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Doctor is critic of medical science

Published March 24, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - The doctor who believes Terri Schiavo probably is not in a persistent vegetative state is a Jacksonville neurologist who recently caused a stir in the science community over his opposition to stem cell research.

Dr. William P. Cheshire Jr., 44, picked by the state to help assess Schiavo's condition, is an assistant professor of neurology at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville.

A married father of four children, Cheshire has a master's degree in bioethics and has established himself as an antiabortion, Christian critic of modern medical science.

Last year, Cheshire earned notoriety when the University of Pennsylvania's American Journal on Bioethics published his article, "Human Embryo Research and the Language of Moral Uncertainty." Cheshire criticized media accounts of embryonic research saying they disproportionately used "terminology that devalued moral status (of human embryos)."

The article prompted a note from Journal editors saying they didn't agree with his perspective or his opposition to stem-cell research. Several other scientists who had read the article also objected.

Cheshire visited Schiavo on March 14 but did not conduct a medical examination. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

In his six-page report to the state, Cheshire said it is more likely that Schiavo is in a "minimally conscious state" than a "persistent vegetative state." People in a minimally conscious state generally show evidence of consciousness, while those in a persistent vegetative state generally have no awareness of self or the environment around them.

State officials did not mention his philosophical views when they discussed his involvement in the Schiavo matter Wednesday during a news conference.

Cheshire makes clear in his affidavit to the court, signed Wednesday, that "it can be ethically permissible to discontinue artificially provided nutrition and hydration for persons in permanent vegetative state. Having now reviewed the relevant facts . . . I would like to explain why I have changed my mind in regard to this particular case."

A 2003 article in the alumni magazine of Christian-oriented Trinity International University, based in Illinois, said Cheshire came to be involved in bioethics after being inspired by a Christian patient in 1995.

"Admitting to his failed relationship with Christ, Bill realized that "while for many years I had accepted Christian doctrine intellectually, I had not fully comprehended it in my heart,"' the article read. Cheshire earned his master's from the university in 2001.

Times researcher Kitty Bennett and staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

[Last modified March 24, 2005, 01:21:06]

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