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Jeb Bush takes Schiavo case to a new low in politics with ugly attack on husband



Published: Sat, June 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The autopsy performed on Terri Schiavo by Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin should have ended the controversy over her death.

Her brain had withered to half its normal size. The autopsy showed she was blind, that she was in a persistent vegetative state and that there was no hope for a recovery when her feeding tube was removed in March.

Even Senate Republican leader Bill Frist, a physician, said after being confronted with the autopsy results that the diagnosis of the doctors who treated Schiavo was right.

At the height of the debate, when the House and Senate injected themselves into the battle on the side of the parents who demanded that she be kept alive at any cost and through any measure, Frist had looked at a 4-year-old video of Terri Schiavo and declared that she was not in a persistent vegetative state.

Thursday Frist said it was time to move on.

Friday, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made it clear that he's not ready to climb off the Schiavo bandwagon.

Grabbing at straws

Bush announced that he is asking a prosecutor to open an investigation into what he sees as an alarming time discrepancy that demands an inquiry. Although Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, has consistently said that he called 911 immediately after hearing his wife fall and finding her unconscious, Bush has seized on the fact that over 12 years, Schiavo has given two different times in the early morning hours when he heard the sound of his wife falling.

We didn't think the battle over Michael Schiavo's right as a husband to say that his wife's tortured body had been kept alive long enough could get much uglier. But Bush has made it so.

The autopsy was exhaustive and by any standard Thogmartin and his staff went out of their way to be fair.

Opponents of removing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube were reckless in their determination to see the tube remain, and that recklessness included their dark hints that Michael Schiavo had a role in putting his wife into a coma. But the autopsy found no evidence of strangulation, abuse or harmful drugs.

Nothing new there

And that tracked earlier findings by the Florida Department of Children and Families, which investigated 89 separate claims of abuse and exploitation made against Schiavo and found them baseless.

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

Thogmartin said there was no proof she suffered from an eating disorder such as bulimia, 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 acknowledged an eating disorder, she did not take diet pills and no one had witnessed her purging food, the medical examiner said.

The medical examiner took a professional, dispassionate approach. 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.

The response by Jeb Bush was anything but professional.

A gutless attack

He was careful to say he wasn't accusing Michael Schiavo of any wrongdoing and then described the alleged time gap as a significant, new issue that demanded a county prosecutor's attention. It's difficult to construct a more mealy-mouthed attack than that.

The Florida governor is apparently willing to go to any length to pander to a "pro-life" movement that is so caught up in its own theological definition of when life begins or ends that its proponents refuse to recognize even the science of a modern autopsy.

A coroner said Terri Schiavo's brain damage "was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons."

But Bush continues to whisper in "pro-life" ears, "Hey, that doesn't mean Michael didn't do it," and some nod their heads eagerly.

What really matters

It doesn't matter to Bush that Michael Schiavo was Terri's husband. Or that he tried for seven years to bring her back before deciding that the body in a nursing home bed was no longer the person he knew. It doesn't matter that every court in the land said Schiavo had the right to act in what he considered his wife's best interest. It doesn't even matter than an autopsy now shows that Schiavo was right.

Bush perceives a political advantage in continuing the witch hunt against Michael Schiavo, and that's what he's going to do. Decency be damned.




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