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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Friday, 17 June 2005

Topic: The Culture of Life

Case Closed: Dead, Autopsy, Enough Said

Wednesday brought the results of the autopsy of Terri Schiavo. As you recall, Schiavo, 41, died March 31 at a Florida hospice thirteen days after her feeding tube was removed by a judge's order. This was at the end of a seven-year legal battle between her husband and her parents – and that had turned into a big national controversy, and prompted action by Congress and the White House. Much has been said of this, even in these pages, so there is not point in running it all down now.

Basic questions? Was she really in a "persistent vegetative state" now, and maybe since she fell into a coma in 1990 – or could she recover? (Husband said yes, parents said no, doctors all said yes, Senator Frist, also an MD, said no.) Did she say she wanted an end to extraordinary measures to keep her body alive if such a thing were to happen to her? (Husband said yes, parents said no, courts said the husband has the call, Republicans said the courts were, while following the law regarding the husband's claim, doing something very wrong that was very much like murdering the merely helpless or unlucky.)

Secondary question raised by conspiracy theorists? Did her husband beat her into a coma so he could get all the money and run off with another woman, thus making this really a murder in progress that he was asking the government to take part in by using the courts in this manner? Why did he want the rest of her body dead, not just her brain? What was this evil man up to?

Regarding the basic questions, the autopsy settled matters. Regarding the secondary question – the murder plot – the autopsy showed no evidence of any beating, but on Friday, June 17, Florida governor Jeb Bush, the President's brother, set in motion the legal arm of the state government to go after the husband. He's not satisfied.

What did the medial examiner find in the autopsy? Basically this -
... his examination turned up no sign of abuse or trauma - allegations leveled by Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, against her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo.

A report from a neuropathologist who served as a consultant to the autopsy said Schiavo's brain was "grossly abnormal and weighed only 615 grams (1.35 pounds)." That weight is less than half of that expected for a woman of her age, said the report written by Dr. Stephen J. Nelson. "By way of comparison, the brain of Karen Ann Quinlan weighed 835 grams at the time of her death, after 10 years in a similar persistent vegetative state."

… Schiavo's brain damage "was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons," Thogmartin said.

He said, the vision centers of her brain were dead, meaning she was blind. And his examination showed she would have been unable to take nourishment by mouth because of the danger she might aspirate the food."
So what was the big deal? Why was the whole nation up in arms?

And why do the parents now say the autopsy proves nothing?

Over at Corrente see this -
Ever since the Rodney King video made self-delusion a national past-time, more and more people have been navigating by the comfortable worldmaps inside their own heads, rather than seeing what's right in front of their eyes. Now Schiavo's parents, confronted by information on their daughter's condition that fails to support their own beliefs, simply choose to ignore it, and are joined and even encouraged in this sad shadow play by the vultures of life.

But why not? Hasn't the political and public reaction to the revelations of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram Air Base demonstrated that Americans have a talent for this that is nearly phenomenal? Eventually respect for the truth and the desire to seek it out must begin to wear thin, when you live in a world where no evidence is ever enough. You start to suspect that, ultimately, finding out what's real and sharing that with others is not only a waste of time, it could even get you hurt. You stop trying.

And maybe that is the point.
Too cynical.

And what of Senator Frist, the former doctor who said he watched selected video clips of the still functioning body and said this was a woman who had been misdiagnosed.

The problem is here -
Frist: "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

Autopsy report: "The vision centers of her brain were dead."
Majority Leader Frist being interview by Matt Lauer on "The Today Show" here -
LAUER: But when you stood on the floor and you said, "She does respond," are you at all worried that you led some senators...

FRIST: I never said, "She responded." I said I reviewed the court videotapes - the same ones the other doctors reviewed - and I questioned, Is her diagnosis correct?
Huh?

What he said on the senate floor, Feburary 17, 2005 - "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli"

What he said on the senate floor, March 17, 2005 - "I have looked at the video footage. Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she does respond."

The MSNBC story from two days later -
Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a renowned heart surgeon before becoming Senate majority leader, went to the floor late Thursday night for the second time in 12 hours to argue that Florida doctors had erred in saying Terri Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state."

"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards.

"She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."
Oh, it doesn't matter.

