Monday, February 22, 2010

Tomorrow Massachusetts Considers Death with Dignity Bill.

From the BostonHerald:

Massachusetts could become the fourth state to legalize elective human euthanasia for the terminally ill under a proposed bill whose author succumbed to the ravages of cancer before he could make his case to the Legislature.

“He fought this battle (with cancer) for five solid years. But at the end, you don’t want to be in pain. You don’t want your family to see you in pain. He thought this would be the best way,” said Eileen Lipkind, whose husband of 38 years, Albert Lipkind, 62, of Stoughton, died four months ago today from colon cancer that had spread to his liver.

At the State House tomorrow afternoon, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary will begin debating whether to follow the leads of Oregon, Washington state and Montana and implement a so-called Death With Dignity law. It would allow Bay State residents for whom time and luck is running out to choose to end their suffering by ingesting a prescribed medical cocktail.

In Oregon, 401 terminally ill patients have chosen to die on their terms since 1997, according to the Death With Dignity National Center.

Professor Paul Spiers of Danvers, who teaches forensic neuropsychology at Boston University, became an advocate of the right-to-die movement after a 1994 horseback riding accident left him paralyzed from the chest down.

“It becomes important when you’re looking at life in a wheelchair, but it’s the one choice we don’t have,” Spiers said. “We’re kinder to our pets than we are to people. You should be able to die peacefully in the company of your family and friends.”

Albert Lipkind, a grandfather and computer technician for Hewlett Packard, proposed that anyone 18 or older, who had been diagnosed by an attending physician as terminally ill, could request of that doctor - both orally and in writing - a lethal dose of medicine to take on their own. No one else could make the choice for the patient.

Though she would have supported his decision to die, Eileen Lipkind, a registered nurse, said her husband “wanted to live.”

“I don’t think it’s playing God at the end. God has already decided you have a terminal illness,” she said. “I believe in living and trying to care for somebody, but if there is no cure and there is no other way, I think somebody should have that choice. It should be a personal decision.”

h/t DeathWithDignity

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Tea Party Reporting As Case Study: What is Journalism's Role?

At his blog PressThink (tag lined "Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine"), Jay Rosen, Journalism professor at New York University, hails recent reporting on the Tea Party by New York Times reporter David Barstow but asks:

Running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny…That sounds like the Tea Party movement I have observed, so the truth of the sentence is not in doubt. But what about the truth of the narrative? David Barstow is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for the New York Times. He ought to know whether the United States is on the verge of losing its democracy and succumbing to an authoritarian or despotic form of government. If tyranny was pending in the U.S. that would seem to be a story. The New York Times has done a lot of reporting about the Obama Administration, but it has been silent on the collapse of basic freedoms lurking just around the corner. Barstow commented on the sentence that disturbed me in his interview with CJR:

The other thing that came through was this idea of impending tyranny. You could not go to Tea Party rallies or spend time talking to people within the movement without hearing that fear expressed in myriad ways. I was struck by the number of people who had come to the point where they were literally in fear of whether or not the United States of America would continue to be a free country. I just started seeing that theme come up everywhere I went.

It kept coming up, but David… did it make any sense? Was it grounded in observable fact, the very thing that investigative reporters specialize in? Did it square (at all) with what else Barstow knows, and what the New York Times has reported about the state of politics in 2009-10? Seriously: Why is this phrase, impending tyranny, just sitting there, as if Barstow had no way of knowing whether it was crazed and manipulated or verifiable and reasonable? If we credit the observation that a great many Americans drawn to the Tea Party live in fear that the United States is about to turn into a tyranny, with rigged elections, loss of civil liberties, no more free press, a police state… can we also credit the professional attitude that refuses to say whether this fear is reality-based? I don’t see how we can.

Rosen's questioning is just that, a question. In the comments it's obvious that he is still thinking about the responsibilities of journalism in our current climate - and of journalists in general who encounter strongly-held ideas that run counter to fact but don't qualify them.

Should it be assumed that New York Times readers understand that the country is not on the verge of tyranny or does the nature of this pervasive "belief," evident in interviews in Barstow's article, evident in the momentum of the Tea Party, require Barstow to do some truth-telling? Or is it ok that he reports the "belief" but not the factual errors that it is based on?

Don't miss the comments.

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