Monday, January 23, 2006

Not another Terri Schiavo

The tragic case of poor Haleigh Poutre, the brain-damaged 11-year-old girl in Massachusetts whom the Department of Social Services wanted taken off life support over the objections of the stepfather charged in the beating that left her comatose, is making some waves around the blogosphere. Michelle Malkin has a lot of links here. She also laments a "post-Schiavo syndrome" that she believes has made a lot of people, on the left and the right, unwilling to grapple with this case. In particular, she chides John Cole for his "Dear God, not again" riposte to her earlier "Haleigh wants to live" post, a response Malkin sees as epitomizing "a jaded and shockingly callous exasperation."

Actually, I think that Malkin has a point about Schiavo fatigue, and that this case is genuinely deserving of attention. First of all, there is the egregious mishandling by the Massachusetts DSS of ample evidence that Haleigh was being abused. (The girl had been removed from the custody of her biological mother at the age of four; prior to that, she had been sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. In 2001, she was legally adopted by her aunt, who committed suicide last September after being arrested, along with her husband, in the beating that sent Haleigh to the hospital with near-fatal injuries. The entire timeline of this terrible case can be found here.) Second, it appears that DSS sough to have Haleigh's life support terminated with unseemly haste, a mere three weeks after she lapsed into unconsciousness on September 11.

According to The Boston Globe:

Several neurologists who specialize in brain injuries said yesterday that it is hard to know if there was enough conclusive medical evidence about Haleigh's condition to warrant the DSS's decision to seek to withdraw life support within three weeks of her hospitalization.

''Three weeks is early with what we know can happen with recovery," said Dr. Nancy Childs, executive medical director of Texas NeuroRehab Center in Austin, Texas, who has been working with brain-injured patients for more than 20 years.

Childs said statistics show that 52 percent of brain-injured adult patients recover consciousness a month after their trauma and that 16 percent recover after three months. She also said that, in general, brain-injured children, with their growing and elastic brains, ''have a better outcome" than brain-injured adults.

Indeed, plans to remove Haleigh's feeding tube have been suspended because the girl showed signs of improvement after being taken off a ventilator (she is now breathing on her own). I certainly hope that more is done to ensure that this poor girl gets every chance she can have, and that Terri Schiavo fatigue will not keep her from getting all the attention she deserves.

However, if the "post-Schiavo syndrome" becomes a complicating factor in this case, the fault will rest squarely with the so-called "champions" of Terri Schiavo.

After all the lies and all the hysteria from the "save Terri" brigade (the junk science intended to prove that she was conscious and responsive, the peddling of an absurd affidavit from a nurse alleging a conspiracy to conceal evidence of Schiavo's condition, the bizarre claim that the dying Schiavo tried to say "I want to live," the false charges that her husband Michael had abused her and possibly caused her coma, the cries of Auschwitz ... the list goes on and on), any cause seen as Schiavo redux is going to be seen with a certain degree of cynicism.

Incidentally, it is also worth noting that while the Massachusetts DSS has certainly screwed up in this case, it was also the same DSS that asked for additional tests to determine if Haleigh might be emerging from her vegetative state. The doctors and the social workers are not ghouls who would knowingly starve to death a living person (and yes, by living I mean having either some consciousness or some prospect of regaining it).

I'm not saying that we should all relax and leave this to the professionals. This case certainly merits all the public attention it can get, including attention from journalists, bloggers, and public officials. But those responsible for the macabre circus that was the Terri Schiavo case have squandered all moral authority on this issue. The best thing they can do for Haleigh Poutre is keep quiet and leave this case to those who have some credibility.


Anonymous said...

Amen. However, futile my heartfelt agreement. It is completely and utterly reasonable to ask the 'macabre circus' folks to tone down the hysteria. Unfortunately, reasonable people would not have turned the T.S. tragedy into a 'macabre circus' in the first place.


Pooh said...

The truly sick and bizarre twist is that the only reason this went to court is that her stepfather who beat and burned her into the coma was the one resisting DSS intervention. Because he's on the hook for Murder 1 if she dies.

Anonymous said...

