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37 posts categorized "Social issues "

March 02, 2005

Lies Terri Schiavo's parents told me

The Terri Schiavo case has transfixed the right wing media while attracting comparatively little attention from the left. This is discrepancy is understandable. Once you know the facts, there's very little to argue about. The case is literally a no brainer.

The Schiavo case presents no intricate medical, ethical, or legal dilemmas. Abstract Appeal's comprehensive legal chronology shows just how straightforward this case should have been. Michael Schiavo is Terri's legal guardian, the courts have determined that Terri wouldn't want a feeding tube, and Michael asked the doctors to take the tube out. That's really all there is to it.

The campaign to "save" Terri Schiavo is a vicious and lavishly-funded propaganda campaign. Terri's parents and their allies are using pseudoscience and character assassination to destroy Michael Schiavo. Of course, the right wing is eating it up.

If progressives don't counter these blatant misrepresentations now, the Terri Schiavo myths will be used against us for years to come.

Myths about the Terri Schiavo case

1. Terri is conscious

Court-appointed, government-appointed, and private physicians have confirmed that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Schiavo suffered massive brain damage 15 years ago and ongoing neurological degeneration.

Patients in a PVS have no higher cognitive function and no chance of recovery.

Terri is neither comatose, nor brain dead. She is in a vegetative state because her higher brain centers have been destroyed and replaced by fluid.

1.' A recent study showed that patients like Terri are more conscious than we thought

A recent fMRI by study found that two patients in a minimally conscious state (MCS) showed slightly more brain activity during speech recognition tasks than would have been predicted based on the severity of their injuries and behavioral observations (Schiff ND, Rodriguez-Moreno D, Kamal A, et al, 2005). When the study was released, some commentators inappropriately cited this result as evidence that Terri Schiavo's level of consciousness might have been underestimated.

Terri Schiavo is not in an MCS. According to the authors of the study, a diagnosis of MCS is reserved for a subset of patients who demonstrate "unequivocal, but intermittent, behavioral evidence of awareness of self or their environment." Unfortunately, Terri isn't conscious at all.

2. There are new treatments that might help Terri

Despite what Terri's parents say, there are no new treatments that could help their daughter. Anyone who claims that he can improve Terri's level of consciousness is a quack. You can't treat a brain that isn't there.

3. Terri's collapse is unexplained and/or suspicious

In an attempt to discredit Michael Schiavo, Terri's parents and their supporters are circulating unsubstantiated rumors of abuse and even accusations of attempted murder.

Former chief medical examiner for the city of New York and co-director of the Medicolegal Investigation Unit of the New York State Police, Dr. [Michael] Baden is often quoted in news reports and interviewed on television. [...] Dr. Baden, who has written three books on forensic pathology, told [Greta]van Susteren: "It's extremely rare for a 20-year-old to have a cardiac arrest from low potassium who has no other diseases . . . which she doesn't have. . . . The reason that she's in the state she's in is because there was a period of time, maybe five or eight minutes, when not enough oxygen was going to her brain. That can happen because the heart stops for five or eight minutes, but she had a healthy heart from what we can see." [Village Voice]

Terri Schiavo was not a healthy young woman. Her heart stopped because of a potassium imbalance induced by severe bulimia nervosa.[AP]

Hypokalemic cardiac arrests are rare in the population at large, but they all too common in young women with severe eating disorders. Michael Schiavo successfully sued Terri's doctors for failing to diagnose her condition. If there had been an alternate explanation for Terri's condition--like attempted murder by the plaintiff--you would think the doctors Schiavo sued would have brought it up.

Here's a transcript of the Greta van Susteren's interview with Dr. Baden on FOX News.

In the interview Baden alludes to Terri's alleged "history of trauma" and suggested that her brain damage might have been caused by a "head injury." Dr. Baden's insinuations don't hang together. Both Terri's bulimia and her potassium imbalance are well-documented. Whereas there is no evidence that Terri Schiavo's brain was destroyed by any kind of trauma.

BADEN: Yeah, your staff has provided me with a bone scan that you guys obtained ah from her initial admission in 1991 to the hospital. And that bone scan describes her as having a head injury. That’s why she’s there, that’s why she’s getting a bone scan. And a head injury can cause, lead to the vegetative state that Ms. Schiavo is in now, and it does show evidence that there are other injuries, other bone fractures, that on healing-stage, so that...

