Both sides in the Terri Schiavo tragedy have found specialists to examine Terri (or her medical records) and testify on their findings. These specialists sometimes have a history of activism for or against euthanasia, and it’s fair enough to note their history.
In a generally evenhanded story today, Jill Barton of The Associated Press highlights one specialist’s history but neglects the history of another:
Gov. Jeb Bush and the state social services agency filed a petition to take custody of Schiavo and, presumably, reconnect her feeding tube. It cites new allegations of neglect and challenges Schiavo’s diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state. The request is based on the opinion of a neurologist working for the state who observed Schiavo at her bedside but did not conduct an examination.
The neurologist, William Cheshire of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, is a bioethicist who is also an active member in Christian organizations, including two whose leaders have spoken out against the tube’s removal.
Ronald Cranford of the University of Minnesota, a neurologist who was among those who made a previous diagnosis of Schiavo, said “there isn’t a reputable, credible neurologist in the world who won’t find her in a vegetative state.”
Cranford’s interest in euthanasia surpasses merely belonging to organizations whose leaders have spoken on the issue (though his webpage mentions that he has served on the board of New York City’s Choice in Dying since 1992). Cranford has had plenty to say on the matter himself.
The Rev. Robert Johansen told Cranford’s back story in an essay last week for National Review (and I’ve added some links for readers’ convenience):
In published articles, including a 1997 op-ed in the MinneapolisÂ–St. Paul Star Tribune, he has advocated the starvation of Alzheimer’s patients. . . .
In the cases of Paul Brophy, Nancy Jobes, Nancy Cruzan, and Christine [Busalacchi], Cranford was the doctor behind the efforts to end their lives. Each of these people was brain-damaged but not dying; nonetheless, he advocated death for all, by dehydration and starvation. Nancy Cruzan did not even require a feeding tube: She could be spoon-fed. But Cranford advocated denying even that, saying that even spoon-feeding constituted “medical treatment” that could be licitly withdrawn.
In cases where other doctors don’t see it, Dr. Cranford seems to have a knack for finding PVS. Cranford also diagnosed Robert Wendland as PVS. He did so in spite of the fact that Wendland could pick up specifically colored pegs or blocks and hand them to a therapy assistant on request. He did so in spite of the fact that Wendland could operate and maneuver an ordinary wheelchair with his left hand and foot, and an electric wheelchair with a joystick, of the kind that many disabled persons (most famously Dr. Stephen Hawking) use. Dr. Cranford dismissed these abilities as meaningless. Fortunately for Wendland, the California supreme court was not persuaded by Cranford’s assessment.
UPDATE: Robert K. Vischer, assistant professor at St. John’s University School of Law, has weighed in on a profile of William Cheshire in today’s New York Times. Cranford has never heard of Cheshire, but dismisses him anyway:
Dr. Ronald Cranford, a neurologist and medical ethicist at the University of Minnesota Medical School who has examined Ms. Schiavo on behalf of the Florida courts and declared her to be irredeemably brain-damaged, said, “I have no idea who this Cheshire is,” and added: “He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You’ll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say she’s not vegetative.”
Which of course leads to the logical conclusion that Terri Schiavo should be deprived of all food and hydration until she has died.