Carson says remarks re Schiavo taken “out of context”

Dr. Ben Carson (photo by Ellen Kolb)
Dr. Ben Carson (photo by Ellen Kolb)

I wasn’t the only voter whose eyebrows went way up after Dr. Ben Carson’s made his recent remarks regarding Terri Schiavo. He gave an exclusive interview to LifeSiteNews earlier this week to address the furor.

“I am steadfastly opposed to euthanasia. I have spent my entire career protecting life, especially the life of children….I regret that my recent comments about Terri Schiavo have been taken out of context and misinterpreted. When I used the term ‘much ado about nothing,’ my point was that the media tried to create the impression that the pro-life community was nutty and going way overboard with the support of the patient.”

The article continued, “[Dr. Carson] told LifeSiteNews that his off-the-cuff remarks to a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times meant that doctors should allow terminally ill patients to refuse heroic medical treatment, not to deny food and water to someone diagnosed in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).”

I’m pleased that the good doctor acknowledged the concerns raised by his earlier remarks. My particular concerns expressed in an earlier post persist. If what he means is that he flat-out refuses to tolerate starvation for patients with brain damage, that’s good news.


Brief comments on Jindal, Bush and Carson

I’ve surprised myself by not picking a presidential candidate yet. I usually jump on board with someone early. I’m starting to lean, which is to say I’m down to three names. Maybe four.

A few things about current candidates have come to mind this week.

  • With Gov. Bobby Jindal at Red State Gathering, 2013.
    With Gov. Bobby Jindal at Red State Gathering, 2013.

    My best wishes to Bobby Jindal, who has just suspended his campaign. (By the way, candidates, enough with this “suspended” business. Just once I’d like to hear a departing candidate simply say “I’m outta here.”) I’m interested in what’s next for the man who met Planned Parenthood protests by publicly showing the Center for Medical Progress videos on the lawn of the governor’s mansion in Louisiana.

  • I am not a Jeb Bush partisan at this point, but I hope the people who are pounding him – have you seen his poll numbers? – recall his refusal as Florida governor to participate in the starvation of Terri Schiavo in 2005. I honor him for that, whatever real or perceived defects he might have as a presidential candidate.
  • …which brings me to Dr. Ben Carson, who as near as I can tell is a fine and gifted man who spent decades saving children’s lives. Full marks for that. He’s off my short list, though – until and unless there’s a retraction – thanks to these remarks he made a few days ago about the death of Terri Schiavo, as reported by the Washington Post: “‘We face those kinds of issues all the time and while I don’t believe in euthanasia, you have to recognize that people that are in that condition do have a series of medical problems that occur that will take them out….Your job [as a doctor] is to keep them comfortable throughout that process and not to treat everything that comes up.’ When the reporter asked whether Carson thought it was necessary for Congress to intervene, he said: ‘I don’t think it needed to get to that level. I think it was much ado about nothing.'”
Dr. Ben Carson at CPAC 2013. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
Dr. Ben Carson at CPAC 2013. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

Let that one roll around your brain for awhile. “That condition,” for Ms. Schiavo, was a brain injury. “Not treat everything that comes up”: you mean like removal of her feeding tube? That isn’t something that “comes up.” It’s something that was imposed. Schiavo died 13 days after her nutrition and hydration were withdrawn. (“Take them out,” indeed.) I’m not a fan of the death penalty, least of all when disability is the reason for imposing it.

True confession: I’m not likely to pick up a Democratic ballot in February (indie voter, open primary), unless I see a tactical advantage in doing so. Requiring humans to be “wanted” before a right to life attaches, promoting compulsory public support for abortion providers, opposition to Little Sisters of the Poor in their resistance to the HHS mandate: I’ll pass. Don’t preen, GOP; two words: “capital punishment.”

“Clarifying” life-sustaining care in NH: don’t take water for granted

With little fanfare, a bill making a significant change in the definition of life-sustaining care is now under consideration in Concord. I attended the hearing to find out what was behind the legislation. As has been the case time & again on the end-of-life bills I’ve monitored through the past couple of decades, the most interesting remarks didn’t come from the sponsor. Also, once again, I heard medical and social-service professionals blur the distinctions among terminal illness, “permanent unconsciousness,” and non-terminal physical disability.

