Monday, August 31, 2009

Eunice v Teddy: Douthat Rings the Bell and Contrives a Winner.

UPDATE: Dana Goldstein gets it right.

I could let the more capable take Douthat to task for his column in the NYTimes today - Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon has been holding his feet to the fire admirably. But I just couldn't pass on calling him out for pitting the recently deceased siblings, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Teddy Kennedy, against one another in an anti-choice rant that's full of bull, eroneous framing, and denial of womens' rights.

To buy the rubbish that Douthat is selling, you'd have to believe that:

1. Teddy Kennedy's death wrongly overshadows the more noble lifework of his sister, Eunice, because the media is biased and because she did not compromise her "pro-life" stance on abortion.

The media and the public are wrongly elevating Teddy above Eunice, Douthat says. Teddy was a flawed character and a bad Catholic, who did not do enough to reach across the aisle "even occasionally, in search of compromise on the country’s most divisive issue."

2. Real feminists, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver, oppose abortion.

Douthat's premise - that Eunice suffered under but rose above partriarchy to champion the rights of the disabled and unborn - is based on a patriarchal argument. Teddy couldn't have been a real feminist, Douthat contends, because he was a man, left to apologize "to his party’s feminists for the way the men of his dynasty behaved in private." If rising above patriarchy earned Eunice "the right to disagree with her fellow liberals about what true feminism required," how did Kennedy, who fought for the reproductive rights of women and coming from the same family, not earn that same right? Does male support of women's rights always equal apology? Douthat might as well have called him a sissy, hag fag, pussy-whipped, or other some such names for a man who values the equality of women.

3. The reproductive rights of women can be compromised.

Like most abortion opponents, Douthat seems to be offering up women - because, you know, that's what patriarchal men believe they can do - the generous and church-sanctioned ability to only decide what happens to their bodies sometimes, under the circumstances that he and others decide are appropriate. (Like maybe on just Mondays and Fridays a woman can decide how many children she should have?) Incidentally, if this were really about the life of an "unborn child" there would be no compromise - killing is killing. But the premise of compromise betrays the greater agenda of those who claim to be "pro-life." Dictating the rules of womens' sexuality and autonomy.

A woman's body is not middle ground. It belongs to her. Not to Douthat, not to Teddy, not to Eunice. As long as columnists continue to write from the frame that a woman's autonomy can be compromised - and major US newspapers continue to print it and liberal websites continue to link to it - the frame that a woman's body is not fully hers, couched in false frames and contrived rivalries, will continue to be used.


Who Cuts the Thread?

Last week I spoke with a representative of Compassion & Choices, the nation's largest aid in dying advocacy group and a party in tomorrow's appeal case in Montana, about a story I was doing for ReligionDispatches.

One of the questions I had for her concerned the continued need for what is commonly called "assisted suicide" but what C&C calls aid in dying or death with dignity. Why, if palliative care, or medical treatment for pain, has advanced so much the past decade, is aid in dying - lethal prescriptive drugs for those with sound mind and less than 6 months to live, what "pro-life" groups and the state call homicide - so necessary? My impression was that back when patients had no choice but to suffering with inadequate drugs and a medical industry untrained in end of life pain, aid in dying seemed more necessary. But now that hospice facilities are springing up all over the country, it seemed to me that palliative care in these facilities could keep a dying patient comfortable.

She replied that a terminal patient had a right to decide when they died. No one knows how long a broken body will cling to life long after the patient has decided to stop fighting a terminal disease. Who cuts the thread, in other words, is the question being discussed at tomorrow's trial. What we call nature or god or the mysterious inner workings of the body? Or the owner of that body, the mind and soul that lived a life therein?

Even if a patient facing a painful death were to choose hospice and palliative care, those facilities are only beginning to effect the lives of the dying. Facilities may proliferate but end of life and palliative care is still a highly specialized area of training. While all doctors are required to learn how to deliver a baby, few are training in pain relief at end of life. It is still not easy for the terminally ill to arrange a painfless death.

One of the ways that terminal patients, lacking legal, non-violent means to end their life, have chosen to die is refusal of food and hydration. I asked if dying of dehydration or starvation was painless. No, she told me, for some patients, starvation and dehydration were very painful. More importantly, they could be delusion-causing. A griefing family or a medical staff could mistake delusioned calls for water or food, after the patient has chosen to die, and have feeding and hydration resumed, resulting in a more painful and prolonged death.

There is a difference, the representative told me, between prolonging life and prolonging death. Our medical industry is still very poor at knowing the difference.

For more on the Montana case that will begin tomorrow, see:

listen life here:

via greatfallstribune

via montananewsstation

via secondhandsmoke

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