updated 4/1/2005 9:13:59 AM ET 2005-04-01T14:13:59

Guest: Randall Terry, Dr. Cyril Wecht

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, we‘ve got breaking news on the deteriorating health of the Pope and nearly 13 days after her feeding tube was removed, Terri Schiavo is dead at the age of 41. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is with great sadness that it‘s been reported to us that Terri Schiavo has passed away. 

ABRAMS (voice-over):  The battle over Terri Schiavo is over.  We look back at how it unfolded and get reaction from both families. 

Plus, now there will be an autopsy to find out just how bad her brain damage really was.  But what will the autopsy actually tell us?  We‘re joined by one of the nation‘s top forensic pathologists. 

The program about justice starts now.


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  Before we get to the Terri Schiavo case, there is breaking news at the Vatican.  Pope John Paul suffering from a very high fever, apparently caused by a urinary infection.  MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing joins us live from Rome.  Chris, what is the latest? 

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s a very worrisome situation clearly.  The Pope in the papal apartment being attended to by his medical team and confirmation from the Vatican that he is getting treatment now, but this is a Pope who has had a series of medical setbacks dating back to February 1, two hospitalizations that lasted a total of 28 days.  Of course, the second time he had the tracheotomy at Gemelli Hospital and he never really recovered got as strong after that surgery as he would have liked or his doctors would have liked. 

That surgery exactly five weeks ago and then confirmation by the Vatican yesterday that in addition to the breathing tube, he also has a feeding tube now.  They said they needed to increase his caloric intake so he could get strong again.  Today, a report from the French Press Agency that he‘s lost a lot of weight, maybe as much as 40 pounds. 

So this is a Pope in a very weakened condition, usually you can treat a urinary tract infection pretty quickly, pretty easily with antibiotics like the Pope is getting, but this is not a well man.  It‘s someone very frail, with Parkinson‘s disease, 84 years old and who has in the last couple of months has suffered this series of health setbacks—Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Chris, behind you we see a lot of flashing lights what look like sirens, what‘s going on back there? 

JANSING:  Well, they‘re obviously shutting down St. Peter‘s Square more than they normally would.  Now out of security concerns they usually tell the tourists to go home at 10:00 at night and they make sure that everything around the papal apartment is secure.  This is obviously a lot more than we would normally see and the reason is, first of all, that there are a lot of TV cameras, people with cameras from various press agencies whose want to get a shot of the papal apartment. 

When we left, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just tell you there was nothing out of the ordinary.  The normal lights were on, nothing unexpected going on.  Then about dawn they‘ll start opening it up again.  Without a doubt, there will be a lot of people, who having heard that the Pope has taken this turn for the worse, will want to come down and be in St. Peter‘s Square and pray for his recovery. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Chris Jansing, live in Rome.  If you can stick around, we are going to be keeping our eye on this story.  We‘re going to be keeping an eye on the health of the Pope.  If anything happens, we are going to bring it to you immediately. 

Now to the other major story of the day -- 13 days after her feeding tube was withdrawn by court order, 41-year-old Terri Schiavo has died in a Pinellas Park hospice.  Her husband Michael and her parents and siblings feuded literally right up to the end, with Michael having Terri‘s brother, Bobby, kept out of her room just minutes before she died.  So we begin tonight with the sights and sounds on this emotional day. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We want to go back down to Pinellas Park, Florida right now.  Brother Paul O‘Donnell, the spokesperson—faith spokesman for the Schindler family is now speaking about Terri Schiavo.  Let‘s listen in. 

BRO. PAUL O‘DONNELL, SCHINDLER FAMILY SPIRITUAL ADVISOR:  Terri Schiavo has passed away just a little while ago.  Bobby, Suzanne, Mary and Bob are in there now at Terri‘s bedside.  They were denied access at the moment of her death. 

FATHER FRANK PAVONE, PRIESTS FOR LIFE:  Bobby Schindler, her brother said, we want to be in the room when she dies.  Michael Schiavo said no, you cannot and so his heartless cruelty continues until this very last moment. 

