3/19/2005

Bill Frist's latest "I'm a doctor" outrage

From Paul Waldman of Gadflyer:
If government data are correct, approximately 268 Americans will die today because of medical errors. Many more will die because they are among the 45 million who have no health insurance, so they put off seeking care until it's too late. Yet today our fine representatives in Congress aren't doing anything about that. They're consumed - when they're not beating their breasts about what Jose Canseco did or didn't inject into Mark McGuire's ass - with the life of one woman in a persistent vegetative state. Terri Schiavo, the Elian Gonzales of 2005. Barney Frank once quipped that social conservatives believe life begins at conception and ends at birth. It now seems that their concern for you will be renewed if your brain ceases to function, but not before. Personally, I don't think it matters whether she lives or dies - her awareness is non-existent, so it certainly won't matter to her. If her parents want to keep her alive, fine. What I can't understand is why in this country we still believe it's morally acceptable to remove a patient's feeding tube and starve them to death, but not to inject them with enough drugs to have a quick, painless end. The medical profession believes there's a distinction between "letting" someone die, which is a sin of omission, and "making" someone die, which is a sin of comission. This is so morally obtuse it boggles the mind. Although it may not matter in the case of Schiavo, who doesn't seem capable of feeling pain, in cases where physicians have the power to hasten someone's death, once the decision is made it simply must be done in the way guaranteed to minimize suffering. Anything else is just barbaric. UPDATE: In an act of opportunistic grandstanding so repugnant it defies description, Republicans in Congress have decided that what they need to do is drag Terri Schiavo's lifeless body before the cameras. Republican leaders in Congress moved today to prevent the removal of a feeding tube from a brain-damaged Florida woman, saying they would subpoena her to appear on Capitol Hill and thus require that she be kept alive. And here's the best part: Schiavo, 41, suffered severe brain damage 15 years ago when her heart temporarily stopped. Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state, but Senate Majority Leader Frist, a physician, told the Senate he disagreed with that diagnosis after viewing videotapes of Schiavo. In a town packed cheek to jowl with politicians who are full of shit, there may be no one more full of shit than Bill Frist. Sure, he's a cardiologist, not a neurologist, but he knows damn well what a persistent vegetative state is. But then again, he's not quite sure if you might be able to get AIDS from tears and sweat.

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