MORE ON TERRI SCHIAVO. As I expected, my post yesterday engendered some fairly intense reaction on the part of Media Log readers, most of whom seem to think I've suddenly allied myself with the likes of Tom DeLay, who is cynically trying to make people forget about his alleged ethics violations by pandering to the religious right.
Please. It amazes me that most liberals (there are exceptions, most notably Senator Tom Harkin) seem untroubled by what's going on in Florida - just as Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby is amazed that his fellow conservatives don't seem to care about the widespread torture being used by US forces against suspected terrorists. (Click here and here.)
One of my correspondents wrote, "It's time to encourage public officials and the media to start using their brains, as in honor medical opinion and trust the legal system." Well, I don't endorse Congress's grandstanding efforts to force the Schiavo case into the federal courts. But "trust the legal system"? You've got to be kidding. I trust the legal system when it appears to be trustworthy, which is to say sometimes.
As for honoring medical opinion, I honor it as the best efforts of very smart, well-intentioned people to understand what's going on. But we all know that medical opinion changes pretty radically over time. Years ago, many disabled infants were institutionalized, even starved to death. Today they often become productive members of society. And yes, I realize this isn't a particularly good analogy to Terry Schiavo.
Anyway, let me close with a couple of links. Because I am the first to acknowledge that I don't really understand Terri Schiavo's current condition (an aside to my critics: neither do you), I found this piece by Benedict Carey, in today's New York Times, to be useful and fascinating. He writes:
Especially when a patient's eyes open on emergence from a coma, Dr. [Joseph] Fins said, family members are likely to assume that this is evidence of recovery. In fact, he said, it can augur poorly for the patient. When the eyes open but there is no quick return to mental responsiveness, it suggests that the primitive brain stem is reasserting itself, without engaging the higher brain: the cortex and other parts that are involved in thought and emotion.
And here is the link to Not Dead Yet, a radical disability-rights group for which I have a great deal of respect. Not Dead Yet opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia from an entirely different perspective from that of, say, Randall Terry, the anti-abortion-rights extremist who has unfortunately allied himself with Terri Schiavo's parents.
Here's an excerpt worth pondering from Not Dead Yet's website:
Legalized medical killing is not a new human right, it's a new professional immunity. It would allow health professionals to decide which of us are "eligible" for this service, and exempt them from accountability for their decisions. Killing is not just another medical treatment option, and it must not be made any part of routine health care. In these days of cost cutting and managed care, we don't trust the health care system, and neither should you.
I recognize that the Schiavo case has been going on for years, and it may well be that enough is enough. Mrs. Media Log pointed out to me yesterday that it was suspicious that Barbara Weller, the lawyer who claims Terri Schiavo reacted with great emotion when asked if she wanted to live, apparently did not videotape it. (Although I still say that Judge Greer ought to visit Schiavo's room and ask her himself.)
But this remains an extraordinarily difficult case, and I remain unsure that letting Terri Schiavo die is the right thing to do.