Nine years after her death, the “aftermath” of Terri Schiavo continues to be distorted by the New York Times

By Dave Andrusko

Terri Schiavo

Terri Schiavo

If you didn’t follow the terribly tragedy that was the unnecessary death of Terri Schiavo, it might shock you how much misinformation, snarky commentary, and relevant facts that did not make their way into Clyde Haberman’s 1,057-word-long Sunday story, “From Private Ordeal to National Fight: The Case of Terri Schiavo.” If you did, as National Right to Life did, it comes as no surprise whatsoever.

Haberman’s narrative twist is derived his two clever by twenty lead paragraph:

“Her surname in Italian means ‘slave,’ and is pronounced skee-AH-vo. Grim as it may be, the word could apply to Theresa Marie Schiavo, even with its Americanized pronunciation: SHY-vo.”

Naturally, as do all those who defend Terri’s 2005 death by starvation and dehydration, Haberman gives the back of his hand to lawmakers in Florida, the United State Congress, and President George W. Bush for trying to save a woman who long-since estranged husband who was adamant that her feeding tube should be withdrawn and that her parents and siblings would not be allowed to take her home to care for her.

To Haberman, it’s just a big [bogus] “national morality play” that cynical politicians foisted on their “slave,” Terri Schiavo. Better her family fight their battle with her estranged husband out of the public eye.

But the Schindlers were made of sterner stuff than Haberman and did everything humanly possible to save Terri.

Three quick points about the article which is accompanied by a video that is part of what The New York Times pompously calls “Retro Report.” What’s that? It “re-examines leading stories of decades past” as “a thoughtful counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle. “ (I could not get the video to download, so I will return to what is said there, hopefully, tomorrow.)

First, if Haberman wasn’t so bent on turning what happen to Terri into his own morality play, he might have recalled that “Schiavo” is her married name. Her maiden name was Schindler. That gives a whole new twist, does it not, to his slave metaphor?

Second,

“Mr. Schiavo wanted to detach the feeding tube that gave her nourishment. Terri never would have wanted to be kept alive that way, he said. The Schindlers insisted that the tube be kept in place.”

Nothing in the story gives the reader even a passing sense of what it is to be starved and dehydrated to death, or that there was scant “evidence” Terri would have wanted her feeding tube removed.

Third, the whole point of this series is not only to view the past, but to see its “legacy” today. Haberman writes

“Larger questions remain, affecting an estimated 25,000 Americans deemed by doctors to be in a vegetative state. Complicating matters are studies like those reported last week by a team in Belgium and earlier by Adrian M. Owen, a British neuroscientist working in Canada. They have found through brain-imaging techniques that residual cognitive capacity may exist in some people classified as vegetative.

“Another issue is what qualifies as death with dignity. Is it allowing a person to go gentle into that good night of Dylan Thomas? Or does providing him or her with tools like a feeding tube allow the person to rage if possible against the dying of the light?”

A major point—perhaps the most important point–of the Lancet study Haberman alludes to is that far too many people are prematurely and incorrectly diagnosed as being in a PVS “and sent to nursing homes where no effort is made to rehabilitate them, and where emerging consciousness might not even be recognized,” to quote from (ironically enough) the New York Times’ coverage of the study. (For our take, see nrlc.cc/1msh0JW.)

For a time Terri did receive rehabilitation, and the whole fight between the estranged husband and the family kicked into overdrive when he decided to stop the rehabilitation therapy.

And, for the record, the family adamantly insists Terri was not in a PVS.

Finally, Dylan Thomas’ great poem is not about going gently into any night, good or otherwise, but fighting until the very end—exactly what Terri’s parents and siblings did on her behalf.

It would almost be impossible to misrepresent the “legacy” of Terri Schiavo any more completely than has Mr. Haberman.