[saymaListserv] No life support for you, in Texas!

free polazzo freepolazzo at comcast.net
Wed Mar 23 11:28:58 JEST 2005


The decision of whether to remove "life support" is a difficult one, even 
for those who are told by their loved ones that this is what they want.

The advantage of the controversy surrounding the Florida case of Terri 
Schiavo is that it can highlight inconsistencies in behavior by elected 
officials that can call their intentions into question on may issues.   My 
experience shows that actions outweigh talk.

How can our "pro life" President and Republican Congress, support "War as 
The Answer" no matter what the cost in lives of soldiers or civilians (who 
are still not even being counted.), yet pass legislation to keep alive one 
person?     I am not even dealing with the issue of  "is she alive or 
dead".   The question is the focus of our political leaders on this 
concern.   And, as the following article points out, why are poor people in 
Texas not being given the same concern as the person in Florida?   This 
query can shed more light on the unequal treatment poor people get in our 

The following article, published in Alternet.com,  presents news about the 
issue of life support in a context that I haven't seen in the mainstream media.


Free Polazzo

PS:     As a culture, we could see the lack of food and shelter and medical 
care from people anywhere as "removing life support".     Our boycott of 
Cuba, seen in this light, is unconscionable.   Yet our policy of isolating 
and cutting off Cuba from the rest of the world is supported by the same 
politicians who intervened in the Terri Schivao case.

By <http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/21571//authors/5562/>Brian 
Montopoli, <http://www.cjrdaily.org/>CJR Daily. Posted 
23, 2005.

The media coverage of the Schiavo case doesn't include one important 
detail: a Texas law that authorizes health care providers to remove their 
patients from life support. Guess who signed it into law?

For honest reporters, the Terri Schiavo case is something of a nightmare. 
Not so for ratings-obsessed cable news directors, of course, who must be 
delighted with the timing: they can now shift from the lives and deaths of 
Scott and Laci Peterson to the life and death of Terri Schiavo without 
missing a beat.

Real reporters and editors, by contrast, have to decide how much, or even 
whether, to anchor their reports in a larger context  a tricky decision 
when reporting about an issue that inflames cultural and political 
passions. And they know that media bias warriors are scrutinizing every 
sentence, ready to attack at the first sign of reporting that doesn't 
square with their world view.

Example: Most everyone in Washington (and, for that matter, elsewhere) 
believes that grandstanding politicians are using the issue for political 
gain. But should that information be included in every story, or should 
news consumers be allowed to come to their own conclusions?

One option is to simply put forth incontrovertible facts  say, by 
including in each story quoting a Republican lawmaker, the fact that a 
one-page GOP memo leaked last week called the Schiavo case "a great 
political issue" that would appeal to the party's base and potentially 
result in the defeat of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.

That's not to say that there are not genuine values at stake for 
congressional Republicans, many of whom truly believe that removing 
Schiavo's feeding tube would be a moral wrong. If their actions are 
cynical, they aren't completely so, and reporters would be doing a 
disservice by suggesting as much  just as they would be by ignoring the 
memo all together.

There is one bit of context, however, that seems particularly salient, and 
it involves a six-month old boy named Sun Hudson. On Thursday, Hudson died 
after a Texas hospital removed his feeding tube, despite his mother's 
pleas. He had a fatal congenital disease, but would have been kept alive 
had his mother been able to pay for his medical costs, or had she found 
another institution willing to take him. In a related Texas case, Spiro 
Nikolouzos, who is unable to speak and must be fed through a tube because 
of a shunt in his brain  but who his wife says can recognize family 
members and show emotion  may soon be removed from life support because 
health care providers believe his case is futile.

The Hudson and Nikolous cases fall under the Texas Futile Care Law, which 
was signed into law by then-governor George W. Bush.

Bush, however, flew from Texas to Washington early this week to sign 
legislation authorizing federal courts to review Schiavo's case. The 
president felt that the Florida courts, which had reviewed the case several 
times over the past seven years, had failed in their duty: "In cases like 
this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our 
society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life."

As Mark Kleiman, who brought the Texas cases to our attention, points out, 
"An argument of some sort could be made for the Texas law, based on some 
combination of cost and the possibility that an impersonal institution will 
sometimes avoid mistakes that an emotionally-involved relative would make." 
But, he adds, "What I can't figure out is how someone could be genuinely 
outraged about the Schiavo case but not about the Hudson and Nikolouzos cases."

The specifics of each case are different, but the central issue remains the 
same: whether the state should be able to sanction the removal of a human 
being from life support.

The fact that President Bush signed into law in Texas a bill that gives 
health care providers the right to end human life is then certainly 
relevant, given his decision to sign the Schiavo legislation and his 
rhetoric concerning a "presumption in favor of life." But do Hudson and 
Nikolouzos show up in stories about Schiavo? Very, very rarely. A Google 
News search of "Sun Hudson" and "Schiavo" returns only ten results, mostly 
from small outlets, and "Nikolouzos" and "Schiavo" returns only five results.

That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise since coverage of the Schiavo 
case has consistently skewed toward the emotional over the factual. And 
that has been to the advantage of those who want Schiavo kept alive. Most 
stories feature dueling quotes from Schiavo's media-savvy parents and her 
embattled husband, people whose anger over a difficult and emotional issue 
has been elevated to a national stage. More often than not, the tearful 
parents get top billing.

Then there are the dueling quotes from grandstanding lawmakers, with 
Republicans far more vocal and emotional in their appeals than skittish 
Democrats. (Typical is this comment by Tom DeLay: "Mrs. Schiavo's life is 
not slipping away  it is being violently wrenched from her body in an act 
of medical terrorism.")

Then there's the heartbreaking photo of Schiavo that has graced many of the 
web stories on the case, including those of CNN, The New York Times, The 
Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. It shows Schiavo seeming to 
smile as she receives a kiss from her mother. (According to Schiavo's 
doctors, it's unlikely that her facial expressions reflect actual feeling.) 
The choice by news organizations to focus on this one photo from among the 
many available speaks to their priorities. Those who side with Schiavo's 
husband and the Florida courts might blame political bias for the choice of 
photo and the prominence of Schivo's parents  but the harsh truth is that 
news organizations simply want eyeballs, and the best way to get them is to 
tug at the readers' and viewers' heartstrings.

Unlike the moralists in Congress, we're not about to take a side on the 
question of what should happen to Terri Schiavo. It's an incredibly 
difficult issue for those close to her, and we feel for both her parents 
and her husband. But the behavior of politicians and the role of the press 
are another matter entirely. We don't think that newspaper reporters have 
an obligation to point out every day that federal intervention in a state 
court case flies in the face of traditional conservatism, or the fact that 
some of the same people voting for the Schiavo bill voted for Medicare cuts 
that may well have similar effects as the Texas Futile Care Law. Those 
points are best left to columnists and commentators speaking from a variety 
of platforms.

But journalists should at least make an effort to cut through the 
sensationalism surrounding the case and provide some context. We should 
hear more about the Futile Care Law, and news outlets should think twice 
before basing coverage on which side plucked the most heartstrings on any 
given day. With its performance to date in the Schiavo case, the press is 
displaying a tell-tale tendency for tabloid-style exploitation in the guise 
of serious reporting.

Brian Montopoli is a staff writer at CJR Daily.

See Original Post at:  http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/21571/
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