Dr. Baden says that the bone scan describes Terri as having a head injury. The implication is that the bone scan reveals that she suffered a head injury. The paperwork requesting the bone scan lists Schiavo as having had a head injury, but the bone scan doesn't show any evidence of head or neck trauma.

The head injury hypothesis is utterly far-fetched. Believe me, if Terri had been bleeding into her brain on the night in question, the ER would have noticed.

An even crazier theory of Terri's collapse is phantom strangulation. This one got a sympathetic hearing from both Hannity and Colmes. The evidence is that Terri was admitted with a rigid neck. So far, no one has claimed that Terri had any of the classic signs of manual strangulation. Patients who have been strangled tend to have bruises on their necks, petechiae (blood flecks) in the whites of their eyes, and bits of their assailant's flesh under their fingernails. Manual strangulation doesn't always leave marks, but why attribute to phantom stranglers what can be explained by hypokalemia?

4. Michael Schiavo abused Terri

There is no evidence that anyone abused Terri. A judge ruled the abuse allegation irrelevant years ago, but Terri's "supporters" are determined to keep meme alive just to destroy Michael Schiavo's reputation.

Dr. Baden alleges that a bone scan taken in 1991 showed that Terri had suffered trauma. Here is the deposition of the radiologist who analyzed Terri's bone scan, Dr. William Campbell Walker.

During the deposition, Walker acknowledges that the abnormalities on the bone scan could have been caused by Schiavo's collapse, vigorous CPR, an earlier car accident, prolonged immobility, or aggressive physiotherapy. Contrary to Dr. Baden's insinuation, the scan revealed no abnormalities in the head or neck.

By the time the scan was taken, Terri had already been in the care of a nursing home for several months. For all anyone knows, Terri's bones may have been damaged by neglect or abuse at the nursing facility.

5. Terri's brain damage was caused by a closed head injury

The head injury claim has been repeated over and over in the right wing media. Here's the only evidence I was able to find for this bold claim: In his deposition, Dr. Walker says that Dr. James Carnahan, Terri's rehabilitation physician, wrote "closed head injury" on a form requesting a radiological trauma work up. Maybe Schiavo has a history of closed head injuries, but it is absurd to think that a closed head injury caused her current vegetative state.

6. Michael Schiavo just wants to inherit Terri's fortune

What fortune? Even the pro-tube Terri Schiavo Foundation reports that of the nearly one million dollar malpractice settlement earmarked for Terri's future medical care, less than $50,000 is left.

The TSF is righteously indignant that a fair chunk of that money has gone to attorneys' fees. A judge authorized Michael Schiavo to spend that money on legal representation for himself and his incapacitated wife. It's odd that the TSF is so indignant, seeing as they picked the legal fight that depleted the account.

The TSF also acknowledges that Schiavo offered to donate whatever money he stood to inherit to charity if Terri's parents would stop trying interfere with his right to make medical decisions on behalf of his wife.

I just hope that these character assassins can be discredited before they ruin another person's life. Michael Schiavo has suffered enough.

[Cross-posted at Pandagon.]

February 27, 2005

Ah, the liberal New York Times

Pardon me while I retch. [NYT permalink.]

February 25, 2005

Evolutionary psychology and politics

Chris at Mixing Memory has a great post debunking some fashionable sociopolitical inferences from evolutionary psychology.

January 30, 2005

Something to look forward to


Nursing homes just like high school, say sociologists:

Everyone complains about the food. Nobody wants to sit with the misfits. There are leaders and followers, social butterflies and loners, goody-goodies and troublemakers. Friendships are intense and so are rivalries. Everybody knows everybody else's business.
Except for the traffic jam of wheelchairs and walkers, the dining room at the Atria assisted living community here might as well be a high school cafeteria.[...]

The federal government has already made recommendations to improve quality control and correct misleading advertising in assisted living facilities. But only a few sociologists and public health researchers have studied the social organization and daily preoccupations of these communities. Dr. Catherine Hawes, a professor of health policy at Texas A&M University, is one. She describes them as "high school all over again, without the expectations."

December 02, 2004

Abstinence through deceit

Thanks to Carol, a reader who emailed me this Washington Post article: Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens, Report Says.

