A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"If you don't have money in this country, you're nothing. You're not a human being."

Her name was Tirhas Habtegiris. She was 27 years old. She was a legal immigrant from East Africa. She had cancer. She was on a respirator at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas. [Of course it was Texas! Where else?] She wanted to see her mother in East Africa before she died. But she had no health insurance.

Because she had no health insurance, no nursing home or other facility in the area would take on the hospice care of her last days, which were quite clearly numbered in any case. There was no serious question of her lingering even for months, let alone years. Terminal cancer doesn't let you do that. So no bank was going to be broken nor annual report ruined by caring for her.

Baylor Regional Medical Center, gave her family 10 days notice and then pulled the respirator themselves. They pulled it, without asking her, while Tirhas was still conscious and perfectly aware that she was being deliberately suffocated. They pulled it while her family was there to watch the process, even though the family disagreed with decision. Tirhas suffocated consciously and knowingly for about 15 minutes.

All for the crime of having no health insurance. All for the crime of being an immigrant. All for the crime of being black.

How can they do that? Good question. There's a law in Texas, which was signed by George W. Bush when he was governor, that allows them to do that. It allows them to say that you won't survive anyway, so we will simply stop caring for you, whatever your wishes about the matter.

Now a lawyer who worked on the law said that money had nothing to do with any such legal decisions and only clinical matters are considered.

But I am perfectly certain that the 12 institutions the hospital says they contacted for transfer to hospice care would have been perfectly willing to accept the transfer if Tirhas Habtegiris, or her family, had had health insurance.

So I think Tirhas' brother, Daniel Salvi, is pretty close to correct in saying, "If you don't have money in this country, you're nothing. You're not a human being." At least pretty close to correct down in Plano.

I'm also pretty certain that the powers that be in the hospital are not willing to confront that possibility, since they are not willing to be interviewed to defend their decision. After all, the law is on their side, so they don't have to defend a damn thing.


Oh, by the way, Mrs. Claus is doing fine after her gallbladder surgery.


Of course, I was curious, so just I plugged that very distinctive name into Google and Google News to see who might have had something to say about it. A couple of Texas TV stations were the only ones who appear to have picked it up--that and a handful of liberal blogs like mine.

So far, you don't hear of James Dobson talking about it, and I don't believe you will. You don't here of Tom DeLay threatening judges over it, and I don't believe you will. You don't hear Glenn Beck beating the tom-toms on talk radio for years over it, and I don't believe you will. Nor Bill O'Reilly, nor David Limbaugh, nor Jeb Bush, nor Bill Frist, nor Dick Cheney, nor Arlen Spector, nor any of those sterling Senators and Representatives who trumped up Terri's Law.

There's no promotional or political mileage to be gained by championing the right to life of a black African immigrant with no health insurance. Not in Texas. Not in Washington. Not anywhere else. There just isn't. So you won't hear of George W. Bush interrupting his vacation to fly to Washington on Tirhas Habtegiris' account. And even then, as Shakespeare once put it, "That was in another country, and, besides, the wench is dead."

My friend the Anchoress has an excellent blogroll where you might have read all you ever needed to know about Terri Schiavo, and what the Anchoress calls the fight against the Culture of the Deatheaters. Here are a few of them: View From the Pew, Gateway Pundit, Oh How I Love Jesus, La Shawn Barber, Captain's Quarters, Musing Minds, Cartago Delenda Est, and Polipundit.

To set up this list, I visited their current pages. As of this evening there is nothing at all on any of them about Tirhas Habtegiris, the Baylor Regional Medical Center, or the law in Texas which allows the latter to make the decision unilaterally to pull the plug on the former.

And certainly no mention of the fact that George W. Bush signed that law.

Do you suppose that could be because Tirhas didn't have any health insurance, was a legal African immigrant, or was black? Or is it just because these fine bloggers haven't yet heard of the incident?

I would like to think the latter, so if anybody catches anything new that they might have said about it after I post this, please place a comment here citing it. Or any other new blogs of note referring to it, for that matter.

There's no villain of a husband to revile, there's no court system--whose judges you don't like anyway--to excoriate, and no Knights in Shining Armor in the political party of your choice fighting against all odds to prevent the atrocity.

There is simply no drama in a few poor immigrants at the bedside of a young woman subjected to a legal execution just a shade more unpleasant that the ones Texas carries out with such gusto on its murderers. There is no drama even in the executioners, who are also the judge and jury: unnamed members of the Baylor Regional Medical Center Clinical Ethics Committee.

Without real drama, what do our political Drama Queens of the Blogosphere have to write about?

They could, of course, like Hannah Arendt, examine the banality of evil in anonymous doctors deliberately deciding who lives and who dies in the name of "clinical ethics". But then they would actually have to read Hannah Arendt, and they wouldn't like her much.