GEORGE FELOS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL SCHIAVO:  This was a split-second decision that had to be made by Mr. Schiavo, having heard from the hospice nurses, you better come right now.  If you want to be with her before she dies, you‘d better come right now.  And oh, by the way, your brother-in-law just got into a dispute with the police outside of her room and do you want him to be there with the police officer?  I think he appropriately decided that she had a right to spend her final moments on earth without a policeman standing next to her and the possibility of an altercation in her room. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life, where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others.  The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak. 

RANDALL TERRY, SCHINDLER FAMILY SPOKESMAN:  If the strong have a duty to protect the weak, then why didn‘t the strong come in and protect her?  Why did they let a probate judge tell the entire federal government and the entire state government to go to hell and that this woman was going to die? 

GOV. JEB BUSH ®, FLORIDA:  My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, to all the people that wanted her to live.  I‘ve had challenges in my personal life that have created the same emotional challenge, but as governor, this has been the toughest. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve been trying to grieve since I heard this morning and between you know these knuckleheads calling with the death threats and the accusations and all the reporters and everything, I haven‘t even had a chance to call my brother to see how he is. 

REP. TOM DELAY ®, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  The passing of Terri Schiavo is a moral poverty and a legal tragedy.  I never thought I would see the day that the United States of America would have a judge stop feeding and giving water to a living American so that they may—can take 14 days to die.  It‘s a very sad day.  But it‘s not a day that we will forget. 

BOBBY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S BROTHER:  We have a message to Terri from her family.  As a member of our family unable to speak for yourself, you spoke loudly.  As a member of our family unable to stand under your own power, you stood with a grace and a dignity, a dignity that made your family proud.  Terri, we love you dearly, but we know that God loves you more than we do.  We must accept your untimely death as God‘s will. 

FELOS:  This death was not for the siblings and not for the spouse and not for the parents.  This was for Terri.  She has a right to die peaceably in a loving setting and with dignity.  She died at approximately 9:00 a.m.  Her husband was present by her bed, cradling her. 


ABRAMS:  For more reaction to Terri Schiavo‘s death from around the country and even around the world, MSNBC‘s Lisa Daniels is standing by at the hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida.  NBC‘s Bob Kur is at the White House.  Mike Viqueira from NBC is on Capitol Hill and Chris Jansing is in Rome. 

All right, so let‘s first go to Lisa Daniels at the hospice where Terri Schiavo died this morning.  Lisa, what‘s the latest? 

LISA DANIELS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  All right, Dan.  Well it‘s really quiet right now on the scene.  Just a handful of protestors left.  In fact, behind me, the last organized vigil just broke up; nobody is there in front of this makeshift memorial.  A couple of minutes ago, I did have the opportunity to talk to some of the protestors that are still on the scene.  I asked them why are they still here and they gave me a variety of reasons. 

It was interesting. 

Some people say they are spreading the word about what happened today, that Terri Schiavo has passed away.  Other people wanted supporters to know that there is a memorial going on a couple miles away.  They also wanted Michael Schiavo to know that the issues that they fought so hard for are still very much alive even if Terri Schiavo is dead. 

And of course, there are the functional issues about cleaning up.  It really has a lot of garbage all over here.  A very different scene earlier today, you‘re looking at that video.  When the crowd learned about Terri Schiavo‘s death, every emotion, anger, sadness, despair, Dan, the supporters, of course, were only giving us the reaction from the pro-Schindler camp.  There is not a Schiavo supporter to be seen.  But from the Schindler camp, people were bursting into tears.  It really was very emotional.

Now the focus is starting to move away from this hospice setting to the funeral arrangements.  As you know, there is an ongoing battle going on between the two camps.  The Schiavos wanting the body to be cremated, the remains buried.  The Schindlers wanting the body to be buried right around here, so the debate continues and that‘s the very latest from here—Dan.

ABRAMS:  But there will be an autopsy, that is for certain.  All right.  Lisa Daniels, great job on a tough story. 

Let‘s turn to the White House.  Bob Kur is standing by.  Bob, the president‘s reaction today sort of consistent with his calls throughout this battle. 

BOB KUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  You‘re right, Dan.  All along the White House has said that the president would have preferred a different outcome in the courts on this and again today the White House repeated that.  In fact, the White House says that is why the president took the highly unusual and dramatic step a little more than a week ago of cutting short a Texas vacation to fly back to the White House to sign the Terri Schiavo Bill when it came out of Congress. 

