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March 23-April 6, 2005 Issue #71
 Now in a Persistent Vegetative State
50 Most Loathsome People of 2004
The Controversial Article Everyone's Talking About
Tom Cruise Strikes Back
Revenge of the Nerd
MINIMALLY CONSCIOUS Facts are Bit Players in Schiavo Saga
by Allan Uthman
Democrats Prepare to Assume the Position
by Matt Taibbi
by BuffaloPundit
by Matt Taibbi
by Johnathan Matthews
by Dr. I.M. Simpering
Ten Commandments are Law, Arrest Warrants Issued
Metal Detector Fails To Stop School Shooting; Schools Consider Larger Detectors
by Josh Righter
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Minimally Conscious
Facts are Bit Players in Schiavo Saga
by Allan Uthman
The Terri Schiavo debacle is the media feeding frenzy of the moment, spurred by the court-ordered removal of her feeding tube and the Republican-controlled Congress' extralegal move to circumvent it. But, despite all the attention, there is very little available information about the subject which I would describe as credible. Instead, there are groundless accusations, heated speculation, and a lot of angry people with signs yelling at each other.
Is she smiling or what?

This is what we get in a post-Fairness Doctrine world-two entirely different versions of events, each of which perfectly echoes the preconceptions of those on either "team." I'm supposed to be on the blue team, so I'm expected to believe that Michael Schiavo is a loving, devoted husband who is only trying to do what his wife would want, her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, are publicity-hungry meddlers prolonging their daughter's agony, and Terri Schiavo is in a coma.

Those on the red team hold that Michael Schiavo is some lying, craven, bloodthirsty animal who is trying to kill his wife before she can finger him as the cause of her injuries, despite all medical evidence to the contrary, and her parents are looking out for her best interests.

Both sides insist that they are only trying to do "what's right for Terri," while their opponents are cynically manipulating the facts to support their political agendas. In fact, both sides are guilty of this, but it is clearly the religious right that's got the most invested in this. Randall Terry, the despicable pro-life radical who brought his clinic-protesting Operation Rescue group to Buffalo back in the '90s (only to be run out of town within a couple of weeks), is now the Schindlers' "spokesman." The doctors you've heard about, who say that Terri is not in a Persistent Vegetative State as the court has held, and that her cognitive status could improve through therapy, are highly suspect.

One of those doctors is Florida Neurologist William Hammesfahr. His name keeps popping up in articles which argue the Schindlers' case. Hammesfahr was disciplined by the Florida Health Department two years ago for fraud, but he still thinks he can save Terri, as he said on the 700 Club: "Oh, absolutely. She'll definitely be able to communicate. She'll probably be able to communicate verbally over the course of about two years of treatment with medication. And then as far as being able to use her arms and use her legs, she'll be able to use those. This woman is not in a coma. She's not in PVS. She's not that bad."

Schiavo's cerebral cortex is gone, according to court-ordered tests, replaced by fluid. Whatever the motives of her husband and parents may be, she is clearly not going to get well. It is true that she could live for decades to come, but she can hardly be described as a person. Unless Hammesfahr is a magician from the future, he can't do a damn thing to help her. But he says he can, and that's what the red team needs, so he's currently making the rounds on the cable news shows. On Monday, Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough repeated Hammesfahr's false claim that he was nominated for a Nobel prize a combined total of 12 times. Hammesfar is also one of the two doctors the Schindlers chose to evaluate Terri in their court battle who predictably disagreed the PVS diagnosis affirmed by two doctors chosen by Michael Schiavo and one appointed by the court. As Jay Wolfson, appointed as Guardian Ad Litem by Jeb Bush, put it:

The scientific quality, value and relevance of the testimony varied. The two neurologists testifying for Michael Schiavo provided strong, academically based, and scientifically supported evidence that was reasonably deemed clear and convincing by the court. Of the two physicians testifying for the Schindlers, only one was a neurologist, the other was a radiologist/hyperbaric physician. The testimony of the Schindler's physicians was substantially anecdotal, and was reasonably deemed to be not clear and convincing.

