Race-Baiting At “The Root”

The African-American news and commentary site The Root has plowed some new ground in the field of disgusting race-baiting.  An article by Charles D. Ellison argued that the same conservatives who fought to block Terri Shiavo’s husband from authorizing the withholding of her food so his vegetative wife could die should be supporting Jahi McMath’s parents’ efforts to keep their brain dead 13-year-old daughter on life support. That they are not, he suggests, is because Terri was white, and Jahi is black.

I wrote about Schiavo’s plight here, over at the Ethics Scoreboard, in 2005. I wrote recently about Jahi McMath, here. There is no inconsistency in my positions, but there is also none in the reactions of some conservatives to the two cases, because they are not comparable. Here’s  Billy Crystal explaining the divergence exquisitely in “The Princess Bride”:

In Billy’s words, Jahi is all dead. She is brain dead, which is to say, dead. Keeping her on life support is a waste of resources, and a tragic exercise in denial. Terri was mostly dead, and was never getting better. Most of her brain was gone, but her vital functions were still operating. Conservatives regarded the withholding of food from her as murder, just as they oppose the destruction of frozen embryos that will never be born.

They were wrong to try to interfere in Terri’s case, but that is irrelevant here. There is no racism involved at all. If Jahi were white, she would still be all dead, and even the most doctrinaire conservatives don’t believe that dead people should be kept on respirators.

The Root’s piece is dishonest, ill-informed, hateful and unfair.


Pointer: Althouse

44 thoughts on “Race-Baiting At “The Root”

  1. I saw a piece I agreed with, I couldn’t say where, highlighting how scientific illiteracy is giving people wrong ideas about this case. Basically, if you know what you’re talking about, “Brain dead” means “all dead.” But to the uninformed, it sounds like it must NOT mean “all dead.” If she were all dead, we’d just say “she’s dead,” right? The fact that we qualify the word “dead” means it must not be complete. It almost sounds like she’s in a coma, or a vegetative state, and maybe she could come back?

  2. The facts are clearly different in ways critical to decision-making.

    An informed, ethical, race-neutral decision maker could arrive at different conclusions in the two cases.

    Starting from that common ground, though, there’s still room to question the consistency of the multiple conservative activists who did not care about the facts in the Teri Schiavo case.

    • Oh, a followup I just found featuring public advocacy for keeping the corpse ventilated:

      “The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, founded in the memory of Terri Schiavo, the woman whose husband had her removed from life support against the wishes of her parents, has also said that Jahi ‘is a living person,’ since she has ‘a beating heart, circulation and respiration, the ability to metabolize nutrition and more.’

      From the Christian Science Monitor. I believe a paragraph is fair use.

      The “most doctrinaire conservatives” do in fact believe in keeping this cadaver on a ventilator. (Thus partially refuting Mr. Ellison).

      So, then, there are people willing to pretend the poor girl is alive, but nobody willing to crank up the noise machine to make her a cause celebre.

      There’s no evidence the difference is racial though. Is it unethical to write an editorial based on an unfounded suspicion? The case for a “yes” answer is that this one aggravated the already tortured state of racial politics in the US, and every journalist has a device called a “telephone” with which they can ask the former Schiavo activists what’s going on. The duty of inquiry should be especially binding on a journalist.

  3. “If Jahi were white, she would still be all dead, and even the most doctrinaire conservatives don’t believe that dead people should be kept on respirators.”

    Perhaps he and his ilk have their own special type of conservatism but it seems that Huckabee has weighed in and compared the actions of the hospital to abortion…and Nazi death camps. I’m sure that others will follow.

    • Well, that should make the Root happy then—consistent idiocy. I’m sure this is based on the “doctors are sometimes wrong, and she might wake up any day” theory.

      I had to pull the plug on my Mom when she was pronounced brain dead. It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t a tough decision either: I made it in about 15 seconds. Dead is dead. Being kept breathing after death is a nightmare.

  4. Not “even the most doctrinaire conservatives believe that dead people should be kept on respirators.”

    And not even the most unfeeling of conservatives should be over-eager to force a family to consent to saving resources by ending the life support of a 13 year old daughter that they believe (however stupidly) to be still alive.

    Can Jahi’s family be required by the nation to take the medical science over their most heart felt desire that their daughter should live? The nation can’t even ensure that the family members are culturally literate, actually literate or accept the theory of evolution.

    Jahi is all dead, but it is not possible for the family to all-know that. So they may turn to racism to explain the disparity. Regrettable, but understandable.

