Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bill Berkowitz on Five Years After Terri Schiavo.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Schiavo's death. At Alternet, my sometime outlet, Bill Berkowitz summarizes the issue of Schiavo's death for us. Here's a clip:

"In the current debate over health care reform," Americans United's Rob Boston pointed out, "I see the Religious Right once again employing the same strategy: a barrage of lies, with no claim considered too outrageous to circulate. It started with Sarah Palin's 'death panels' and continues as the process winds down with a blast of increasingly desperate e-mails from groups screaming about socialism and government takeovers.

"The simple truth is this: The leadership of the Religious Right has become little more than a collection of toadies for the Republican Party, and their partisan masters have ordered them to stop the bill. Thus, no lie is out of bounds, no strategy is considered too base," Boston added.

As the fifth anniversary of Terri Schiavo's death approaches, her brother Bobby attached himself to a study published in the February issue of the
New England Journal of Medicine related to brain activity in patients diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. The Catholic News Service recently reported that "researchers in England and Belgium found that five of 54 patients in states of persistent unconsciousness showed distinct patterns of brain activity on a brain imaging machine in response to questions that required a 'yes' or 'no' answer."

"These results show a small proportion of patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state have brain activation reflecting some awareness and cognition," the study concluded. "Careful clinical examination will result in reclassification of the state of consciousness in some of these patients."

Terri Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler said the latest
New England Journal of Medicine study "underscores … why this dangerous and often mistaken PVS diagnosis needs to be stopped when being used as a standard to kill our most vulnerable."

Jon Eisenberg, had a more nuanced take. He told AlterNet that while "it seems fMRI could prove to be a valuable tool for either confirming or disproving a clinical diagnosis of PVS, … it's probably too soon to say for sure how reliable the technique will prove to be. But here's a tough question: If the only signs of awareness are in willful modulation of brain activity, what is to be done if the patient modulates his/her brain activity to give a "no" answer to the question "do you want to be kept alive?"

On the political front, the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Thomas recently reported that Marco Rubio, the young charismatic son of Cuban parents who is now the front-runner as the Republican Party candidate for the Senate -- running against Governor Charlie Christ -- recently accused Christ of having purposefully sat out the Schiavo affair five years ago. In a release issued in late February, the Rubio campaign "whack[ed] … Crist for not being tough on social issues like abortion," Thomas wrote.

The release specifically referenced the Schiavo case: "Crist also received criticism on the Terri Schiavo debate about where he really stood on a Congressional bill that would have let Terri's parents take their lawsuit to save her life to federal courts."

In Using Terri, Jon Eisenberg pointed out that the Religious right was "waging a state-to-state campaign to take away our personal autonomy rights -- in particular, the right to refuse unwanted medical treatment." One of the leaders of that battle is Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life.

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