Calling New Hampshire’s advance directive law “cumbersome,” Sen. Peggy Gilmour (D-Hollis) introduced SB 170 to her New Hampshire Senate colleagues on the Health, Education, and Human Services committee earlier this week, with support from four co-sponsors. According to the bill’s formal analysis, it “clarifies the definition of life-sustaining treatment to include nutrition and hydration for purposes of an advance directive.” Gilmour, a nurse, said “Our [the legislature’s] job is to make this a process that promotes advance planning. This bill clears up confusion.”

Under the current state law regarding living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care, “medically administered” food and water are treated separately from all other forms of medical care and life-sustaining treatment,  Food and water have been considered, well, normal. SB 170 would change that, rolling food & water into the same category as dialysis and mechanical respiration.

Testifying in favor of SB 170 were a physician, an Episcopal priest, and the executive directors of the Foundation for Healthy Communities, the NH Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, and the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities. All had the same message: SB 170 would simplify, clarify, and reduce confusion over the existing law. No one testified as an individual patient or patient’s family member.

Rep. Lenette Peterson (R-Merrimack) was not won over. She called SB 170 “bait and switch to the people of New Hampshire, who think of food and water as ordinary treatment. Will insurance companies refuse to cover nutrition and hydration [as part of end-of-life care] if it’s considered ‘life-sustaining’ treatment?” She added that the bill is a danger to people with disabilities who rely on so-called artificial feeding, even though they are not terminally ill.

Not so, said Sen. Gilmour. People with disabilities who are not terminally ill “should not be affected by this. [Their] choices are not being taken away.”  So far, so good. But then the Episcopal priest gave the game away, in a manner of speaking. This Canon, an obviously-compassionate man of over 40 years experience in pastoral ministry, said of end-of-life planning that people “don’t really understand the complexity of this issue” and “they mention Terri Schiavo.”

The good priest was present to endorse SB 170 and its “clarification.” Would that really help people understand the complexity of the issue? Do he and his parishioners who mention Terri Schiavo understand that while she had brain damage, she was not terminally ill, but instead died of starvation and dehydration nearly two weeks after being deprived of food and water? For a review of Schiavo’s long illness and eventual court-imposed death, see here.

And then there was the testimony of Carol Stamatakis of the NH Council on Developmental Disabilities. She dismissed Rep. Peterson’s concern about how people consider food and water to be ordinary care. “From a legal and constitutional perspective, food and water is medical treatment.” She did acknowledge that “for some people, this is a religious distinction,” and she was sure that such religious beliefs were accommodated under SB 170.

I suppose I should be relieved to have my religious beliefs accommodated in Concord. But think about what I heard. It’s OK for me to think that nutrition and hydration are ordinary and even palliative, as long as I understand that the medical professionals know better. Hmmm.

Also, what’s the result of the “confusion” mentioned by the bill’s supporters? Is it just that not enough advance directives are being signed? Perhaps people aren’t signing because they don’t want such a document. Some of SB 170’s supporters speculated that this is all because people are in denial about death. I caught a whiff of the-pros-know-best, which is a far cry from respecting a patient’s wishes.

Shortly after the hearing, I forwarded my notes to some friends and colleagues familiar with the end-of-life landscape from personal, medical, and political angles. Response was quick and unanimous: this bill means trouble for people with disabilities who can’t speak for themselves. I was given access to a message that has since been sent to the committee by Diane Coleman of Not Dead Yet, a national grassroots disability rights group. Coleman gave four reasons for keeping nutrition and hydration separate under law from other life-sustaining treatments.

  • Many non-terminal conditions related to swallowing prevent safe oral ingestion of food and fluids.
  • People who need tube feeding on a long-term basis, for example people with brain injury or a developmental disability, are disabled under law, and protection of this group is subject to a variety of laws to prevent discrimination.
  • Many people with an uncertain prognosis may depend on tube feeding and intravenous fluids temporarily, but then recover. Cutting off fluids at that stage of uncertainty creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of death.
  • Many people in assisted-living situations need assistance to eat orally, but may be insufficient staff to handle the feedings. In some settings, tube feeding is used for that reason alone.

Coleman concluded that life support has become “an increasingly pejorative term,” and said that sweeping food and fluids into that category actually undermines informed consent. She does not support SB 170.

Sen. Gilmour’s bill, if it respects religious beliefs as Ms. Stamatakis says, will let me specify that I do not wish to be dehydrated to death.  It is profoundly troubling to me that I’d have to put that in writing in order for an end-of-life “health care” provider to know what to do.

As of today, no date has been set for a committee vote. Action by the full Senate will come by the end of March.