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Terri Schiavo: The Supremes and a missed opportunity for Americans to talk about dying

Before I begin my rant about news coverage of Terri Schiavo, I recommend you read Norm Pattis and Orin Kerr today.

Pattis, blogging on Crime and Federalism, commends United States District Judge James Whittemore of Florida for his decision not to reattach a feeding tube to Terri Schiavo (see yesterday's post). He writes that Whittemore is "a hero in a black robe" and that the judge,

"...will today feel the scorn of millions. He did what judges are supposed to do last night. He applied the rule of law in a tough case."

Next, Pattis predicts, will come an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court:

"Expect an emergency appeal, and then a lightning quick hearing in the United States Supreme Court. And then watch Antonin Scalia wet himself. What shall he do? His belief that God is at the heart of it all will pull him in the direction of Ms. Schiavo's parents and the religious right. Yet his commitment to constitutional structure will yield the conclusion this is no federal question. Tough political call for Nino." More here.

The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr, however, anticipates a different chain of events:

"It seems likely that the 11th Circuit will affirm, and the Supreme Court will deny certiorari, taking us back to where we started before Congress became involved ..." More here.

As the journalist in the crowd, I feel embarrassed by the coverage -- and as a reader/viewer/news user I know I have been cheated. My embarrassment crested yesterday when I actually read some of the endless stream of two-dimensional media polls asking people to weigh in on what various members of Terri Schiavo's family should do -- as well as what the medical profession, Congress, and the executive and judicial branches of federal government should do.

Most of these polls initially irritated me because of their tone. The questions aren't asked to help the reader tap into the agonizing issues related to Terri Schiavo's feeding tube and partial vegetative state. Instead, most questions (and, frankly, accompanying interviews and news reports) on Schiavo read like what they are: vehicles designed to leverage one family's tragedy for advertising ratings and eyeballs, rather than an opportunity to initiate a thoughtful and important conversation -- national and individual.

Eric Boehlert's thoughtful piece in Salon today plays right in to my concerns. I recommend you watch the relatively painless and pretty short ad so that you can read it. In "When Public Opinion Doesn't Matter," Boehlert writes:

"Polls show Americans overwhelmingly support Michael Schiavo's case. Why is the media ignoring them?" More here.

What a tragedy -- what a lost opportunity when the Schiavo family crisis could be used to skillfully initiate a conversation about life-and-death decisions and living wills that so many of us need to have. Why do I say that? Well, barring accidents and a tragedy like Schiavo's, are your parents getting any younger? When's the last time you asked your spouse or aging relatives how to best love them in the end?

Instead of a discussion guide to apply this tragedy to our own lives, we get so much media sausage, as polls go up on Web sites and screens, in glaring graphics and newscrawls, after which answers are slapped up next to text and streaming audio of VIPs rushing in front of microphones to express their [opportunistic] opinions. Yeccch.

I'd love to hear about any terrific coverage that I've missed -- please add to my reading list. Thanks.

Posted by Laurel Newby on March 22, 2005 at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (5)

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» MAIL BAG! from The Common Scold
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