Sunday, March 20, 2005

Terri Schiavo Hypocrisy

Does anyone else think it's strange that the same right-wing wingnuts who are so concerned about the Terri Schiavo tragedy are so unconcerned about others who need and can't afford medical care? The Radical Right has put this woman who has been brain-dead for fifteen years ahead of all other matters of state, rushing into this private affair to try to overturn a state court decision. (So much for states' rights - something the radicals are gung-ho for only when it suits them.) In the latest twist, they have crafted a bill to have her feeding tube reattached and her case moved into federal court. President Bush rushed back to Washington from his Texas "ranch" to sign it into law. Rep. Tom Delay, thankful for any issue that takes his numerous ethics violations off the front pages, says, "We should investigate every avenue before we take the life from a human being." Fifteen years and numerous court cases aren't enough, I guess. As Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

While most of the money for Terri Schiavo's care has come from a medical malpractice settlement, the backers of "Terri's Law" are the same politicians working hard to cap medical malpractice awards and make it hard to file such lawsuits. And while working hard to make sure that Terri Schiavo gets the medical care she doesn't need, they are trying to cut Medicare and Medicaid -- programs that the elderly and the poor rely on for their medical care. They are certainly not going to work to make sure that the programs are expanded to provide for long-term care for vegetative patients who have no hope of recovery.

In this year's budget fight, the Senate and the House have come out on different sides on Medicaid. President Bush is asking for, and the House has given him, a budget that includes up to $20 billion in Medicaid cuts. In the Senate, Democrats and a few moderate Republicans banded together to strip Medicaid cuts from their budget blueprint. This sets the stage for a huge battle as Congress tries to reconcile the two budgets. Guess which side Delay and the rest of the Schiavo cheerleaders are on in the Medicaid battle.

President Bush has made the Social Security "crisis" a priority, but is virtually ignoring the real crisis -- Medicare. The Medicare trust fund, by some projections, will be depleted by 2019, and is already paying more out in benefits than it is collecting in payroll taxes. According to the latest federal projections, Social Security is $3.7 trillion short of what it needs to pay benefits over the next 75 years. Medicare is $27.8 trillion short. Alan Greenspan calls Medicare's woes "several multiples more difficult than is Social Security."

In President Bush's case, the hypocrisy is even more blatant. In 1999, when he was still governor of Texas, he signed into law Chapter 166 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, which calls for an ethics committee to decide life-and-death treatment if an attending physician disagrees with a surrogate. In a futility case (such as Schiavo's), in which the treatment team is seeking to stop treatment deemed to be nonbeneficial, the hospital is authorized to discontinue the disputed treatment (after a 10-day delay, during which the hospital must help try to find a facility that will accept a transfer of the patient).

On Tuesday, Sun Hudson died at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston after he was taken off the ventilator that was keeping him alive. The six-month-old was born with a form of dwarfism that caused his lungs to be too small. The Houston Chronicle notes that "Sun's death marks the first time a U.S. judge has allowed a hospital to discontinue an infant's life-sustaining care against a parent's wishes."

Over at Houston's St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, the family of Spiro Nikolouzos is fighting to keep the hospital from removing his ventilator and feeding tube. The family has been given their ten-day notice. They have until this Wednesday to furnish written proof that another facility will take him as a patient. The 68-year-old man has been in a coma since 2001 because of complications from a brain shunt. The family and the hospital disagree about whether Nikolouzos is brain dead. The family attorney, Maria Caballero, claims that the hospital wants to discontinue treatment because his Medicare funding is running out, and the hospital's chief medical officer says that a patients inability to pay, combined with a prognosis that renders further care futile, are two reasons a hospital might suggest cutting off life support.


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