Something else that doesn't matter? He said he reviewed the court videotapes. Not exactly. See this - he only saw edited outtakes. What did he miss?
The judge in the Schiavo case notes that elsewhere on the hours of videotape her father "tried several more times to have her eyes follow the Mickey Mouse balloon but without success." The Times reports that at one point
... her father gets gruff while trying unsuccessfully to get her to follow [the] balloon. "Come here, Terri, no more fooling around. No more fooling around with your dad." He pokes her in the forehead to make sure she's awake. "No more fooling around with your dad. Listen to me. You see the balloon? You see Mickey?" Later, he apologizes, telling her others have admonished him for his tone.
This is what happens when you deny reality. First you lose your senses, then your mind, then your soul. It isn't Terri Schiavo who's refusing to see what's happening in that awful scene. It's her dad.
Doctor Bill, our Senator Frist, wasn't given that segment.

Frist has ambitions to run for president in 2008, and perhaps he now will not use his fantastic medical skills - he can make the diagnosis everyone else missed, remote, by watching selected bits of video - to convince folks of his superiority over other mortals. He'll have to be known as the man who, in God's name, got rid of the filibuster as a traditional senate procedure, although that didn't go so well and most people don't give a hoot. Maybe he has another trick up his sleeve.

And Frist just wants to move on.

But this whole business may create problems for Mark Fuhrman. Remember him - the LAPD detective from the OJ Simpson trial? Screwed up the evidence and seems to have lied on the stand and left town with his tail between his legs? He's now a conservative radio talk show host in Idaho and writes books.

Fuhrman has a blockbuster coming out on June 28 - Silent Witness : The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo's Death:
We all watched Terri Schiavo die. The controversy around her case dominated the headlines and talk shows, going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House, and the Vatican.

And it's not over yet. Despite her death, the controversy lingers. In Silent Witness, former LAPD detective and New York Times bestselling author Mark Fuhrman applies his highly respected investigative skills to examine the medical evidence, legal case files, and police records. With the complete cooperation of Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings, as well as their medical and legal advisers, he conducts exclusive interviews with forensics experts and crucial witnesses, including friends, family members, and caregivers.

Fuhrman's findings will answer these questions:

- What was Terri and Michael Schiavo's marriage really like?

- What happened the day Terri collapsed?

-What did Michael Schiavo do when he discovered Terri unconscious?

- How long did he wait before calling 911?

- What do medical records show about her condition when she was first admitted to the hospital?

- What will the autopsy say?

The legal issues and ethical questions provoked by Terri Schiavo's extraordinary case may never be resolved. But the facts about her marriage, her condition when she collapsed, and her eventual death fifteen years later can be determined.

With Silent Witness, Fuhrman goes beyond the legal aspects of the case and delves into the broader, human background of Terri Schiavo's short, sad life.
It's hard to predict how this book will do now. Pre-publication orders at Amazon show it is already moving, as it is at eight-eight on their list of most popular books, and rising.

We could just move on, as Senator (Doctor) Frist suggests, but over at the Washington Post E. J. Dionne is wanting an apology -
We are entitled to our moral, ethical and philosophical commitments. We are not entitled to our own facts.

So why is this basic rule of argument often ignored by politicians whose certainty about their righteousness convinces them that they can say absolutely anything to further their causes?

The autopsy in the Terri Schiavo case provides a rare moment of political accountability. We should not "move on," as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested. No, we cannot move on until those politicians who felt entitled to make up facts and toss around unwarranted conclusions about Schiavo's condition take responsibility for what they said - and apologize.

Nothing in the autopsy report prevents those who opposed removing Schiavo's feeding tube from continuing to insist they were right. It's legitimate and honorable to argue on philosophical grounds that every medical decision in a tragic circumstance such as Schiavo's should be made on the side of keeping the sick person alive.

But those who supported an extraordinary use of federal power to force their own conclusion against the judgment of state courts knew that philosophical arguments would not be enough. Most Americans were uneasy about compelling Schiavo's husband, Michael, to keep his wife alive if - as the state courts had concluded and as the autopsy confirmed on Wednesday - she had suffered irreversible brain damage and was incapable of recovering.

So the big-government conservatives had to invent a story. They had to insist that they knew, just knew, more about Terri Schiavo's condition than the doctors on the scene. They had to question Michael Schiavo's motives and imply that he wanted to, well, get rid of her.
So? That's politics.

