Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Congress Acts to Save People in Persistent Vegetative States (like Wyoming)

I'm sure many of you continue to follow the cable news feeding frenzy that is the Terri Schaivo Deathwatch 2005. I've heard a lot of criticism leveled against the cable news networks for their coverage of the issue, but as I have said before, the media only provides us with what they know we will consume and what will keep us from changing the channel. If the general public didn't have such a morbid interest in Terri's every reflexive movement, we would be subjected to countless hours of Johnny Cochran footage and speculation on Michael Jackson's "That isn't my penis in that little boy's mouth" defense.

As if multiple court rulings in support of Schaivo's right to die aren't enough, Congress has jumped into motion to ensure that people in persistent vegetative medical conditions can remain well fed, while in their permanent, terminal state. I have a major problem with the federal or state government getting involved in medical care. The vast majority of lawmakers, regardless of their party affiliation, are not physicians or even former healthcare workers.

The few that are physicians are not obviously practicing, which raises a whole other issue entirely. Bill Frist (R-TN), for example, is a physician, but when questioned by George Stephanopolous recently about the transmission of HIV, Frist was unclear about whether or not HIV can be transmitted through sweat or tears, despite a long standing medical research base to suggest that HIV is not transmitted through these routes. His lack of medical knowledge and lack of expertise in neurology hasn't kept Frist from sharing his opinions regarding a diagnosis for Terri Schaivo. Frist believes, based on videotapes of Schaivo, that she is not in a vegetative state at all. Forget, for a moment, that Frist has never actually seen Schaivo and that he is not a neurologist by training. You might remember that an entire panel of neurologists appointed by the state of Florida, in addition to actual neurologists that have cared for Schaivo throughout the years, believe that Schaivo is in a persistent vegetative state.

This is a prime example of putting your own political agenda before common sense and knowledge, which is nothing new for Frist. I don't believe for a minute that Frist actually thinks you can get HIV through sweat and tears or that he feels he understands enough about Schaivo from watching video tapes from two years ago that he can actually make a diagnosis. Bill Frist may be a complete ass, but he's not stupid. Bill Frist has an agenda, and the result of that political crusade is an abuse of medical opinion, misleading the public into thinking that Schaivo has a chance for recovery.

Advocacy groups, like the triumphantly and optimistically named Not Dead Yet, have taken the national media focus and turned it into instant awareness for their campaign against assisted suicide. Aren't advocacy groups supposed to choose names that empower people? I'm going to start an advocacy group for the disabled called Can't Wipe My Own Ass, and see how people respond. The problem for Not Dead Yet, aside from their inspiring name, is the Schaivo's case doesn't really come down to assisted suicide or euthanasia. Terri Schaivo is not asking a physician to help her end her suffering, and euthanasia implies that you are killing someone who has a chance for recovery.

The media's coverage of Schaivo's demise is disgusting, but politicians, like Bill Frist and Tom DeLay, and advocacy groups who wish to use Terri Schaivo and her family's difficult personal decision are far worse. I used to use cynicism as a last resort, but it's hard not to be cynical about the media, government, and advocacy with the way we've all handled this unfortunate situation.

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