[saymaListserv] No life support for you, in Texas!
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.
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.
Montopoli, <http://www.cjrdaily.org/>CJR Daily. Posted
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
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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