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Death may come within 2 weeks

MIAMI—Terri Schiavo will probably die a peaceful death within the next two weeks, if no further court or legislative action is taken requiring that a feeding tube be reinserted, according to a survey of hospice nurses published nearly two years ago.

A survey of 102 hospice nurses in Oregon who had cared for terminally ill patients who chose to die by refusing food and water indicated that 85 percent of the patients had died within 15 days. Results were published in the July 2003 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

On a scale from 0 (very bad death) to 9 (very good death), the median score for quality of death was 8, as rated by the nurses, the report said.

"Most deaths ... were peaceful, with little suffering," the study concluded.

Dr. Michael Nares of the University of Miami said Schiavo will become dehydrated and that her blood pressure and blood volume will drop. Her kidneys will produce less urine to preserve fluids, and toxins will build. The liver and intestines will begin to fail. The heart, with less blood and oxygen, will beat more slowly and the lungs will weaken. As carbon dioxide builds, Schiavo will sleep.

Halfway through the process of dying, a patient would lose consciousness, but courts, based on medical testimony, have found that Schiavo is already unconscious and has no awareness of what's taking place.

Eventually, her heart will stop beating.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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