FRIST ON SCHIAVO. There's little doubt that some members of Congress are posturing on the Terri Schiavo issue. Still, I think it's important to listen to Senate majority leader Bill Frist, who is, as we know, a physician.
I am not a Frist fan. But these remarks come across as a genuine attempt by a politician-doctor to understand precisely what is going on with Schiavo. The transcript is obviously pretty rough, but it's worth making the effort to read it all the way through. In these excerpts, I'm cleaning the transcript up a bit for readability:
I called one of the neurologists who did evaluate her, and evaluated her more extensively than what at least was alleged other neurologists had. And he told me very directly that she is not in a persistent vegetative state. And I said, "Well, give me a spectrum" from this neurologist, who examined her. To be fair, he examined her about two years ago, and to the best of my knowledge, no neurologist has been able to examine her [since]. I'm not positive about that, but that's what I've been told.... But at that time, clearly she was not in a persistent vegetative state.
The attorney for Terri's parents have submitted 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals, all of whom say that Terri should be re-evaluated.... Either 14 or 15 of these affidavits are from board-certified neurologists. Some of these doctors very specifically say they believe on the data that they had seen that Terri could benefit from therapy. There have been many comments that her legal guardian - that's Terri's husband - either has not been aggressive to rehabilitation to other reports that say that he has thwarted rehabilitation since 1992. I can only report what I have read because I haven't met him. Persistent vegetative state, which is what the court has ruled - I say that I question it. I question it based on a review of the video footage, which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office here in the Capitol. And that footage, to me, depicts something very different than persistent vegetative state.
In 1996, a British medical journal study conducted at England's Royal Hospital for Neurodisability concluded that there was a 43 percent error rate in the diagnosis of PVS [persistent vegetative state]. It takes a lot of time, as I mentioned earlier, to make this diagnosis with[out] a very high error rate. If you're going to be causing someone to die with purposeful action, withdrawal of a feeding tube, you're not going to want to make a mistake in terms of diagnosis.
Now, it's certainly possible that Frist's knowledge of medicine greatly exceeds his knowledge of the facts in this specific case. Just for starters: I thought Terri Schiavo had undergone tests far more extensive than Frist seems to believe, and it may well turn out that Frist is wrong. Still, a few observations are in order here:
1. Frist's comments are clearly those of a thoughtful, anguished person who understands a lot more about brain damage than the ideologues on either side of this case do. I find it interesting that he thinks the video clips are useful, since a commonly voiced criticism is that they only represent a few minutes excerpted from more than four hours of trying. I assume Frist knows that.
2. Even if Schiavo is not in a chronic vegetative state, she still has a right to die, whether Frist and his fellow Republicans like it or not. The courts have ruled that she expressed a desire to die if she ever found herself in such miserable circumstances.
3. Which brings me right back to where I started on Saturday. Indeed, if Schiavo really isn't in a persistent vegetative state, that should make this all the easier. Just ask her! Either Judge Greer or a designated representative, accompanied by Schiavo's family, should spend a few hours at her bedside to attempt to determine whether she is capable of responding to questions about her fate, as the family's lawyer, Barbara Weller, claimed the other day.
If she is, and she expresses a desire to live, then that obviously supersedes what she told her husband, Michael, many years ago. If she isn't, then we have to accept that this is a charade, as most of my fellow liberals have already concluded. At that point, she could be allowed to die with dignity, and the political grandstanding now under way could be brought to a rapid end.
GOOGLE 101 AND PUBLIC SAFETY. The Boston Globe today publishes a terrifying story about a website in which folks caught on the wrong side of the criminal-justice system can finger people who they believe may be police informants.
There is a moment of unintentional black humor. Reporter Kathleen Burge writes:
The Globe is not naming the website because it is impossible to verify whether all the people listed there are informants, and because publicizing access to their identities could jeopardize their safety.
Hmmm ... I didn't time myself, but I'm pretty sure it took me less than 30 seconds to find the site based on hints in Burge's story. I'm not going to identify the site, either. But I'm not going to pretend that anyone can't do what I just did.