    • Really? What if they want to keep a dead dog breathing? Or a goldfish? Or a pet rock? How many thousands does compassion obligate society to spend in the name of sentimental ignorance? My view: none. “It’s stupid, but I understand how they can feel this way” is also the rationalization given for those who claim that jury was racist to acquit Zimmerman. If you want to hook your dead daughter up to life support and keep her at the dinner table, like Jeremy Bentham’s stuffed corpse at the U. of London, be my guest, but don’t you dare ask me to pay for it. Your dead daughter, your nickle. Feeling sympathy for the parents does not mandate indulging fantasy.

    • No “unfeeling” conservative would be over-eager to force a family to “consent to saving resources”… They would merely compel the family to expend their OWN resources and not those of the community. The decision would then rest with the family to conserve resources or not.

      “Regrettable, but understandable” is a terrible rationalization that places the responsibility of other people’s emotional reactions on third parties. That’s the same rationalization that leads to people saying “you can’t draw cartoons of Mohammad because you know how those muslims will react”. I don’t care how they will react, it’s not my problem that they react disproportionately and inappropriately to my behavior which does not actively harm anyone.

      So no, I don’t regret that they turn to accusations of racism when my voice in the community says, “you get to pay for your lost cause, not me”. I may be disappointed, but no self-convicting emotions are due.

  5. Normally this would be sorted out by a sound relationship between doctor and next of kin. I have never heard of any contractual arrangement or charitable undertaking where what you describe (leaning on the next of kin forcing them to do something they believe is unethical) would be permitted. Incapable end of life medical care is always a matter of the next of kin advised medically as far as i know (30 years in UK NHS tech. medical support – 11 years in neonatal intensive care, I’d be surprised to be wrong for US medical ethics, possible, but I’d be surprised).
    There are no contracts or arrangements for animals or rocks so the question doesn’t arise. The ghoulish family gathering is similarly fantastical. Don’t be flippant.

    As to how many thousands of people would be supported indefinitely, In your current system the family will soon find a doctor who they can believe. And when they do I’ll take a bet that it’s a sympathetic non-judgmental doctor who gets the job done, quietly and outside the glare of media and speculation.

    More broadly how many stupid people doing stupid things can a compassionate shared risk system support? All of them, where there’s a will. Even the smokers (stupidest and most costly of the lot). I’ve never seen a parent ‘strong armed’ in the way you indicate. We understand when there are false accusations arising from grievous experiences, which means there’s less of such claims and a lower portion come to trial. Check the litigation figures.

    Sympathy works, understanding works, politeness works, compassion works, mutual aid, solidarity, socialism it all works. Only when you are losing. Losing life. It works.

  6. “More broadly how many stupid people doing stupid things can a compassionate shared risk system support? All of them, where there’s a will.”
    A will strong enough to find a way to deny something else. No society can share every risk for every person. Some risks are not balanced by benefit and that’s where things fall apart. It sounds harsh, but not as harsh as a fickle system that has no single base non-negotiable laws behind it. Science has those non-negotiable laws and so does God.

    “Sympathy works, understanding works, politeness works, compassion works, mutual aid, solidarity, socialism it all works. Only when you are losing. Losing life. It works.”
    Maybe I’m not reading this the way you meant it. Please explain.

    • Wyogranny – I am referring to the NHS system in my country the UK. Admittting, claiming!, that the NHS has many of the vices Tex and Jack mentioned and more (compassion and so forth). And that nevertheless, it moves, it delivers healthcare, it works. And indicating some perhaps unexpected ways that it works well.

      To be honest I fnd it difficult to interpret your first paragraph. The NHS is, almost, a system whch does share all healthcare risks, The rest of your statement I can’t make out. Explain please, but only if you want to (I’m curious not desperate).

      • Strawman and an attempt to poison the well (I think… either way an unwarranted smear). A bureaucracy has NO COMPASSION. It cannot. Humans may have compassion, and those working for a bureaucracy may feel compassionately or interact compassionately, but they are limited by the regulations governing their bureaucracy… there is no compassion.

        The system Jack and I discuss DOES allow for Compassion… since compassion is a voluntary choice made by people, it cannot be compelled, as the compulsion un-defines the compassion.

        Does the NHS work?

        • A strawman is a deliberately advanced false argument somewhat like the real argument that is then destroyed to make a false claim of proof against the real argument. Yes? I honestly can’t see it, where please. Poisoning the well is a trick or error I’ve never heard of – so I may be guilty – it doesn’t sound good.

          A system cannot have compassion but compasssion can be incorporated in an organisational culture and I would confidently claim is, in the NHS.

          Disciplined compassion is pretty central to any medical culture I suspect. So maybe that’s why your penultimate phrase foxes me. Do you refer to solidarity?

          The NHS does work. Not perfectly, but it works.What test did you have in mind?