Again today, the president said in cases where there are serious questions and doubts raised—and he believes that was the case with Terri Schiavo—the presumption should be in favor of life.  Now in Congress, some Republicans and some Democrats are actually working on legislation that would take power away from state courts on matters like this and require a federal court review and today the White House said that the president would be willing to look at that if Congress moves on it. 

According to be the polls of course this matter of federal intervention is highly unpopular.  This is seen very widely as a very personal issue.  So there may be some political risks in the idea of federal intervention.  Politically, it pits the right-to-life community versus the right-to-die community.  And Dan, the president was helped very much on getting elected and re-elected by the right-to-life community. 


KUR:  And so I think he plans very much on sticking with them on this

·         back to you. 

ABRAMS:  Bob Kur at the White House.  Thanks very much.  You heard him talk about Capitol Hill.  NBC‘s Mike Viqueira is there.  Mike, a number of lawmakers speaking out today, I ask you both about the reaction and what it will mean on Capitol Hill that Terri has now died. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well Dan, in the immediate aftermath of Terri Schiavo‘s death, we had a number of statements put out from across the spectrum, most offering condolences to the Schindler and Schiavo families.  For example, the majority leader Bill Frist said, “I am deeply saddened by her loss.  I pray for her mother and father, her family and all those involved in this regrettable loss of life.  May God bless her memory.”  That was Senator Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader.

But there were two notable exceptions.  First, from Senator Rick Santorum, the conservative from Pennsylvania who was instrumental in pushing that Palm Sunday legislation through Congress that Congress thought at the time would force the courts to have that tube reinserted.  Santorum says, “The actions on the part of the Florida court and the U.S. Supreme Court are unconscionable.  In California, Scott Peterson, a convicted murderer, was sentenced to death, yet his constitutional rights were upheld to ensure that he received due process and fair consideration in court.  Terri Schiavo was given a death sentence and passed away without the right to due process.”

Similarly, Tom DeLay, the conservative icon over on the House side, the majority leader, took after the judiciary.  Let‘s hear what he sad to say earlier in Houston today. 


DELAY:  We will look at an arrogant, out of control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president when given the jurisdiction to hear this case anew. 


VIQUEIRA:  Now relatively few reactions from Democrats, most offering their condolences.  The minority leader, the Democratic leader on the House side, Nancy Pelosi says she still thinks it was a mistake for Congress to get involved, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Mike Viqueira thanks very much.  Now back to Chris Jansing in Rome where the Vatican issued a statement on Terri Schiavo‘s death—

Chris, back to you. 

JANSING:  A very strongly worded statement.  I think that a lot of people have been taken aback by the frequency and the ferocity of the statements by the Vatican.  They don‘t usually comment on individual cases, but they have been talking about Terri Schiavo for a week and a half now.  It‘s been headlines in the Vatican official newspaper.  Listen to what Joaquin Navarro-Valls  had to say today.  He called her death an unacceptable violation of the sacred nature of life.  He said a life has been interrupted, a death arbitrarily brought forward. 

In addition, two high-ranking cardinals in the Vatican issued very harsh statements, one of them saying that this was likened to an attack against God.  The church has made its stand on this, very, very clear and of course, new poignancy added to that given the Pope‘s own condition and the fact that he himself now has a feeding tube—Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Chris Jansing, we‘ll be coming back to you throughout this program for updates on the Pope‘s health. 

Up next, reaction from both families to the Terri Schiavo case.  We‘re going to talk with Randall Terry, spokesperson for Terri‘s parents.  And we‘ll hear from Michael Schiavo‘s attorney George Felos, who tells us about Terri‘s last hours with her husband.

Plus, an autopsy will now be performed to find out just how brain-damaged she really was and to determine if she was ever abused.  But how much can the medical examiner really know?  We talk to one of the best in the nation, coming up.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, the latest on the Pope‘s deteriorating health and we‘ll talk with a spokesman for Terri Schiavo‘s parents as she died today, coming up. 




BOBBY SCHINDLER:  As a member of our family unable to speak for yourself, you spoke loudly.  As a member of our family unable to stand under your own power, you stood with a grace and a dignity that made your family proud.  Terri, we love you dearly.  But we know that God loves you more than we do.  We must accept your untimely death as God‘s will. 