But the real gripe here?
Right-to-life politicians have done terrible damage to a serious cause. They claimed to know what they did not, and could not, know. They were willing to imply, without proof, terrible things about a husband who was getting in their way. Instead of making the hard and morally challenging case for keeping Terri Schiavo on life support, they spun an emotional narrative that they thought would play well on cable TV and talk radio.
Let's see, politicians making a hard and morally challenging case for something.

No. Not likely to happen. Not prudent.

But this could have been predicted -

Probe Sought in Terri Schiavo 911 Call
Friday, June 17, 2005 10:11 PDT Tallahassee, Fla. (AP)
Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday that a prosecutor has agreed to investigate why Terri Schiavo collapsed 15 years ago, citing an alleged time gap between when her husband found her and when he called 911.

Bush said his request for the probe was not meant to suggest wrongdoing by Michael Schiavo.

"It's a significant question that during this ordeal was never brought up," Bush told reporters.

Michael Schiavo's attorney has said his client called for help right away.

... Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother, said Friday his family believes more questions were raised than answered by the autopsy report and that a new legal review is appropriate.

"Anything that can shed some light on the cause of Terri's collapse is going to be welcomed by our family," he said from Bloomington, Minn., where the family is speaking at an anti-abortion convention.

But the request was immediately criticized by some lawmakers.

"Enough is enough," said Democratic Sen. Ron Klein. "I don't want to see it on TV any more, I don't want to hear politicians talk about it. Let her be at peace."

Bush acknowledged in his letter that an investigation may be difficult.

"I understand that these events took place many years ago, and that you may not be able to collect all the relevant records and physical evidence. However, Mrs. Schiavo's family deserves to know anything that can be done to determine the cause and circumstances of her collapse 15 years ago," Bush wrote. "The unanswered questions may be unanswerable, but the attempt should be made."
To what end?

Frist may not run for president in 2008, but Jeb certainly will.

Posted by Alan at 14:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 17 June 2005 18:17 PDT home

Monday, 28 March 2005

Topic: The Culture of Life

Thinking of toasters in Rochester?

I have a friend in upstate New York who might actually know Steven Landsburg. Landsburg seems to be an ?Adjunct Associate Professor? of economics at the University of Rochester - and I used to live in Rochester. Landsburg writes a monthly column for SLATE.COM and calls himself a libertarian economist ? whatever that means.

Here he suggests one could look at the still living body of that woman with no brain waves as one looks at a used toaster. It?s a curious argument.
? the same argument that applies to the disposal of a dead body applies as well to the disposition of a living but permanently unconscious one. Thomas Jefferson (one of those dead wise men who we sometimes go to for advice) admonished us that the Earth belongs to the living. Once Terri Schiavo essentially stopped living, it became frivolous to care about what she might prefer.

Now on to the preferences of her husband and parents. This is essentially a fight about what to do with her body: He wants to dispose of it; they want to feed it. And the question arises: Once someone has decided to dispose of a resource, why would we want to stop someone else from retrieving it? If I throw out a toaster, and you want to retrieve it from my trash, there's a net economic gain. If Michael Schiavo essentially throws out his wife's body and her parents want to retrieve it, it seems pointless to prevent them.
Perhaps you should read the whole thing. It actually makes sense, in a very odd way.

Imagine Terri Were a Toaster ?
An economist considers the Schiavo case.
Steven E. Landsburg - Posted Monday, March 28, 2005, at 12:27 PM PT ? SLATE.COM

Since Swift, one knows the essence of irony is keeping one?s readers guessing as to whether you are serious, or you are not. Here? You decide.

Then go read Swift?s ?A Modest Proposal.? Same sort of thing.

__

Bob Patterson, columnist for Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, comments ?
Used toaster?

I recently bought a used copy of "Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain" (from 2000) by Michael Paterniti. (The Dial Press.) It seems they may make a movie based on this non-fiction book.

The guy who did the autopsy of Albert Einstein took the brain for scientific study? (Wistar Institute is a University of Pennsylvania "facility once famous for its vast collection of brains and bones.") Michael Paterniti was an editor who wound up with the opportunity to drive Thomas Harvey and (honest!) Einstein's brain across America. "On the Road" for Goth geeks?

This is an amazing book. It's like "On The Road" for science nerds. I will do a Book Wrangler column about it soon.

Does any one remember a movie titled "Hitler's Brain"?

There may be some good reasons to cremate Terri Schiavo, but I sincerely hope they do an autopsy before the cremate her.
Why? What?s the point?