          • Read correctly, your phraseology indicates that not only do we think your system has compassion, but that we think compassion is a vice. There is a suppressed premise in there arguing against such an obviously absurd notion. A rare strawman but one nonetheless. Which is why I wonder if it actually just poisoning the well, I’ll email the “fallacy files” owner and see what he says.

            Of course, as I indicated, people can behave compassionately on the job, but are inevitably constrained in providing services out of compassion by the regulations. Your retort does not bolster your claim that the NHS is compassionate.

            Maybe an efficiency test that involves higher quality and shorter wait times for “works”?

            • OK, I’ve got your meaning now. When I focused on compassion, sympathy etc I was specifically,but implicitly, referring to compassion for stupid people who desperately want to do something stiupiid as in the case in question which you seemed to find so objectionable. A vice in fact. My bad for not speling my meaning out. Sorry,

              My retort was an explanation of how a system could be compassionate using a mechanism of culture, a particular professional discipline, embedding compassion and room to express it inside the rules, necause of the rules. For example a nurse of my acquaintance explained to me that an NHS nurse is called on by duty to continue caring for a patient who is racially abusive to them. That the NHS does have compassion at its roots (compassion for the last, the least the lowest and the lost – and stupid) I’m relying solely on my personal experience to attest to as evidence. I could find more evidence or maybe a balanced report if you prefer.

              Efficient. High Quality. Short wait times. Some years ago the NHS was hghly efficient but underfunded. maximum wait times were huge because of medical, hmmmm…, waywardness and inattention to performance data. Quality was variable. Then Mrs M Thatcher introduced general management, the results were transformative. We haven’t maxed out yet in terms of performance. One bad thing about the NHS is that it is rather slow to learn. But since popular consent was recaptured by raising the spend to close to the European average % of GDP we haven’t had much problem with any factor although the incentives that were imported with general managment from private non-medical sector of industry, predictably, did not work. Quality is still too variable in absolute terms but is better than it was and internationally comparable. Look at figures gathered after 2007 and you should see a better picture.

              My central claim I’ll repeat. Socialised, shared risk, healthcare works. The performance knocking effect you are predicting, a version of moral hazard in insurance matters i think, does not hold us back. The potential harms of rules excluding compassion are countered by a stong corporate ethos – patients come first.

    • It confused me to, I read it as “People can rationalize anything if their goal is to save just one life.” But since it was difficult to comprehend I didn’t want to address it on that assumption.

  7. I mean that no system can be devised that will give everyone everything that they want. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether a risk is worth taking, but those decisions depend on knowing for sure what the consequences could be and the willingness to accept responsibility for those consequences. When an arbitrary entity such as the state can alter the consequences at will then someone will end up with the short end and it will depend not on immutable natural law but on arbitrary and changing standards.

    • First sentence understood and agreed. First clauseof second sentence similarly unproblematic. After that i thnk you are saying that if negattve consequnce is alleviated or removed from the decision balance after a decision is made all future choices by all future agents are disrupted. The immutable law is reponsibility? that’s a real guess. The arbitrary standard that of a popular government seeking reelection? guessing again? I am really determined not to twist your words this time so please correct me if I’m wrong. I will have a comeback, but i want it to address your concerns.

      • “After that i thnk you are saying that if negattve consequnce is alleviated or removed from the decision balance after a decision is made all future choices by all future agents are disrupted.”
        Not exactly, but the likelihood is increased. Of course compassion and mercy enter into it. Some prices are much to high for most people to pay and we can agree to find a way to insure ourselves against catastrophes. But, again the choice belongs with the person themselves not with an outside entity that is not omniscient and must take from one person to give it to another.

        • Thanks.I’m still not quite clear but i hope this is near enough the mark.
          Responsibility is key (barring catastrophes and sorting out hard luck cases aside). Without personal responsibiity for life choices no system can truly work. Governments remove responsibilities and shuffle the consequences randomly or worse. Thy have to as resources are limited and all people of equal value.

          There is a problem of probabilistic outcomes and incomplete knowledge of outcomes relating to choices and adverse selection. Leave those aside.

          An NHS system cannot make smoking or any other choice safe. It can mitigate some consequences some of the time. So the incentive to responsibility, I think, is broadly preserved. The NHS does reallocate funds from one place to another but as it is random that’s another uncertainty to deter risk taking. I don’t think that helps much but on the right lines i hope.

          • I think I’m beginning to understand your point. I can’t really sideline the problem of uncertain responsibility. I think uncertainty of paying for consequences results in people being willing to take more risks than they would if they were sure they would pay them. In this case broadly preserved is the same as not preserved for a larger number of people. Uncertainty of consequences added to the chance that consequences can be further delayed or even evaded encourages gambling because it further reduces the chance that the person taking the risk will pay.

