Saturday, June 18, 2005

Schiavo and the charlatans

Detroit Free Press

Schiavo and the charlatans


June 17, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he had no regrets.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said he had no apologies.

And Dr. Bill Hammesfahr, the neurologist who assured millions of TV viewers that Terri Schiavo's condition was eminently treatable, said he had no comment.

It's understandable that all three men were at a momentary loss for words this week when they learned that a postmortem examination of Schiavo's withered brain had demolished virtually every claim they'd made about her medical condition last March. (You know, back in the good ol' days when the scientists hadn't quite caught up with the propagandists, and when shameless opportunists like Frist, DeLay and Hammesfahr could score hours of free airtime just by uttering Schiavo's name.)

But how, in the name of decency, can they square their previous statements about Schiavo with what we now know to be true?

Here, for the record, is a reminder of what each man did say:

Frist, speaking on the Senate floor March 17: "Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she (Schiavo) does respond."

DeLay, in a March 18 speech to the Family Research Council: "One thing God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America. That Americans would be so barbaric as to pull a feeding tube out of a person that is lucid and starve them to death for two weeks -- I mean, in America that's going to happen if we don't win this fight."

Hammesfahr, in a March 21 interview on Fox News: "Terri is completely aware and conscious and responsive. She is like a child with cerebral palsy. We have kids in the Pinellas County school system every day that are much worse than her, that we're educating."

Now, after an unusually thorough autopsy, we know that each of these assertions was certifiably brain-dead.

Schiavo could not have been responsive, much less "lucid," when congressional Republicans decided to make her the hapless poster child for their "culture of life" campaign. Her brain had atrophied to half its normal size, and neither her doctors, nor the Pinellas County public schools offered her any hope for recovery.

What's in order now for these bloviating charlatans is a triple serving of humble pie.

For Frist, I suggest something like this: "I apologize to Michael Schiavo, and to other Americans who may have erroneously concluded, based on my representations as a licensed physician, that Mr. Schiavo misled the public about his wife's medical condition."

For DeLay: "Another thing God has brought us is irrefutable evidence that I am utterly out of my depth when it comes to assessing neurological damage. I won't do it again."

And for Hammesfahr: "As the autopsy results make clear, my prognosis for Terri Schiavo's recovery was utterly fanciful. (And yes, I lied about having been nominated for a Nobel Prize in medicine.)"

The facts speak for themselves, of course. But couldn't Frist, DeLay and Hammesfahr at least acknowledge them?

Contact BRIAN DICKERSON at 248-351-3697 or