ABRAMS:  For years Terri Schiavo‘s family fought a bitter legal battle to keep their daughter alive.  This morning, almost two weeks after her feeding tube was removed for the third and final time, Terri died at a hospice in Florida. 

I‘m joined now by Randall Terry, spokesman for the Schindler family, who‘s been in close contact with them throughout this process.  Thanks very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.  First, let me ask you, how is the...

TERRY:  Thanks for having me.

ABRAMS:  ... how is the family holding up? 

TERRY:  It‘s up and down, as you can imagine.  They‘re surrounded by family and friends who are holding them up in prayer, hugging them, kissing them, and, you know, they‘re still grieving the loss of their daughter and their sister, so it‘s like any wake or funeral process. 

ABRAMS:  Is there any hope of reconciliation after death here with the husband?  I mean is there any hope that they will be able to come together or have things just gone so far, has the divide just grown so great that there‘s just no way that there any sort of coming together? 

TERRY:  I cannot speak for the family on that point.  I can surmise from everything that I‘ve seen that that is highly unlikely.  The family still is pleading for the right to bury Terri‘s body down here and to not have her cremated.  So, if Michael wanted to hand out any olive branch to the family, the easiest one would be after the autopsy is completed to let them have Terri‘s earthly remains and to bury them with a proper Catholic funeral. 

ABRAMS:  And there were, you know, a lot of supporters, some from your organization, many from various other organizations, individuals who came to the hospice throughout these weeks to pray for Terri, to hope that something would change.  What happens now to them?  What do you think that the goal is going to be now? 

TERRY:  Well, at 7:30 tonight at a local church, what is it called, the something—Tabernacle of Praise?  It‘s over on 78th Av.  We‘re going to have a memorial service for her, for all the out of town people that are here.  And then we‘re trying to figure out exactly what to do with this momentum, what to do with the issues that have been raised of how we treat the weakest and the most defenseless among us. 

The goodwill that was expressed by Reverend Jackson, which crossed so many divides, and if we can find areas where we can heal the divisions in this nation or at least discuss the issues without rancor, without personal attacks and then, of course, the one that is prime in my mind is reigning in the judiciary.  I know that there are people in the media world, I don‘t know where any of you guys are at, but that are trying to say well, this did have tons of court proceedings and therefore she had a lot of access to the courts.  But it was a railroaded trial on the first level, which that record they were stuck with, and the appellate process never brought justice. 


TERRY:  And then you had the federal judiciary thumbing its nose at the law passed by Congress.  So the issue of the imperial judiciary is front and center in my mind and reining them in. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well we shall see.  And I don‘t think it‘s just people in the media, though.  I think it‘s people probably in the legal community primarily...

TERRY:  Oh yes...


TERRY:  ... that‘s true...

ABRAMS:  You‘re going to have a tough time with them, more than the people in the media.  Randall Terry thanks a lot...

TERRY:  It depends which side of the issue they‘re on.  You‘re welcome. 

ABRAMS:  Appreciate it.

Coming up, we hear from Michael Schiavo‘s attorney, George Felos, about Terri‘s last hours and what her husband has been doing during her final days, coming up. 



SCOTT SCHIAVO, MICHAEL SCHIAVO‘S BROTHER:  Terri‘s at rest now and that‘s the most important thing to all of us and my family, that Terri is at peace, that she‘s—you know, she‘s in a better place.  She‘s not in any more—you know her dignity, she now has regained all of her dignity and that‘s the most important thing, you know, to us. 


ABRAMS:  Michael Schiavo‘s brother earlier today speaking on behalf of the Schiavo family after Terri Schiavo‘s death.  We‘re continuing to follow that story about the Pope‘s deteriorating condition.  We‘ll bring you any news on it as soon as we hear anything.

Michael Schiavo hasn‘t spoken out since his wife died this morning. 

His attorney George Felos did detailing Terri‘s last hours. 


FELOS:  She died at approximately 9:00 a.m.  Her husband was present by her bed, cradling her.  His brother Brian was there.  I was there along with Attorney Bushnell, and many workers and caregivers from the hospice of the Florida Suncoast were there as well.  Mrs. Schiavo died a calm, peaceful, and gentle death. 