Then there's Carla Sauer Iyer, a woman described on Fox News and CNN as Schiavo's "former nurse," despite the fact that she wasn't actually a nurse when she assisted in her care in 1996. In an inflammatory affadavit, Iyer claims that Michael Schiavo attempted to kill his wife with insulin, and repeatedly complained that she wasn't dying fast enough. She also claims that Terri often spoke, saying "mommy," "help me," and "pain." Even the Schindlers never called Iyer as a witness, and Judge Greer dismissed the allegations:

They are incredible to say the least. Ms. Iyer details what amounts to a 15-month cover-up which would include the staff of Palm Garden of Lago Convalescent Center, the Guardian of the Person, the Guardian ad Litem, the medical professionals, the police and, believe it or not, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler.

But there she was on Tuesday, telling the persistently vegetative "Fox and Friends" gang the same story…in almost precisely the same language. Iyer's delivery was weird, to say the least. She consistently paused at inappropriate, yet regular, intervals, as if she were being fed her lines through an earpiece. Even the Fox folks seemed somewhat incredulous, but surely the more fanatical elements of the red team will not hesitate to embrace this confirmation of the third-rate "Law and Order" plot they imagine this case to be. Michelle Malkin, of course, finds Iyer to be credible, or at least extremely convenient.

What troubles me is that Iyer's allegations are thoroughly investigable, but no reporters seem to be trying to pierce the fog. She says she reported the insulin incident to police, and was fired for this. But no one has tried to obtain the police report. No one has followed up on any of Hammesfar's former patients. This case has been receiving scrutiny for years, but the press has chosen to use it as a springboard for an ideological and legal struggle, rather than attempting to actually discover what the facts are. There are a lot of unanswered questions here, but nobody seems very interested in obtaining definitive answers.

Maybe this is because an objective determination of the facts might kill the story, ending the talk show shout-fests, and public attention. But more likely it's just expensive and hard to chase down facts, and simply more profitable to keep the debate ill-informed and emotionally charged. Nowadays, the 24-hour news networks prefer to simply make the news rather than break it. It's a lot easier to simply pick a minor story-a pretty white girl gets abducted in the rural south-and descend upon it with hordes of cameramen and frenzied speculation, than it is to put a lot of money into travel and training expenses for journalists.

So, in a media environment that is simultaneously saturated and empty, people just pick the version they like and decide that it is true. This type of behavior I expect from Christian radicals; after all, they believe the whole Noah's Ark thing, too. But those on the left side of this issue, who believe they know better, are guilty of the same sophistry in this case. Many, including truthout.org editor William Rivers Pitt, describe Schiavo as "comatose," which is certainly not the case. She may not be conscious in any meaningful way, but she clearly is awake. Others lionize her husband, without anything to back it up but their own imaginings of him. Some castigate the parents as money-hungry opportunists, when it doesn't seem too hard to believe that they just don't want their kid to die.

Regardless of the facts of the case, it has been appealed through the entire Florida court system, and it has been decided. The Congressional action which has put it before a federal court is, legally speaking, a pile of crap. It is undoubtedly unconstitutional, and an amazing display of gall from the party which has, until now, been raving on about "judicial activism." It's a clear violation of the state's rights that conservatives are supposed to hold so dear, and an obvious move to pander to their most loyal demographic. Again the liberal response is disappointing, with congressional Democrats caving in yet again, lest they incur the wrath of a bunch of backwards Fundies who will never vote for them anyway.

Ironically, it is just this type of right-to-life zealotry that makes it illegal to end Schiavo's life with a pleasant overdose of morphine. The only "ethical" way to do it, according to the law, is to let her slowly starve to death. So, though ending her life painlessly would constitute "euthanasia" and be wholly unacceptable to the pro-lifers, they argue that those on Michael Schiavo's side are cruel for wanting to starve her.

The next thing you know, they'll be arguing that she can be saved through stem cell research.

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