Marlowe's Shade

Friday, March 25, 2005

Blogburst for Terri: Hemlock and Slow Wasting

I blogged yesterday about the attempt to smear Dr Cheshire's testimony, based solely on the fact that he is a Christian. It's continuing and Sen. Bill Frist is getting the same treatment. Elizabeth Whelan is a Republican and scientific anti-idiotarian. But instead of addressing Dr Cheshire's points in his affidavit, she only has this to say:

As it turns out, Dr. Cheshire is not "renowned" as a neurologist -- his limited publications focus on areas including headache pain and his opposition to stem cell research. Dr. Cheshire never conducted a physical examination of Ms. Schiavo, nor did he do neurological tests. Dr. Cheshire is director of biotech ethics at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, a nonprofit group founded by "more than a dozen leading Christian bioethicists." Everyone is free to be guided by a personal agenda -- and it is clear that Dr. Cheshire has his.

Let's call tripe when tripe is served. All of us are entitled to our own personal views on the Schiavo case, what her fate should be, and who should make decisions for her. But all of us should be united in rejecting politically-generated junk science.

Since Dr Whelan brings up Dr Cheshire's credentials and agenda, let's look at the background of the neurologist who's opinion has been considered most seriously by Judge Greer. From WND

Cranford is a member of the board of directors of the Choice in Dying Society, which promotes doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

He was also a featured speaker at the 1992 national conference of the Hemlock Society. The group recently changed its name to End of Life Choices.

Dr Cranford's bio says that he teachs at the University of Minnesota Medical School. I'm sure it is a fine institution, but if Dr Cheshire's involvement with the Mayo Clinic doesn't get him enough medical prestige to be considered "renowned", then Dr Cranford has no call for this kind of arrogance:

Dr. Ronald Cranford, a neurologist and medical ethicist at the University of Minnesota Medical School who has examined Ms. Schiavo on behalf of the Florida courts and declared her to be irredeemably brain-damaged, said, "I have no idea who this Cheshire is," and added: "He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You'll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say she's not vegetative."

For what it's worth, UMinn Medical didn't make any of the Top 20 lists I saw, while the Mayo Clinic's teaching program was usually in the top five.

But the glaring inequity of this aspect of the debate is that in articles like the Times and Dr Whelan's, the obvious bias of Dr Cranford is never an issue. His views are treated as mainstream, and I'm getting the terrible sense that they will soon be. This is what he is proposing:

The United States has thousands or tens of thousands of patients in vegetative states; nobody knows for sure exactly how many," he wrote. "But before long, this country will have several million patients with Alzheimer's dementia. The challenges and costs of maintaining vegetative state patients will pale in comparison to the problems presented by Alzheimer's disease."

The answer, he suggested, was physician-assisted suicide.

"So much in medicine today is driving the public towards physician-assisted suicide," he wrote. "Many onlookers are dismayed by doctors' fear of giving families responsibility in these cases; our failure to appreciate that families suffer a great deal too in making decisions; our archaic responses to pain and suffering; our failure to accept death as a reality and an inevitable outcome of life; our inability to be realistic and humane in treating irreversibly ill people. All of this has shaken the public's confidence in the medical profession."

He blamed "right-to-lifers" and "disability groups" for discouraging families from making the choice for euthanasia. He applauded European values that embrace euthanasia.

Despite my issues with the Baby Boomer generation as a whole, I don't take any satisfaction in the irony that the only thing that might stand in the way of the euthanizing of as many as a million of them is the beleaguered band of Christians and pro-life advocates that they fought all their lives to oppose.

I hope to comment further on this today.

Update- Joe Carter at evangelical outpost does a great job pulling apart Dr Whelan's ad hominem towards Dr Cheshire:

Whelan then goes on to attack Dr. Cheshire's status as "renowned" by pointing to his "limited publications" which focus on the areas of "headache pain and his opposition to stem cell research." What she left out was that he has also published articles on, among other topics, Parkinson's, trigeminal neuralgia, hypotensive akathisia, Spinal cord injuries, and cysticercosis. A closer look would have also revealed that out of the fifteen doctors in the neurology department at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Cheshire has published more articles than a third of his colleagues. Does Whelan take the paucity of Pub-Med citations as evidence that the Mayo Clinic is simply full of second-rate slackers?

Whelan does correctly point out that Dr. Cheshire never conducted a physical examination of Ms. Schiavo and that he did not perform neurological tests. That is certainly true. In fact, as Dr. Cheshire makes clear, Ms. Shiavo hasn't had a neurological examination in over three years. If Whelan had bothered to actually read Dr. Cheshire's affidavit rather than basing her opinion on press reports she might have noticed that he recommended more testing precisely to avoid the potentially unethical situation of starving to death a woman who may be minimally conscious.
papijoe 7:32 AM