At that time of death, approximately 9:00, the people in the room stayed with her body for a period of time.  Before Terri‘s body was removed from the facility, there was a gathering of at least 30, minimum 30 to 40 hospice workers who formed a circle around the body, which was now on the medical examiner‘s gurney before being removed from hospice.  It was a very emotional scene. 

You have to remember that many of these hospice workers have cared for Terri for over a five-year period.  I can‘t describe in words their dedication.  There were nurses and workers who refused to go home because at the end of their shift Terri hadn‘t passed away yet and wanted to be with her when they—when she died.  The hospice workers as well as law enforcement and the personnel from the Florida—from the medical examiner‘s office stood around Terri.  The hospice chaplain said prayers.  It was a very emotional moment for many of us there. 


ABRAMS:  That‘s the attorney for Michael Schiavo talking about the death of Terri today at about 9:03 a.m. 

We are continuing to follow a story from the Vatican and that is with regard to the deteriorating health of the Pope.  We‘re being told that he has now a high fever being caused by a urinary infection.  This, of course, compounds previous medical problems that the Pope has had. 

He has been suffering a variety—including of course Parkinson‘s disease—of medical problems for the past year and the Vatican issued a statement today saying that he is being treated and we will continue to let you know anything on that story.  In fact, we‘ll have a live report from the Vatican coming up after this break.


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Before we get back to our coverage of the death of Terri Schiavo, we want to go back to Rome where the Vatican says that Pope John Paul‘s health has deteriorated. 

MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing is there with the latest—Chris.

JANSING:  Thanks very much, Dan.  The Pope does have a urinary tract infection.  He is being treated by his medical team.  They are giving him antibiotics, but this clearly is something that is very worrisome and in fact is exactly the kind of thing that people close to the Pope have told me over the last week or so that they were most concerned about, that he might contract some sort of infection that in any other case might not be serious, but when you have an 84-year-old suffering from Parkinson‘s disease, who‘s been in and out of the hospital for the last couple of months for a total of 28 days, and of course, has had two interventions, one a feeding tube and one a breathing tube, of course that feeding tube, though it was put in just yesterday, this is a cause for great concern. 

Now, we heard the statement confirming this infection and the treatment several hours ago from the Vatican.  I would not expect throughout the course of the night that we would hear more unless there was either a significant turn for the worse or even perhaps if is the Pope had to be taken to Gemelli Hospital.  At this point, it certainly seems that with the kind of equipment that they‘ve moved in to the papal apartment over the last several months, at least now this is something the medical team thinks they can deal with for the Pope at the Vatican without making any sort of transfer, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Chris, the doctors have come to the Vatican to treat him and if it were even more serious, he would go to the hospital or is it possible that it‘s so serious that they don‘t even want to take him there? 

JANSING:  Well I think both of those are possibilities and we simply don‘t know.  Remember, we get these sometimes one-page or smaller statements from the Vatican.  They don‘t give us the great details.  They don‘t tell us like we might see in America what kinds of antibiotics he‘s being treated with, who is around him. 

Now, of course, the medical team is there all the time; he has a lead doctor.  He has others.  There‘s even a group of Polish nuns who have cared for him frankly since he was back in Krakow, when he was the bishop back in Poland and one of them is an M.D.  So there are people there.  There certainly have been for many months now around him all the time who are medical experts.  His doctors, members of his medical team. 

But there is always a danger when someone is so frail and someone is so weakened, even in transporting him.  That‘s why this equipment was brought in.  They want to minimize the chance for infection.  You know, there‘s a kind of a joke that says, the worst place for someone who is really sick or in a weakened state to be is the hospital. 

And certainly that is something that they would like to avoid.  And the Pope has been there a lot.  He‘s joked about it being his second home, but they‘d like to avoid that at all costs, bringing him to the hospital, probably for medical as well as psychological reasons. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Chris Jansing, we will be checking back in with you even within this hour if there‘s any news to report...


ABRAMS:  ... from the Vatican.

All right.  Now to another breaking story, this one out of Washington.  NBC News has learned that former national security advisor Sandy Berger is going to plead to a misdemeanor for removing classified documents from the National Archives. 

NBC‘s Pete Williams broke the story for us and he joins us now from Washington.  Pete, what is this all about? 

