Hentoff too late to save Schiavo, never too late to jump in bed with evangelicals

[Updated] Nat Hentoff alleges that Terri Schiavo “is not brain-dead or comatose, and breathes naturally on her own. Although brain-damaged, she is not in a persistent vegetative state, according to an increasing number of radiologists and neurologists.” How does he know? On Democracy Now, he claimed that at the trial, five neurologists testified. Two of these testified for Michael Schiavo’s side, two for Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, and a fifth was a supposedly neutral, court-appointed neurologist, who joined with the neurologists on Michael Schiavo’s side. Which means that Nat Hentoff doesn’t know.

Given cherry-picking by both sides, we can devalue the neurologists called by Michael Schiavo and by Terri’s parents. The court, then really based its ruling on the testimony of one neurologist, who happened to fall on the side of Michael Schiavo. Hentoff alleges that “Terri Schiavo has never had an MRI or a PET scan, nor a thorough neurological examination” and quotes Republican Senate leader Bill Frist, a specialist in heart-lung transplant surgery:

“I would think you would want a complete neurological exam” before determining she must die.

Frist added: “The attorneys for Terri’s parents have submitted 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals,all of whom say that Terri should be re-evaluated.”

Nat Hentoff claims, “Ignoring the absence of complete neurological exams, supporters of the deadly decisions by Judge Greer and the trail of appellate jurists keep reminding us how extensive the litigation in this case has been—19 judges in six courts is the mantra. And more have been added.”

Neurologists disagree:

Although credible neurologists frequently dispute the accuracy of a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, some cases are open and shut. The case of Terri Schiavo is one of those, says neurologist Ronald Cranford, MD, who has examined her.

In emphatic tones, Dr. Cranford, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said in an interview that the real take home message from the Terri Schiavo case is this: “no credible neurologist came forward to challenge that diagnosis.”

Meanwhile, a social conservative judge on the 11th Circuit Court, in response to yet another Schindler petition, went “out of his way to directly criticize the Congress and President Bush for what they’ve done,” David J. Garrow, a legal historian at Emory University, said. According to the New York Times,

    Judge [Stanley F.] Birch wrote, a provision of the new law requiring a fresh federal review of all the evidence presented in the case made it unconstitutional. Because that provision constitutes “legislative dictation of how a federal court should exercise its judicial functions,” he wrote, it “invades the province of the judiciary and violates the separation of powers principle.”

As if in response, “House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Thursday blamed Terri Schiavo’s death on what he contended was a failed legal system and he raised the possibility of trying to impeach some of the federal judges in the case.”

Hentoff is clearly outraged. Appearing with him on Democracy Now was Jamin Raskin, professor of Law at American University, whose last intelligible words on the program were an attempt to extract from Hentoff an answer to a simple question: Would Hentoff, if Terri Schiavo were known to be effectively brain-dead, agree to let her die? At that point, both spoke over each other, rendering themselves unintelligible.

In the unlikely event a mistake has been made, it is now moot. According to a UPI report,” Terri Schiavo’s body was loaded into a white van Thursday and taken to the Pinellas County, Fla., medical examiner’s office for an autopsy,” which had been agreed to both by Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers, but that “Doctors are divided over how far the autopsy would go to settle the dispute. Many say it is not expected to do much more than confirm what brain imaging has already shown.” [emphasis added]

Brain imaging? What would be the point of an MRI or a PET scan if not to image the brain? According to the Los Angeles Times, a CT scan was taken in 2002. “[D]octors said it was probable that pathologists would find severe damage.”

The physical state of a brain is no clear evidence of consciousness. Patients can have relatively normal-looking brains, yet suffer from profound brain damage, said Dr. Martin A. Samuels, chairman of the department of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Hentoff raises serious-sounding questions. But he jumps from an absence of evidence to a presumption that Terri Schiavo was indeed in a minimally conscious state. And, being wrong about the absence of brain imaging, he denies the existence of evidence which has already been submitted to the judiciary and reviewed in so many courts.

Immaculate STD infections

This took way too long to find its way to me, and much of it is not terribly surprising:

Young adults who take virginity pledges as adolescents are as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases as those who do not take virginity pledges, Yale and Columbia University researchers report in the March 18 issue of Journal of Adolescent Health.

