Tuesday, March 29, 2005

What if Terri Schiavo was black?

By Mark Kittel

On March 15, the following article appeared on the nbcsandiego.com web site.


In Houston on Tuesday, March 15, a critically ill infant that was being kept on life support at Texas Children’s Hospital died when life support was removed. The baby’s mother had had an injunction in place that was keeping the child on life support. A judge lifted that injunction, allowing the doctors to remove a life support system that they felt was futile; the boy had been born with a genetic disorder that gave him a heart and lungs too small to support life independently. As the hospital’s official statement said, “… We are deeply saddened that no treatment can save this child. It would be unethical to continue with care that is futile and prolongs [the boy’s] suffering.”

Not long before protesters from many states began converging on Florida to demand that Governor Bush take drastic steps to save Terri Schiavo, including demands to send in armed soldiers to remove her from the hospice, this 5 month old infant died without much notice and certainly without anyone but his mother protesting the decision to remove life support. And unlike Terri Schiavo, who has no hope of recovering from her condition through treatment or surgery, this baby did actually have a chance at living – if a suitable donor or donors for organ transplant could have been found. Of course this would have required keeping the child on life support long enough to live until such surgery could take place, and the cost of that hospital stay plus the cost of the surgery would have been astronomical. But there was that slim chance.

Why was there no one to protest the judge’s decision in this infant’s case?

It could be something as simple as the fact that the mother and child are not wealthy white people. They are black, and the mother is of average economic standing. Although the article does not state so, it is not likely that the mother could have afforded long-term life support costs nor could have afforded the surgery – and even if she did have medical insurance coverage, there’s little chance that an insurance company would agree to pay the costs of the long-term support and surgery.

Certainly, if you were to present this case to any of the people that are vigorously trying to save Terri Schiavo, they would likely side with the mother and excoriate the hospital for making a decision in favor of death over life. Not one would say that the child was not worth saving, and thus should have been allowed to die. Nor would any explicitly state that a black child’s life was worth less than that of a white woman.

But this case got little exposure in the national press, and there were no AM radio talk-show hosts that led a fight for the child’s life. Unlike Bob and Mary Schindler, this boy’s mother is not wealthy and does not have the means to hire top-notch lawyers to fight her case for her. And without that kind of national press and attention, the case drew no notice or interest from the Texas governor, the president, or, really, anyone else.

So ask the question: if Terri Schiavo were not white and not wealthy, would there be anyone at all to demand that she be kept alive?

Say Terri was not a wealthy white woman, and instead was a Mexican immigrant whose family was relying on government assistance (read: taxpayer money) for medical care. In all honesty, how many people now fighting to save her life would be willing to put their taxes towards keeping Terri alive indefinitely?

Sadly, I don't think anyone now storming the hospice doors and being arrested for trying to bring food and water to Terri would be so quick to take such measures if that were the case. I heard Rush Limbaugh tell a caller that he didn't see the harm in simply feeding Terri and keeping her alive. I'm sure he'd have been very quick to identify the harm had he been responsible for even one dollar of her care.


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