Fact-checking the Schiavo "experts"

This week Fox News pundits showcased an "expert" doctor who supports keeping Terri alive. Never mind that they falsely awarded him a Nobel Prize nomination.

By Julia Scott
Published March 25, 2005 10:53PM (EST)

Numerous "experts" have weighed in on the Terri Schiavo case since it began -- some more dubious than others. On Monday, Fox News' Hannity and Colmes presented Dr. William Hammesfahr, a Florida neurologist who examined Terri in 2002, and who insists that Terri is not in a permanent vegetative state. Alongside Hammesfahr's rather astonishing prognosis, Hannity made sure to take note of Hammesfahr's lofty qualifications:

Hannity: Do you believe she is aware, conscious and responsive?

Hammesfahr: Terri is completely aware and conscious and responsive. She is like a child with cerebral palsy. We have kids in the Pinellas County school system every day that are much worse than her, that we're educating.

Hannity: Doctor, wait a minute. I've got to get this straight here. You were nominated to get a Nobel Peace Prize in this very work. Are you saying that this woman could be rehabilitated?

Hammesfahr: Absolutely.

Hammesfahr appeared on Scarborough Country the same night and received a similar introduction as a Nobel Prize nominee. Problem is, that's not quite the truth -- Hammesfahr was never officially nominated for a Nobel Prize. In 1999, a U.S. Congressman recommended him in a letter to the Nobel Committee for his work with stroke patients. But according to the committee's Web site, such unsolicited letters constitute "invalid nominations" and are not considered.

Hammesfahr's professional credibility has in fact come into question before. In 2001, the Florida Department of Health accused him of falsely advertising a neurological treatment and exploiting a patient for financial gain, according to a report from the Associated Press today. With regard to Hammesfahr's views on the Schiavo case, Dr. Lawrence J. Schneiderman, a bioethicist at University of California, San Diego, told the AP, "He's a quack, to put it the politest way I can."

Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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