            • Yes, I hope we’re close to understanding now. What you fear is the kind of heedlessness of the insured that I know as a flavour of ‘moral hazard’ – that the heavily insured are indemnified against being daft.

              All I can say is that some adventurousness I am in favour of (horse riding, motorcycles, outdoorsinesss in general, DIY, altruistic outreach into poor areas, many things) and want to encourage/backstop. Other things, smoking, drug taking, sexual profligacy are more one ended and I’m generally against. But I’d counter argue that in a socialised system everyone has an incentive to reach out to a risk taker to say ‘steady on, with the heroin mate, that’s costing little babies iives, play the game’. However it is done the UK average for bad risk behaviour is famously better than US equivalent. Depending on what you seelect out and how you pick the data (smoking, alcohol, drug taking, what did you have in mind?). With a culture gap (rather than a care system gap) possibly accounting for most of the difference.

              The irresponsibility effect does not hurt us as much as you fear. Either it’s neutralised or doesn’t apply in health issues or both. However we do it it is done the system survives any tendency to irresponsibility.

              • But, isn’t that just the point? “in a socialised system everyone has an incentive to reach out to a risk taker to say ‘steady on, with the heroin mate, that’s costing little babies iives, play the game’.” The burden for everyone is the person who makes poor choices. And then isn’t it just a small step to some arbitrary social force to decide what a poor choice is? What if a thing you like to do, that you’re willing to risk the consequences for becomes a social taboo? What if behavior that in reality is a social disaster that you believe is personally abhorrent becomes somehow socially acceptable or even mandatory? The individual has lost a crucial choice.

                • Cutting to the nub. Individuals with non-normative moral sets can be easily accomodated (and are). Stand outs are rare, smokers are commonplace. A shared risk system that can include smokers can include just about anyone.

                  Your points are logically correct, I do see that. There is some pressure on individuals to conform to a norm they didn’t personally prefer. But in fairness I must point out that in the socialised system stupid poor people are not strong armed into doing something they think is unethical*. Apparently some people on blog are reconciled to such a compromise in the Jahi case to preserve a personal rseponsibility system. *That is, not as far as I know.

                  • I think I understand your point, but, for me the potential societal good that may be accomplished through a socialized system can be done through private charities and people using their own resources to help others.
                    The possible societal harm is large and can be seen in the confiscation of resources and the rationing of them that inevitably follows. Plenty of proof that rationing and confiscation is the eventual result of social engineering exists.
                    And, the largest problem is that I can already see that ACA will demand that people subsidize behaviors that are personally abhorrent to them. (Abortion and birth control for example) Or that every behavior can and will be deemed to be a “health” issue and thus fall under the control of the state. While the state may be endorsing behaviors you personally endorse there is no problem, but that can change as politics change and you might find yourself being forced through government confiscation to pay to support that which you do NOT endorse.
                    My position is not new and you can find it articulated very well on any number of conservative forums, so I won’t continue the discussion here. Thank you for clarifying your point.

                    • And thank you for satisfying my curiosity. I now know what the sticking point is and where to look for further information. I’m sorry that took so long to think through and explain. I’m no more convinced by your argument than you are by mine but I’m glad we’ve reached an understanding. Case closed. (Civility – ain’t it grand)

  8. Jack,

    What do you get with a confluence of the abortion/sanctity of life debate, the life support of brain dead people/community paying for lost causes debate, the state/citizen power debate and maybe a few others?

    this mess.

    Simple? Complex?

    • I would be very surprised if Erick did not know clearly what Marlise’s wishes would have been for the specific circumstances given. I am surprised and disappointed that that facet is not discussed more in the article. Only Erick’s and Marlise’s wishes are covered, without delving deeper into the what-if of (what I would call) a third person’s proximity to viable status. Only near the end of the article is it implied that maybe Erick and Marlise had reached agreement, and that their agreement was not to sustain a pregnancy while Marlise was on life support.

      I am thinking (cynically): Watch the political hay Wendy Davis makes out of this.

      • Mentioning Wendy Davis and her much touted ‘successful’ filibuster (it wasn’t successful, as it did not stop the vote on the issue she was filibustering…. an anarchic mob of Leftists that don’t believe in the sanctity of deliberative processes, but that was redundant stopped the vote) will make my blood boil.

        I know very much several personal details between the married couple *could* answer the question quickly (or not). But it is a question:

        Unborn but alive baby inside a brain-dead, but physically functioning mother. State law compels she remain hooked up to the machines because of the unborn. Dad doesn’t want the baby because of possible birth defects due to his wife’s condition.

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