Skip to comments.NPR In A Coma
Posted on 10/25/2003 4:54:37 PM PDT by NYer
Saturday, October 25, 2003, at 3:58 AM PT
What's a complacent centrist do when he needs to be angry but can't find anything to be angry about? Simple: He listens to NPR! All Things Considered, in particular, rarely fails to come through. On Wednesday, I needed to come up with a "rant" for a scheduled radio appearance--and, presto, ATC delivered with a stunningly biased and condescending report on the Schiavo "right to die" case. "Bias" isn't quite the right word, actually. A biased report might interview all sides but slant the story to favor one point of view while quoting only unconvincing generalities from the other. That was Thursday's NPR Schiavo story. Wednesday's story transcended mere bias, covering the case as if the anti-death side didn't even exist, so there was no need to even try to find out what they were thinking. [Audio of both stories available here.]
In case you haven't been paying attention, the issue in the Schiavo case is whether or not to remove the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo, who has been found to be in a "persistent vegetative state" (PVS). Terri's husband, Michael, wants the tube removed; Terri's family doesn't. A judge ruled that the decision is Michael's. Michael has said Terri would have wanted to die. But there are, er, complications that lead some to question Michael's judgment. Florida's legislature has now intervened to allow Governor Jeb Bush to order the feeding tube reinserted.
Here's who we heard from on NPR on Wednesday:
a) Melissa Block introducing Jon Hamilton's report and declaring that the governor's action "goes against more than two decades of legal and ethical decisionmaking."
b) A bioethicist who is "saddened" by the intervention to reinsert the feeding tube.
c) An explanation of "persistent vegetative state" from a neurologist who actually testified for the husband, Michael.
d) A representative of the American Medical Association who seems to support letting the husband decide.
e) Hamilton noting bioethicist (b)'s opinion that there is "little question the Florida legislature will eventually be overturned."
That's three experts on the husband's side, zero experts (or non-experts) on the parents' side, by my count. This was followed by an extended interview with Yale death maven Dr. Sherwin Nuland in which he, too, sides with the husband. (Interview available here.) Nuland snidely refers to a typical situation involving "Susie from Dubuque," who arrives late at her mother's bedside and inveighs against pulling the plug. He confidently attributes "Susie's" views to "her sense of guilt" at not having paid much attention to her mother earlier. Nuland then discusses a hypothetical family that wants to keep feeding a relative who has been in a PVS fo years. He suggests that probably "no member of that family would want to be exposed to what this woman is being exposed to. ... [T]hey inflict it on her not because of her needs, in fact, but because of their own." Hey, same to you, Doc! Have I missed something? Is Terri Schiavo in pain? If not, is it crazy or even unusual to choose to keep on being fed and comforted in that situation, on the longshot chance of a recovery--assuming, that is, one is only considering one's own "needs"? ...
Notice to All Potential Mickey Kaus "Surrogates"-- If I'm ever in Terri Schiavo's situation, and not in any pain, please follow these simple steps: Keep the feeding tube in, and keep Dr. Nuland out.
Given the actual facts in the Schiavo case, I'm not sure which side I support. It's nice that bioethicists, lawyers and judges have settled on a clear rule (e.g. "the husband decides as the 'surrogate'"). Maybe that rule makes sense--though husbands, as a class, seem much more likely to have a Darwinian conflict of interest than parents. (Basic evolutionary psychology: Men tend to want to start second families even when their wives aren't in persistent vegetative states.) Even apparently sensible clear rules can be twisted into perversities.
The miraculous consensus of "decades of legal and ethical decisionmaking" sometimes seems like a conspiracy of convenience. I gag when NPR commentators glibly talk about upholding Terri Schiavo's "right to die" as if she herself had exercised that right--e.g. by writing a living will--as opposed to having her husband exercise that "right" for her when she's unable to contradict him. And while Nuland's "Susie" may often act out of guilt, isn't it possible that just occasionally a Susie arrives from Dubuque to find exhausted relatives and cost-conscious doctors ready to give up on a PVS or coma victim who still has a chance to snap out of it?
Both sides have a point. That's exactly what NPR won't concede. How are people supposed to make up their minds if the assumption is that one side doesn't even deserve a hearing?
Slate's got that right!
TERRI SCHIAVO PING! let me know if you want on/off this ping list
I hope those doctors with a differing expert opinion, who were mentioned on some other thread, continue to speak out.
It would be nice if some PR firm offered to help the Schindlers. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
It's not just NPR. I notice ABC radio news has taken to refer to it as "the right to die case of a Florida woman". It's been bugging me for days.
Nuland was practically sneering when he referred to this prototype of America (in his eyes). Hey! I am 'Susie from Dubuque" and I don't need some pothead, Lefty, pseudo-intellectual giving me lessons in ethics!
"The right to kill by an adulterous husband"
Up until today ... literally ... ABC News maintained an active link to a story they published on Christmas Day in 1999. It was entitled A Christmas Miracle. This was the true story of a woman, Patti White Bull, who suddenly awoke from a 16 year coma, or as it was referred to in the story - a Persistant Vegetative State.
Today, that link went dead! Another freeper was able to find the Google cached version with only the thumbnail image of Patti. Why do you suppose they pulled it? Here is the link to the cached version.
When Terri stands up and heads for the mall, I'll ping you, okay?
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