Former NIH director Healy misstated facts in Schiavo case

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

Dr. Bernadine Healy, a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and former director of the National Institutes of Health, falsely claimed that "several" neurologists who "evaluated" Terri Schiavo determined that she had "a functional mind" and was "minimally conscious." In fact, discredited Dr. William Hammesfahr is the only neurologist who has examined Schiavo to argue that she is not in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).

In 2002, six doctors physically examined Schiavo and conveyed their assessment of her physical condition. Of those, only two expressed the belief that she was not in a PVS and could improve with additional treatment. One such doctor, Hammesfahr*, has falsely boasted of being a Nobel Prize nominee. The other, Dr. William Maxfield, is a radiologist, not a neurologist, as the Associated Press reported on March 24. The AP noted that two other neurologists, as well as Schiavo's attending physician, have also examined her and concluded that she is in a PVS. Dr. James Barnhill, a third neurologist who concluded Schiavo was in a PVS after he "reviewed the videotapes," according to the AP, actually physically examined her before reaching his diagnosis, as Hammesfahr's testimony noted.

From the March 29 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews (The context of her remarks indicates that Healy was equating the term "evaluation" with a physical examination.):

HEALY: [S]everal doctors who evaluated her, neurologists, believed that she did have a functional mind and she was evaluated at a time before we fully understood that function. And I think 2002 is too long ago to have evaluated her. ... I would agree that it is possible that if she were evaluated and if in fact she was minimally conscious, which several of the neurologists felt she was, which meant she could have feelings, she was aware, but that her husband, who is her legal guardian, said, well, she doesn't want to live with the mental age of a 12-month-old, that you might turn it [the feeding tube] off.

The affidavit of Dr. William Hammesfahr linked to in this item previously was hosted by terrisfight.org, a Web site run by a foundation that opposes the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. The affidavit, along with 27 others, has been removed from the site, as of the posting of this item.

Correction: 

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Health Care, End of Life Issues
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Terri Schiavo
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