One might consider this - Schiavo: case closed (Keith Olbermann)
? Through his attorney, Mr. Schiavo announced that after his wife?s life ends, he will delay the planned cremation of her body, and ask the Chief Medical Examiner of Pinellas County, Florida, to conduct a full autopsy on the cause of her now impending death.

If he, as some blood relatives of his wife now suggest after a decade of suggesting otherwise, somehow abused her, or he led to the heart stoppage that put her in her present state, it is not likely to be missed by the autopsy.

If he, as his in-laws and all of his critics now suggest after nearly a decade of suggesting otherwise, had an ulterior motive in seeking to end her treatment, it is not likely to be missed by the autopsy.

And if the part of her brain that makes her her was not irreparably damaged (in fact, turned to liquid)? as examination after examination and court after court has found? it is certain not to be missed by the autopsy.

In short, Mr. Schiavo has just given his critics three opportunities to prosecute him by authorizing, in fact requesting, the autopsy. If he?s been lying, or the doctors have been wrong, or any of the hysteria stirred up by those operating both in good faith and bad in this case, is true? then he is a complete idiot.

This case should now be considered closed. Obviously it will not be. It will be perpetuated by a few good, sad people who do not want the woman they know as daughter, sister, or friend, to die. It will be perpetuated by others who cannot come to grips with the incongruity of part of her brain still acting automatically, like a stoplight in the middle of a desert. But mostly it will be perpetuated by people who do not and have not given a damn about Terri Schiavo, or her parents, or anyone but themselves and the opportunities to exploit this situation for their own personal or political beliefs.

Michael Schiavo?s insistence on an autopsy will resolve more than just how hopeless his wife?s situation really has been. It will also be an autopsy on the credibility of those who have tried to manipulate her insentient condition. For, unless Michael Schiavo is a battering spouse or murderer, and a complete idiot, his public critics will be revealed as snake-oil salesmen who have not only exploited his wife, but also thousands of Americans who? just like me, and no doubt just like you? would love nothing more than to see Terri Schiavo rise from her bed and go home, happy, healthy, and fully restored.
I suppose it?s the not-yet-really-retired newsman in Bob than wants a scoop ? the husband wants her dead and cremated to cover a murder he committed in cold blood, or some such thing ? but it seems to be just a sad story of unhinged people.

And our friend Vince comments ? ?And by unhinged people - of course - you refer to Karl Rove and fellow persecutors??

Yes.

Posted by Alan at 19:48 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 29 March 2005 08:37 PST home


Topic: The Culture of Life

He’s back…
Christopher Hitchens, the hard-drinking acerbic defender of the war(s) and reluctant apologist for George Bush (we need to show that middle-easterners a thing or two and Bush is just the right guy to do that) – who used to be of the left – here takes on the issue that is consuming so much discussion in the country. It seems he won’t go with the flow and support his friends on the right in their crusade to save the still functioning body of the woman with no brain left. Oh my.

And he tosses off some good lines – even though he says he “sincerely intended to be the only scribbler in America who stayed out of this most stupid and degrading argument.”

Sample –
One Catholic fanatic, Patrick Buchanan, argues that federal marshals ought to burst in and preserve a corpse. Another Catholic fundamentalist, William Donahue, says that this would be unwise, but only because it might set a precedent for the rescue of living people on Death Row. Presiding from a distance is a nodding, senile pope whose church may possibly want to change the subject from its indulgence of the rape and torture of real-life children.
Now that is cold.

How about this?
… the rest of us also have lives to live. And I hope and believe that we shall say, as politely and compassionately as we can, that we do not intend to pass our remaining days listening to any hysteria from the morbid and the superstitious. It is an abuse of our courts and our Constitution to have judges and congressmen and governors bullied by those who believe in resurrection but not in physical death. Which post-terminal patient could not now be employed, regardless of his or her expressed wish, to convene a midnight court or assemble a hasty nocturnal presidency? Not content with telling us that we once used to share the earth with dinosaurs and that we should grimly instruct our children in this falsehood, religious fanatics now present their cult of death as if it were a joyous celebration of the only life we have. They have gone too far, and they should be made to regret it most bitterly.
This man is not I happy. And I think he’s right. But then again, my soul was damned to hell long ago.

FULL ITEM:

Easter Charade
There's no resurrecting Terri Schiavo.
Christopher Hitchens - Posted Monday, March 28, 2005, at 8:15 AM PT – SLATE.COM

Recommended.

Posted by Alan at 19:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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