I was all set to rant about science and reason, but Kriston of Grammar Police already said exactly what needed saying about this particular travesty.

October 06, 2004

"Pet of the Day"

OtisClick to enlarge

Age:Five months old
Kind:Hairless Rat
Home:Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, USA
Hi, my name is Otis ... and I'm a spoiled little rat! Actually, I'm the sweetest, most gentle little boy that you will ever know. As you can see I don't have any fur so my mommy gives me special blankets to keep me extra warm. I like to get warm baths and snuggle up in a warm towel afterward. I'm the youngest in my family so everyone spoils me and gives me special treats when the others aren't looking. I live with a variety of animals... There are six kitties who love to come see me and kiss my nosey when I peek it through my cage, three doggies that are a little intimidating but I love them just the same, and one birdie who loves to sing all through the night with me. Well actually I do more squeaking while he sings. My cage is placed in the kitchen since there's always someone there to talk and play with me and if by chance they enter the kitchen without saying hello, I squeak and squeak until they do. My mommy bought me a large exercise ball but I'm too scared to use it. When I'm inside everything looks scary so I gave it to the birdie who absolutely loves it.

Mommy talking: This is Otis, my pride and joy! He's sweet, very loving, and for the most part very calm. The first time I saw him he was in an aquarium at our local mall's pet shop with a few other rats, which had fur. They were all snuggled together and they were all keeping him very warm. About two weeks later I went to the mall again and the first place I went was to the pet shop, like usual, and I went back to that same cage where he was all alone and curled up in the corner with nothing more than a tiny bit of litter and his food bowl. My heart went out to the little guy (me having four rats, previously) so I called the young man behind the counter over to the cage and I said, "I want him!" He got my little Otis out of the aquarium and put him in a pet-friendly box and we went home. Forget the shopping, I had just found a piece of my heart.

I admit, I have a certain passive aggressive inability to keep atrocities like the foregoing to myself. You don't expect me to just live with this knowledge alone, do you? Just be grateful I didn't share my Google results for "myiasis." (Don't do it. I got paid to Google "myiasis" and it wasn't worth it.)

September 28, 2004

The water cooler

Every so often, I try to work on my social skills. Today, I decided to strike up a conversation with my coworker. She is planning her wedding, so that seemed like a good opener.

ME: How's the wedding planning going?

COWORKER: Pretty good. But everyone has an opinion. Like, we're trying to go with a French Bistro theme, but my in-laws keep saying "Everyone likes cocktail weenies."

ME: Yeah, everyone's got to throw in their two cents. Like when Ted Williams died.

CW: [puzzled silence]

ME: You know how, when he died his family started arguing about whether they were going to cryogenically freeze all of him or...[at this point I realize the conversation has gone way off-track, but it's too late]...just his head, or cremate his entire body. And the Boston Metro ran this man-on-the-street feature, where they asked people "Should they cryogenically preserve or cremate Ted Williams?" And one guy said "I think they should bury him at Fenway Park."

CW: Oh.

ME: It's like, everybody's got an opinion, whether it's appropriate or not....

September 27, 2004

Pirate flags: beyond the Jolly Roger

RedotoastBatholomew "Black Bart" Roberts 

RedskeletonEdward Low

More pirate flags.

[Via Geisha asobi blog.]

September 26, 2004

H.E. Baber redeems Butterflies and Wheels

H.E. Baber has an outstanding essay on the roots of left-wing anti-intellectualism: The Sleep of Reason.

I am often exasperated by Butterflies and Wheels, but sometimes they link to real gems. This is essay is one of them.

September 25, 2004

Kubler-Ross follies

Great article by Ron Rosenbaum about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Went Round the Bend. [Slate]

In the twilight of her career, Kubler-Ross established a spiritual retreat in Escondido where widows could commune, physically and spiritually with their departed husbands...

Enter the spirit medium of Escondido—a guy [Kubler-Ross] had invited to her workshops, who somehow facilitated intercourse between the grieving widows and the "afterlife entities." The scandal erupted when several of the widows came down with similar vaginal infections, and one turned on the light during a session with an "afterlife entity" and discovered the opportunistic spirit medium himself, naked except for a turban. (He offered the completely plausible explanation that the afterlife entities had "cloned" him—and the turban, too, I guess—to help enable the afterlife entities to engage in the pleasures of the flesh.)[...]