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well this involves two visits that Sandy Berger made to the National Archives in Washington in 2003, one on September 2, another a month later, October 2.  He was looking at documents about how the Clinton administration, which of course is where he was working at the time, he‘s the former Clinton administration national security advisor, how the Clinton administration was responding to, learning about, keeping an eye on the terror threat around the time of the change in the millennium. 

And he was preparing for testimony before the 9/11 Commission, which was looking into the government‘s long responses on terrorism.  What he will do tomorrow, Dan is plead guilty, as you said, at 1:30 in the afternoon to two counts of knowingly, and that‘s the key word here.  Of course, as you know, that‘s an essential element of any crime, knowingly taking documents from the archives and putting them in his office. 

And because they were classified, he‘ll be charged with mishandling classified documents, which as you said is a misdemeanor.  Now when this first happened and it was first learned that this had happened, Berger‘s lawyer at the time said it was an accident, but now Berger will have to say in federal court, and he‘s apparently agreed to plead guilty to doing so knowingly.

ABRAMS:  All right.  And Pete, if I‘m correct, the CIA chief, Deutch, under...

WILLIAMS:  John Deutch...

ABRAMS:  ... John Deutch under Clinton pled guilty to a similar crime and got something like a $5,000 fine.  Is that right?

WILLIAMS:  Yes, and the crime there was he—when he was CIA director, took a laptop computer home that had classified documents on it.  And at the time was using that computer to access the Internet, which the government said created the possibility that someone could hack into his computer and get those files.

What Mr. Berger apparently has agreed to do is cooperate with the government.  Now I don‘t know what precisely that means, because I don‘t think there‘s much more to this than what he did here.  I suppose that‘s to see if there‘s any other classified document problems involving his trips to the Archive and surrender his security clearance, which he had and many former government employees maintain a certain level of security clearance so that they can act as consultants for the government.

ABRAMS:  Bottom line, though, we‘re not talking about prison time here...

WILLIAMS:  Oh no, certainly not. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Pete Williams, thanks a lot for...

WILLIAMS:  You bet.

ABRAMS:  ... that story.  Pete broke that story...


ABRAMS:  Appreciate it. 


ABRAMS:  Up next, an autopsy will be performed on Terri Schiavo.  She died today, but the question, will the results really provide answers or just more questions?  We talk with one of the best, coming up. 




UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Without stating specifically when the autopsy will be completed, the remains should be ready for release within the next 24 hours.  The autopsy report will be completed as soon as all appropriate laboratory information, records, and anatomic findings have been explored. 


ABRAMS:  After nearly 14 days, Terri Schiavo died today.  Her body now in the hands of the Pinellas County medical examiner undergoing an autopsy.  Her husband, Michael, counting on the autopsy results to dispel what he‘s calling rumors of physical abuse and show that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state.  Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, continue to say that Terri was not in a persistent vegetative state and some have said that Michael abused her during the 15 years that she suffered brain damage, something Michael vehemently denies. 

Joining me now is forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht.  All right, Dr. Wecht, first question.  How long is this process going to take? 

DR. CYRIL WECHT, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST:  They‘re going to fix this brain in formidable solution, Dan, to permit it to harden.  You cannot examine a brain properly, especially one that is in this condition.  In two weeks they‘ll go back and then they will serially section it, in parallel fashion and they will take multiple sections from different areas of the brain. 

We know where certain centers of control are located and by doing that then, correlating with numbers or letters, those slides, they‘ll be able to see the extent and severity of the damage.  And then they will be able to determine in a scientific fashion whether or not Terri Schiavo had any cognitive functions, whether she had the potential for verbalization, whether she could perceive things, whether she could feel pain.  So those are the kinds of things...

ABRAMS:  How long does it take? 

WECHT:  ... that can be done.

ABRAMS:  How long does it take?

WECHT:  Two weeks for the brain to fix...


WECHT:  ... a couple of days to make the slides, a couple of days at least to examine them and to consult, I‘m sure, with a neuropathologist and with others, and so on.  I predict that you guys in the news media will not be getting definitive results until about three weeks.  That‘s my prediction.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me ask you this.  Let me put up the split screen of Terri‘s CAT scan and a normal CAT scan and you see there, you know, an obvious difference between Terri Schiavo‘s CAT scan from 2002 and that of a normal one.  Is the autopsy going to be able to determine a whole lot more than that and more definitively? 

