be kept alive artificially, and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who disputed doctors’ findings that she was in a vegetative state and insisted she could improve with therapy.

Thogmartin said that when she died Shiavo’s 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.”