It is a bummer that Schiavo's supporters discredited themselves so completely, because I believe that, in the grand scheme of things, they are on the right side of this issue. I see a trend of health care providers being more and more willing to err on the side of cost savings and expediency rather than preserving human life, and I want someone to oppose this. Unfortunately, the first people who took a public stand here were the wild-eyed, deceitful kooks who rallied around Mrs. Schiavo. Alas.

Pooh said...


That's a reasonable argument to make. However, the Schiavo case was not the best illustration of that concern. To put it mildly.

And where was the outrage from the same quarters for this case, which is a far worse situation than either Schivao or Haleigh?

Revenant said...

While I was very strongly on the "let her die" side of the Schiavo debate, I don't think it is fair to characterize the pro-life side as deceitful. I think the core group there -- the parents and their lawyers -- were extremely deceitful, but the primary sin of most of their supporters seems to have been nothing more than that they fell for the deception. I talked to a lot of people who seemed to genuinely believe she had a shot at recovery and that her husband was a greedy scum out to bump off his wife for profit. I knew better, but I had no reason to doubt their motives -- only their understanding of the realities of the situation.

Craig R. said...

As Plunge noted, the "crying wolf" does actual harm.

ANd part of that harm is that the TS case has left many in the public with an unwarranted pessimism over what brain injured patients can expect.

Cathy Young said...

Rev, read my "all the lies and all the hysteria" link. Hannity, Malkin et al. peddled an awful lot of misinformation (inter alia, presenting a quack doctor who had claimed that Terri Schiavo had a chance at recovery as a Nobel Prize-nominated luminary). They were either knowingly lying, or deliberately shutting out all inconvenient facts.

And good point about "crying wolf."

Lori Heine said...

People don't go into medicine because they want their patients to die. The hospitals may be another story, if they're too fixated on "the bottom line," but that's where the family comes in. Fortunately, in most cases, they want their loved ones to recover and would move heaven and earth to see to that if they could.

There's a situation going on in Norway right now that could serve as a model for us in the U.S. A little girl is comatose after having been caught in a landslide, and her doctor wanted to pull her plug because she is now blind, deaf and not considered likely to recover. The girl's father is protesting this vehemently, and has gone to a different doctor, who agrees with him that there is still hope. In Norway, the doctors and hospitals still honor a precedent that says that the family's wishes matter.

The most striking thing, to me, about that case is that THE MEDIA IS NOT RUNNING THE SHOW. Reporters and TV crews are certainly watching it all very closely, but they -- and the opinion of the general public -- are NOT the operative factor here. Here's a link to the story:

Lori Heine said...

For some reason, the complete link did not show up. Here it is again:

Pablo said...

Does Haleigh have a guardian ad litem? She should have one.

Cathy Young said...

Pablo, excellent point!

The probligo said...

Every time this topic comes up, I can but think "What would have happened to this person if we had not the ability to keep them alive."

It then becomes quite simple. I would not want more for myself or any other member of my family.

Anonymous said...

What's the law on guardians ad litem in Massachusetts? It's clear to me that the DSS did play the part of the ghoul, and there doesn't seem to be a single adult whose job is to represent the child.

Anonymous said...

What a nice echo chamber. The truth is Terri's husband did a complete 180 on his wife's condition, suddenly remembering years after her coma that she had said she wanted to die if comatose in a passing conversation. He could have the decency to divorce his wife and hand her care to her parents, who were more than loving and willing to support her for the rest of her natural life, before having children with another woman. I don't know what Terri wanted in this case, but it's highly doubtful Michael did either. He had a severe conflict of interest and the legal system waved it off. So before ranting about how messed up her family and supporters were, trying backing it up with some history in this case, which many of you don't seem to know.

Cathy Young said...

Give it a rest. There was no conflict of interest if, as you say, he could have easily divorced her and handed her over to the parents. (As far as the money left from the settlement, he had offered all along to donate it to charity.)

Lori Heine said...

Why would Mr. Sciavo have wanted the heartache and hassle of continuing on as Terri's guardian if he had no real concern for her? After all (as his detractors are so quick to point out), he had another woman waiting in the wings.

It seems that he did act out of a genuine sense of responsibility toward her.