WECHT:  Yes, because you see, Terri is there on the left shows the markedly widened ventricles, in which the cerebral spinal fluid is stored and manufactured, shows the marked shrinkage, the atrophy of the brain tissue.  Now, we can say that there is severe extensive brain damage, but that is not the definitive and ultimate determination.  That is to be made microscopically, especially in a case like this.

The differentiation between a persistent vegetative state and a minimally conscious state cannot be, in my opinion, determined satisfactorily and conclusively based upon the MRI scans alone.  You know, you have the brain, they‘ll serially section it, Dan, and they will take these pieces, as they say, and they will then look at them under the microscope.  If the neurons, the individual cells are necrotic, dead, if they‘re severely degenerated, then the neuroscientists, the forensic pathologist can say, with reasonable medical probability, a high degree of certainty, that Terri Schiavo was or was not able to, as they say, perceive and understand and feel certain things. 

Now, what is not going to be able to be determined is what produced the cardiac arrest in 1990. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

WECHT:  Oh, there in lies the rut, because the original story of bulimia, of purging, electrolyte imbalance leading to cardiac dysrhythmia, arrest, and cerebral anoxia, deprivation of oxygen to the brain, that can be caused by many things and we‘ve heard these allegations, as you said a couple of moments ago, physical abuse...

ABRAMS:  Yes, let me ask you about that.  I mean the bottom—if we‘re talking about something that may have happened years ago, for example, is an autopsy going to be able to determine even if it were years ago, if there were abuse? 

WECHT:  No insofar as soft tissue injuries are concerned, insofar as the allegations of suffocation or strangulation are concerned, no.  Now, bone scans, and I hope that they have been done and would assume that they have been done, will show evidence of old healed fractures.  But there again, not a temporal correlation.  Nobody can look at a healed bone fracture in this case going back 15 years and say, look, this is from 1990...

ABRAMS:  Right.

WECHT:  ... versus 1993 or ‘95 when she might have fallen from bed or when she might have fallen during some efforts for rehabilitation.  So once again, you‘re going to be left in a quandary.  With regard to bone fractures, I‘d like to say this Dan.  How in the world could these have been missed?  You know, the doctors there should have seen these.


WECHT:  If there were soft tissue injuries, bruises, abrasions, lacerations, they should have been seen and they should have been reported...

ABRAMS:  The bottom line is, though, when this autopsy is over, will there be a definitive medical answer to the question of whether she was in a persistent vegetative state?  Meaning right now, there seems to be a pretty—the vast majority of the medical community says, yes, she is.  Is there a way after this autopsy—is there going to be just no one who can say, it‘s not X or Y? 

WECHT:  It‘s not mathematics, physics or chemistry.  If you‘re looking for an absolute science in which...


WECHT:  ... some physician will not disagree...

ABRAMS:  Dispute it.

WECHT:  ... forget about it. 


WECHT:  But the answer to your question is, again, with a very high degree of medical certainty, it is my opinion that following the kind of detailed, thorough, microscopic examination of brain tissue that I described a moment ago...


WECHT:  ... that yes, they will be able to correlate this with the clinical history and retrospectively state whether or not that condition was consistent with a persistent vegetative status. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Dr. Wecht, good to see you.  Thanks for coming back on the program.

WECHT:  Thank you.  Thanks. 

ABRAMS:  Up next, remembering Terri Schiavo.  Not the brain damaged woman who became the focus of a national debate, but the vibrant woman from before her collapse. 

And, we are following a breaking story out of the Vatican.  The Pope now suffering more medical problems.  There are doctors on hand at the Vatican.  We will bring you any news as soon as we get it, coming up. 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, my “Closing Argument”.  Remembering Terri Schiavo the way she probably would have wanted to be remembered.


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—remembering Terri Schiavo.  Not the brain damaged woman who became the focus of a national debate, but Terri Schiavo, the vibrant woman from before her collapse in 1990.  I‘m afraid that some who claim to be speaking for Terri are not really representing Terri the woman.  Terri grew up in Pennsylvania in the 1960‘s and ‘70‘s in a very tight-knit family with a younger brother and a younger sister.  She attended local Catholic schools, was involved in her parish. 

