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Monday, March 28, 2005
The Politics of Language
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:12 pm

Ok, I was going to do my best to make PoliBlog a Schiavo-less zone today, but since others are unwilling or unable to do so (I have tuned in to two different talk radio programs today, and both are still ranting about Schiavo). And since one of the reasons that I blog is to allow a forum for expression of thought that otherwise would remain contained in my head (thus bouncing around in there and driving me crazy) I shall spill a few more words on this subject.

In this case, I am most weary of the way in which the feeding tube itself is being described. It is as if no technology or medical intervention was involved in a feeding tube—that had Terri received no medical treatment after her heart attack that a feeding tube would have grown from her side and nutrition and hydration would have flowed from some natural, non-medical, non-invasive, non-technologically based source.

Forget one’s view on this topic, just be honest about what the situation is. To listen to many (many, many, many) talk it is as if Terri could eat and drink, but food and water are being withheld, just at arm’s length, while she dies.

I am not extolling her condition nor mocking it, but rather find the inaccurate and inflammatory language that is used by many to be unnecessarily over the top.

Just like the vilification of the husband (flawed man that he may well be) the inflammatory use of language is simply a way to further an argument via a manner other than logic and reason. The bottom line is: it is legitimate to argue that life should be sustained at all costs. I would just like to people to grapple with the issue to make the case, rather than ranting about outcomes or interpretations of those outcomes. However, that argument can be made whether Michael is good or bad or whether a feeding tube is medical technology or not.

The problem, of course, is that having to actually grapple with the legal issues that are in play, the medical realities of Terri’s condition, and the complex situation that the Schindlers and the the Schiavos find themselves in is all very difficult. Screaming “since when is food and water medical treatment?!? is all too easy.

Further, to ignore that the feeding tube was medical intervention, of a type similar to, although not as dramatic as, a ventilator is to put ideological blinders on. At a fundamental level it ignores the fact that for the vast predonerance of human history, Terri would have died 15 years ago., which adds yet another layer of complexity to the situation. if one now wants to call removal of the tube “playing God” or otherwise trying to evaluate her state.

Filed under: Courts/the Judiciary | |Send TrackBack

aTypical Joe: A gay New Yorker living in the rural south. linked with DNR
Outside The Beltway linked with Are Feeding Tubes Life Support?

8 Comments »

  1. Are Feeding Tubes Life Support?
    Steven Taylor is annoyed with the continuing dishonesty of the language being used by those clammoring for the re-insertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

    Forget ones view on this topic, just be honest about what the situation is. To listen to m…

    Trackback by Outside The Beltway — Monday, March 28, 2005 @ 1:06 pm

  2. I would disagree that the feeding tube is similar to the ventilator, and just note the anecdote that “justme” left at James Joyner’s joint.

    I may be mistaken on this, but aren’t there court cases that have ruled that feeding tubes are not life support like ventilators?

    As for the debate that’s raging around this issue, I’ve mostly kept quiet. I’ve also turned off all the talk radio this week, and FOX News as well. Who wants to hear a 9-day death countdown?

    Gack!

    Comment by bryan — Monday, March 28, 2005 @ 1:56 pm

  3. Their may well legally be a distinction. My point is far simpler: both are artificial menas by which to keep a person alive. I don’t see any way to dispute that fact (not that you are).

    And “gack” indeed.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Monday, March 28, 2005 @ 1:59 pm

  4. Justice O’Connor, in her concurring opinion in Cruzan v. Missouri (1990), specifically noted Cruzan’s FEDERAL right to refuse a feeding tube:

    “Artificial feeding cannot readily be distinguished from other forms of medical treatment. Whether or not the techniques used to pass food and water into the patient’s alimentary tract are termed ‘medical treatment,’ it is clear they all involve some degree of intrusion and restraint. …

    A gastrostomy tube (as was used to provide food and water to Nancy Cruzan) or jejunostomy tube must be surgically implanted into the stomach or small intestine.

    Requiring a competent adult to endure such procedures against her will burdens the patient’s liberty, dignity, and freedom to determine the course of her own treatment.

    Accordingly, the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause must protect, if it protects anything, an individual’s deeply personal decision to reject medical treatment, including the artificial delivery of food and water.”

    http://abstractappeal.com/archives/2005_03_01_abstractappeal_archive.html#111158613257156180

    Comment by Bill — Monday, March 28, 2005 @ 2:12 pm

  5. Legal mumbo jumbo aside, I think as a passionate and caring human watching a person slowly die without trying to help is not in our nature. If most see an animal injured would we not try our best to do what we could to keep it alive? There is no dispute that her ultimate demise will because of dehydration and/or starvation. For someone to stand back and say that it is okay, that death should be “allowed’ in this horrific fashion is quite morbid. Put yourself in this position, you mother for instance, is unable to function like Terri, would you allow her to die in such a manner? And would you think that Terri’s husband, if he has her best interests at heart, stay with her until the final breath?

    Comment by cv — Monday, March 28, 2005 @ 2:19 pm

  6. If my mother did not want to be sustained in such a fashion: yes. Certainly my wife has made it clear she would not (as has my grandmother, btw). Would it make it be painful? Absolutely. That, however, isn’t the issue.

    And while I would in no way glorify or minimize the death in question, such persons are medicated, not to mention (in this case) severely brain damaged. This is not analogous to someone starving in the street.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Monday, March 28, 2005 @ 3:25 pm

  7. DNR
    This article made me remember that in my experience we were more concerned about doctors intervening when we didn’t want it. We weren’t talking about the need for a living will; we were talking about the need for a DNR…

    Trackback by aTypical Joe: A gay New Yorker living in the rural south. — Monday, March 28, 2005 @ 4:07 pm

  8. I think what has offended many about this issue is the tone of voice that many have taken. This isn’t an issue to scream about. Not an issue for certainties. Only quiet uncertanties.

    Many (most?) extended families have made medical decisions that, while possibly not involving feeding tubes, are discussed in hushed tones. Decisions to make Dad comfortable and forgo treatments with small probability of cure. Memories of a decision that Auntie made to stop the chemotherapy even though it hastened her inevitable demise.

    Guilt is always associated with these decisions. What if we had tried…? It’s uncomfortable to discuss these issues via a megaphone. It’s also difficult to imagine discussing the reasons for such a decision with people outside the family or close circle of friends.

    What does Randall Terry know about about Dad’s suffering at the end, or what does Tom Delay know of Auntie’s ability to withstand another round of chemotherapy? Although these questions are unfair to Terry and Delay they put themselves in this position by using a megaphone when a whisper is more appropriate.

    Comment by Buckland — Monday, March 28, 2005 @ 7:16 pm

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