Push-Polling for Euthanasia? Public Opinion and the Schiavo Case

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 18, 2005 | Go to article overview

Push-Polling for Euthanasia? Public Opinion and the Schiavo Case


Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

During the intense national debate about the worth of Terri Schiavo's life, a majority of Americans agreed with her husband that they would not want to continue living. But when the pollsters called, did they describe the actual facts of her condition to get the responses that created and confused the national response?

One of the most widely circulated telephone polls was the ABC News poll. Its interviewers told those who picked up the phone: "Schiavo suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 16 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness, and her condition is irreversible." Although Terri was brain-damaged, she was not on a respirator or any other machinery. She was breathing naturally and was fed three times a day through a feeding tube. This was not "life support," as most of us interpret that term.

Furthermore, a considerable number of neurologists claimed that she was conscious and responsive in ways that were more than just reflexes. They and a number of radiologists also noted that her condition was not irreversible and might be improved through new and advanced methods of therapy (which her husband had denied her for years).

Other pollsters flatly said in their calls that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state, but that, too, was denied by dissenting neurologists whose affidavits are also part of the court record. The definition of PVS in Florida Statute 765.101 is: "The absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of any kind, and an inability to communicate or interact purposefully" with other people.

I have statements from people who spent time with Terri during her final weeks, and they describe decidedly meaningful and purposeful interaction with her environment.

But with these inaccurately worded polls creating a grave misconception of her condition around the nation and worldwide, it was inevitable that, as one person in Detroit told a BBC interviewer: "There's too much talk about life, and not about the quality of life." Those who support euthanasia, or "merciful pulling of the plug," believe that certain people's "quality of life" does not warrant their staying alive.

These are compassionate Americans, who, this time, have been misled by the polls and the media's careless, lazy reporting on the Terri Schiavo case.

In the March 24 Newsday, before Terri died, Cathy Cleaver Ruse, of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, accurately and bluntly revealed the inexcusable incompetence of the pollsters: "The (ABC News) poll also says the family disagreement is whether she would have wanted to 'be kept alive. …

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