If my blogging friends tried to write about it, they would have to confront the issues, like legal immigration, like health insurance, like de facto power of execution being deputized by state law to anonymous doctors, beyond whom there is no appeal. These are the sorts of issues that don't reinforce your own view that you have all the answers, merely because you don't like Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, or Markos Moultisas Zuniga.

If they're willing to try, I wish them luck.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you know that she was a legal immigrant, I could find no reference to her immigration status in the news article. What country is "East Africa", there is no such country on the map.

How coherent was she (had the cancer spread to her brain?).

Did the family ask friends and the community for donations, pledge assets to the hospital (or do they have no funds of their own). Is there a fund for the treatment of the terminally ill and indigent that we can donate to so these cases can be prevented?

It seems that there is a lot that we do not know in this case, so perhaps we should not rush to judgement.

Also, doctors cannot give life in cases such as this, the best they can do is to forestall death a little more.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Any answers you might give to these questions would not alter the central issue one jot. She was a human being who had exactly the same thing happen to her as happens to Texas murderers--she was put to death, in accord with the law, while conscious and in front of her family. What was her crime?

It seems to me that, under the circumstances, that is the only question worth asking.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Shane Matthews said...

Not true, Joseph. The hospital stopped treating her; that is all. She wasn't pumped full of poisonous chemicals; she wasn't slit open from crotch to throat; she wasn't beheaded; she wasn't shot through the brain. She died of her illness. And if not for the hospital's intervention, she would have died of it a lot sooner.

Murder comprises an act; ergo, inaction cannot be termed murder, or even homicide. Withdrawal of treatment amounts to inaction, not action. Nor can indifference be equated with malevolence. This is a distinction that a lot of anti-establishment types seem to have trouble making.

Anonymous makes perfectly valid points; we have only the family's version of events. It doesn't take a judge with forty years on the bench to know that family members aren't the most objective of witnesses.

Compelling people to offer their services or labour against their will, with or without compensation, is called slavery. You wouldn't work for nothing; why should a hospital? And how many patients without health insurance have *you* sent financial assistance to?

7:52 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

I have no health insurance. I have not had any since 2001. I subsist on the managed charity care of a consortium of doctors in my City, just like I blog for free on Blogger.

If push came to shove I would simply die untreated and it is virtually certain that my life will be shortened by at least five years because of it. Since I am a religous man, I have come to terms with both of these things.

I will you three simple questions.

Would you have the nerve to say the things you have written here to the dying, or their family personally, and to their face? I wouldn't, even if I thought it true.

Would you have the nerve to face probing interview questions on camera over it? The committee that made the decision didn't.

Finally, if this were a mere monetary matter, why did the hospital not simply turn the family away in the first place? Would you do that?

8:32 AM  
Blogger Shane Matthews said...

The answers to your questions are as follows:

1) Yes. You don't get a free ride from me unless I'm convinced you've earned one, however heartbreaking your tale. If they can't handle the truth, or at least what I believe it to be, that is their problem, and none of mine.

2) Why should I agree to an interview? It is none of the media's business. I don't have to justify my views to them or anyone. The fact that I'm not a media whore doesn't mean I'm a coward, or a hypocrite.

3) We don't know it was a monetary matter, although that probably played a role. Generally hospitals are willing to extend credit to patients and bill them later. Perhaps the family was less than honest about their financial situation.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Shane Matthews said...

Sorry if this turns out to be a double post; for some reason the original shows on the posting page, but not the title page.

The answers to your questions are as follows:

1) Yes. You don't get a free ride from me unless I'm convinced you've earned one, however heartbreaking your tale. If they can't handle the truth, or at least what I believe it to be, that is their problem, and none of mine.

2) Why should I agree to an interview? It is none of the media's business. I don't have to justify my views to them or anyone. The fact that I'm not a media whore doesn't mean I'm a coward, or a hypocrite.

3) We don't know it was a monetary matter, although that probably played a role. Generally hospitals are willing to extend credit to patients and bill them later. Perhaps the family was less than honest about their financial situation.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Shane Matthews said...

I think your blog has a few bugs. :-(

12:59 PM  
Anonymous James R. said...

I realize you created this post a long time ago, but I thought that I might correct a mistake in Shane Mathews comment. The Texas hospital's actions could quite possibly qualify as murder. Murder does not require an action; inaction can be sufficient. Here, after the hospital had assumed the care of a helpless person, decided to cut off that care. And, because it did so, she died. But for this Texas law, it would be murder.

Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought.

Malice merely requires that there be an intent to kill, an intent to inflict great bodily injury, an intent to commit a felony, or reckless indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to human life. Here, there was likely an unjustifiably high risk to human life; after all, it was certain that she would die as a result of the conduct and the doctors quite obviously knew this. Thus, requirement of malice is satisfied.

Additionally, as stated above, the doctors' actions are the cause of the death. It does not matter that she would have eventually died anyway. If I smother a man who is hours from death, I am still a murderer. There is no valid distinction here.

Accordingly, without this law, I would be willing to prosecute these doctors.

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