Anonymous said...

The following is a rebuttal to Young written by Bobby Schindler, Terri's brother and principal in the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation.

Dear Ms. Young,

I am writing in response to your column, "Haleigh Poutre is no Terri Schiavo".

After reading all of the dishonesty that you purport as truths in regard to my sister Terri, I have to say that this is not only the most irresponsible article that I have yet to read from the media regarding Terri's situation, but possibly the most egregious.

You wrote that, "Schiavo had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, and had undergone a barrage of tests showing that she had no higher brain functioning and no consciousness - a fact on which all unbiased medical experts agreed."

I want to know how you've researched Terri's case, and how you've obtained this information. Could it be that you've gathered your 'facts' from the other opinion pieces similar to the one you've written about Terri?

If you are referring to autopsy that ostensibly proved that Terri was PVS, then you are entirely wrong. The Independent Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy, Dr. Jon Thogmartin, went to great lengths to caution those reviewing Terri's autopsy that a post-mortem, forensic examination could neither confirm nor refute a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state. This is because PVS is a clinical diagnosis based on the behaviors of a living patient and not forensic pathology.

Moreover, Dr. Stephen Nelson - a consulting pathologist who assisted Dr. Thogmartin with the autopsy report - admitted that, while Terri's symptoms were consistent with PVS, he could not rule out the possibility that Terri was in a minimally conscious state.

And there are numerous pathologists and physicians that have responded to the autopsy finding as being misleading and ambiguous. This information could have been and still can be easily provided to you.

I wonder if you were you aware that - as indicated in Terri's medical records - she was talking when given rehabilitation in the months following her injury? This completely refutes the PVS diagnosis.

Additionally, did you know that there were more doctors on record with the court (from some of the most distinguished institutions from across the country) stating that Terri was not in PVS than there were doctors that said she was? Furthermore, most of these affidavits (there are more than 42 in total) submitted by these doctors said that if Terri was given proper therapy, her functioning capacity could have improved. Why was this never reported by the media?

Did you know that a recent British Medical Journal has reported that nearly 43% of all PVS diagnoses are, in fact, misdiagnoses? Based on this report, the Independent Medical Examiner findings, the sworn testimony and affidavits of over 42 physicians, neurologists and other healthcare professionals contradicting that Terri was in PVS, I believe it is incredibly reckless for you to make the sweeping statement that Terri was PVS. The fact that my sister received no therapy for more than 13 years, which also was rarely if ever reported by the media, only added to the deterioration of her condition. No autopsy report could have ever determined how much Terri would have improved if she was receiving proper rehabilitation and therapy during the past 13 years.

To make the statement that, "...all unbiased medical experts agreed" as to the condition of my sister is so completely disingenuous that the only conclusion I can draw is that you did absolutely no research into the doctors that evaluated Terri. Dr. Ronald Cranford, hired by Michael Schiavo, has testified in almost every major case that the removal of the feeding tube should be permitted. He even takes pleasure in the moniker, Dr. Humane Death. To call him 'unbiased' is like calling Rush Limbaugh a liberal democrat. And one of the other doctors that testified in my sister's trial, Dr. Peter Bambakidis, was later discovered as having ties to same organization as Michael Schiavo's attorney George Felos.

But aside from all this, what is really sad is that your article and so many others like yours does nothing but discriminate against the disabled by labeling them with this dangerous and subjective PVS diagnosis. The PVS diagnosis was created for one reason and to serve only one purpose - to kill those that are the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

No amount of damage to the brain or level of disability should give anyone the authority to kill. But this is exactly what you are saying - and is now happening all the time - that we can justify the killing of human beings because they have reached a level of profound brain damage that is unacceptable for us to care for them anymore. So, tell me, how long do you give Haliegh to improve before you give up on her and decide that she must die?

What is really shameful though is that I have to respond to articles like yours and defend my sister's life and explain why her family should have been permitted to love her.

Columnist Nat Hentoff commented on the media and how they have handled my sister's case. He said that it was so shoddy and inaccurate that it was the worst case of 'journalistic malpractice' that he's seen in 25 years.

It continues.

Bobby Schindler
St. Petersburg, Fla.

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