The research reiterates what was already pretty well established about abstinence pledges:

One reason is that sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms at first sex than non-pledgers. Because most pledgers are sexually active (88 percent of the pledgers), lower rates of condom use increases STD risk. [Hannah] Brückner, [assistant professor of sociology at Yale University,] and [Peter] Bearman, [professor of sociology at Columbia University,] also note that pledgers were less likely to seek and obtain STD-related health care, possibly because of increased stigmatization or misperception of infection risk among pledgers. Because pledgers are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for STD infections, they may be more likely to have those infections for longer periods than non-pledgers.

And, of course, going untreated raises the likelihood they’ll pass their nasty social diseases onto someone else. Something I hadn’t heard before was that pledgers were more likely to engage in non-vaginal sex:

Pledging may lead some young adults to engage in alternative sexual behaviors in order to preserve their virginity. Among virgins–those who have not had vaginal intercourse–male pledgers are four times more likely to have anal sex; male and female pledgers are six times more likely to have oral sex than non-pledgers. Condom use for anal sex is very low; for oral almost non-existent. Therefore, Brückner said, virgin pledger engagement in riskier behavior may be a factor in higher than expected STD rates.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services has put up a new website which, according to the The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, “presents biased and inaccurate advice to parents on how to talk to their children about sex and emphasizes abstinence.”

Said Bill Pierced, a spokesman for the Department, “One thing we do know about abstinence is that if you practice it, you will not have an unintended pregnancy or risk catching a sexually transmitted disease.”

Documented chain of responsibility in Abu Ghraib reaches higher

Der Spiegel is reporting that, “General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the US forces in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, authorized interrogation techniques that included putting prisoners in stressful physical positions and changing sleep patterns, according to an internal US memo obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Tuesday.” The memo was rescinded about a month later, “because of objections raised by military lawyers over its legality.”

The ACLU and Human Rights First have sued Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and are seeking to establish that, “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody.”

Not an April Fool’s joke

Early this morning, I announced to the crew of the San Francisco chapter of Starfleet International, the USS Augusta Ada my intention to step down at the end of my present term, in October. It has been a pleasure to serve as captain for this crew, but I have reached the end of my effectiveness in this position, and I frankly need to focus on my studies at CSU East Bay (formerly CSU Hayward) and on my own life.

The timing of the announcement, being on April Fool’s Day, is unfortunate, but should give the crew ample time to come up with a successor.

Judge puts a brake on extra-judicial Guantanamo transfers

According to the Washington Post, a judge has ruled against the Pentagon, which had hoped to send 13 Guantanamo detainees to countries where they may force torture. The Pentagon must provide 30 days advance notice to allow the detainees’ lawyers to file an appeal.

    “They got the wrong guys at the wrong place,” said Michael Ratner, of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “These people were imprisoned, interrogated and tortured for no reason. So now the government wants to get rid of them, because they just can’t justify what they’ve done.”

As a result of this ruling, the detainees should get their day in court, and the courts should establish oversight over Guantanamo Bay operations and control over detainee transfers.

Democrats merge with Republicans in all but name

Hard on the heels of Jesse Jackson praying with the Schindlers (Terri Schiavo’s parents), comes “word that Senator Hillary Clinton has joined right wing advocates in decrying the gaming industry as a paragon of loose morals and corrupting influences. From the article: “Children are playing a game that encourages them to have sex with prostitutes and then murder them…This is a silent epidemic of media desensitisation that teaches kids it’s OK to diss people because they are a woman, they’re a different colour or they’re from a different place.”

So the game isn’t exactly savory. But censorship poses its own historically well-established set of problems, and the harms posed by this game are assumed, not proven. With the most scarily secretive presidential administration in history, we need to work on opening society, not clamping down on it.

Rev. Jesse Jackson over the edge

It was bad enough that Jesse Jackson hosted Michael Jackson on his radio show, in which the “King of Pop actually compared his child molestation prosecution to the persecution suffered by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and boxing champions Muhammad Ali and Jack Johnson.” Now the Reverend, who, as I recall, pointed to jobs and health care as being more relevant than stem cell research and gay marriage, has joined with Terri Schiavo’s parents in prayer, condemning the removal of her feeding tube. “‘I feel so passionate about this injustice being done, how unnecessary it is to deny her a feeding tube, water, not even ice to be used for her parched lips,’ he said. ‘This is a moral issue and it transcends politics and family disputes.'”