She loved animals.  One time she apparently even gave the family dog mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in an effort to save it.  She told friends and family, she might want to be a veterinarian.  As a teen in the ‘70‘s, she was a big fan of show “Starsky & Hutch”.  She loved romance novels, always had a crush on actor Richard Gere apparently watched the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman” over and over again. 

Friends said she was shy and quiet, sensitive about her weight and her glasses at the time as she prepared to start classes at a local community college in ‘81.  She started losing some weight, weight that had troubled her for all those years and she lost the glasses.  That seemed to boost her self-confidence, according to friends.  At college, she met fellow student Michael Schiavo and after only a few dates, she apparently told a friend she was going to marry him.  Terri and Michael dated for less than a year before they were engaged.  They married in the fall of 1984.  Once married, they moved to Florida together where he worked as a restaurant manager.  She clerked in an insurance office. 

Terri‘s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler followed them to Florida where Bob retired.  By all accounts, Terri and Michael were very close with the Schindlers.  When Terri and Michael started making plans to have a family, they realized they were having trouble conceiving.  They consulted fertility doctors but still no luck.  Medical experts have since concluded that Terri was likely suffering from bulimia, an eating disorder. 

After dinner with her husband one February night in 1990, Terri suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed in her home.  The most common trace in friends‘ recollections of Terri is that she never wanted to stand out.  Ironic for someone who is now being cited by everyone from the president to the Pope.  But I‘ll bet Terri would probably prefer we remember the life she lived, rather than looking back at that brain damaged woman in the video. 

Coming up in 60 seconds, your e-mails on the Terri Schiavo case. 


ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  We have never received so many e-mails on a story, any story as we have on this Terri Schiavo case.  And I have to tell that a lot of you are sort of writing in broadly about our coverage on this program.  Most of you writing nice things and I appreciate that.  To give you a sense, though, of some of the comments we get on both sides.

Tracey Norris, “I want to thank you for your balanced coverage of the Schiavo case.  You always spoke from a position of reason while some of your guests were grandstanding.”  Thank you Tracey.

From Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Ted Grimm.  “You have done an excellent job of maintaining integrity in your reporting and should be praised for your efforts.”  Thank you.

Deborah Brodrick in Miami, Oklahoma, “I‘m amazed at your cavalier attitude towards this case, Dan.  I‘m really disappointed in you.”

From Eldon, Missouri, Debbie Leonard, “Your closing statements were perhaps the most biased, insensitive bunch of garbage I‘ve ever heard.”

Frank Edmonds in Little Rock, Arkansas, “I‘m writing MSNBC for the first time to express my sincere gratitude for the quality of Dan Abrams‘ work in relation to the Schiavo controversy.  Thank you for insisting on objectivity from both sides of this debate.  This so rarely is done today in television journalism.”  Thank you Frank.

Barbara Green, “I think you are the most uncaring person I‘ve ever heard of.  It‘s not just about the Terri Schiavo case, but it‘s everything you report about.  MSNBC is my favorite news station, but when you come on I have to turn it off.”  Sorry Barbara.

From Sheffield Lake, Ohio, Judy Thompson.  “I wanted to thank you for your sensitivity regarding the coverage of this case and I honestly don‘t know how you tolerate so many opportunistic people trying to gain their 15 minutes of fame.”

Finally, Terry Cox in Concord, New Hampshire.  “Please get rid of the guy who was on this show tonight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.  I don‘t know whether his name is Abrams.  He is worse than the local newscaster on my Manchester, New Hampshire station.”

Boy, that guy must be awful.  Your e-mails abramsreport—one word—

@msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show.

I want to show you again a live picture of the Vatican.  We are waiting to hear any news on the condition of the Pope.  The Vatican reported today that the Pope‘s condition has deteriorated.  That he is suffering a high fever caused by a urinary tract infection.  And as our own Chris Jansing reported a few moments ago, this ordinarily would not be cause for concern, but because of the ongoing medical problems that the Pope has been having, this is something that is causing great concern in the Vatican and around the world.  And so we are going to continue to follow that story tonight and throughout the night here at MSNBC.

I‘ll be back here tonight at 9:00 Eastern with a special look at the Terri Schiavo case.  We‘ll also look back at how the battle of her life unfolded and how it could change laws across the nation.  And I‘ll be back again at midnight for another live program. 

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  I‘ll see you back here in two hours.  Thanks for watching.  See you (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


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