Monday, March 21, 2005

RESPECTFUL OF OTTERS has a post about Terri Schiavo's medical condition by Rivka, a clinical psychologist with additional training in clinical neuropsychology. Her analysis is riveting: She takes apart the information from the video that the Schindlers' 17 medical experts have used to prove that Terri Schiavo responds to external stimuli; and she explains in great detail the realities of Terri Schiavo's condition that make it truly impossible from any rational standpoint to think that Ms. Schiavo could be rehabilitated or recover any awareness.

The first thing you have to know is that the 17 "medical experts" have reached their conclusions about Terri Schiavo's possibilities for improvement almost completely from indirect observation.

None of the 17 affidavits are by providers who examined Schiavo. Only one of the 17 providers claims to have reviewed her medical records. The remaining 16 providers apparently based their statements primarily on six snippets of videotape, totalling 4 minutes and 20 seconds, which have been posted on Schiavo's parents' website and broadcast repeatedly on the news. Several of them explicitly say that they viewed these clips on the net, and the others all refer to the same short samples of behavior (e.g., Schiavo's eyes tracking a balloon). Many of them say they read news stories about Schiavo. One admits to only seeing news stories and photographs. They all reference their experience with "similar patients," but without qualifying what they mean by "similar." For example, one doctor draws comparisons to catatonic patients - but catatonia simply refers to an absence of voluntary motion or interaction, and can be caused by any number of things. Another references stroke patients, and two more talk about patients with Alzheimer's. As Ampersand points out, not one of them mentions the specific degree and type of brain damage that Schiavo has, as documented by her CAT scans. ...

Another crucial point is that the video footage referenced by the 17 affidavits to support their argument that Terri Schiavo was responsive actually were only 4 minutes and 20 seconds out of a videotape that was 4 hours and 30 minutes long. The trial court and appeals court judges who reviewed Ms. Schiavo's case both watched the entire 4 1/2 hour tape, and concluded that Terri Schiavo's apparent responses to stimuli were random and not meaningful.

And then there is the CAT scan. The images of Terri's brain and a healthy brain placed side by side are stunningly clear in what they show: Terri Schiavo's cerebral cortex is not damaged; it's gone. It's not there anymore. Where the cerebral cortex used to be, there is only brain fluid -- the cerebral cortex turned to liquid.

Mary at The Left Coaster, who posted the link to the Respectful of Otters piece, also references Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte, who asks why it always seems to be women -- and young women at that -- who become the focus of highly publicized legal battles when a family decision has to be made about whether to end life support for a loved one who is in a vegetative state. The answer: It might be because society is more comfortable ignoring or overriding a woman's wishes than a man's. It's obviously true that in Terri Schiavo's case, her wishes were not put down in writing; but, still, one has to ask if this were Terence Schiavo instead of Theresa Schiavo, and he had told a family member he did not want to be kept on life support in such a situation, would someone like Tom DeLay be so quick to ignore the preferences of another man?

It's also much easier and more comfortable for society to accept the idea of a woman who is unresponsive, unaware, and in a vegetative state than to accept a man being in such a condition. In some ways, Terri Schiavo, in her not-moving, not-talking, not-walking, totally dependent state is the ideal woman. Amanda quotes a passage from a piece in WorldNetDaily by a Dr. Blumenfeld, who says:

Terri Schiavo is no burden on her husband. She is being cared for by her parents who love her. The word "love" has not been used by the court in this case. As far as the judge is concerned, love is not an issue or even a consideration. Terri's parents accept her disabled state. She smiles at them. She hears them. But she cannot speak to them. And as long as they are able to maintain and support their daughter in her disabled state, why should the court deny them this expression of their love? Is not sacrifice an important manifestation of love?

Apart from what Amanda correctly identifies as a "nauseating" implication that Terri Schiavo is lovable precisely because she is unresponsive, helpless, and "no burden" to her husband (or anyone), I also think the next to last sentence is quite interesting. "And as long as" Terri Schiavo's parents are able (financially, of course) to take care of her, why should we not ignore what she told her husband she would want in precisely this kind of situation? The unmistakable implication is that if Ms. Schiavo's parents were not financially able to "maintain and support their daughter in her disabled state," Congress and the federal government would have no interest or concern in keeping her alive at all.

Which, of course, was exactly the philosophy behind the Texas Futile Care Law that Gov. George W. Bush signed, which authorized hospitals to remove life support from patients with no hope of recovery, if they could not pay for their care -- even if their families wanted them kept alive.

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