Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fulcrums of History

Leave it to John Rogers to tie together the Schiavo autopsy, the crusade against gay marriage, public school's usefulness or inconvenience to religious indoctrination, and the most recent victims of Texas's failed public health policies so neatly:

America's supposed to be the place where you make the decisions affecting your family. But the Texas Reps and Religionistas, they're going to decide if you can get access to birth control, by faking it up as a moral stand by pharmacists. It doesn't matter what husband and wife have decided, what you've decided between yourselves and your doctors -- that guy's precious moral choice trumps your moral choice, and now the gubmint's on his side...
...They're going to decide how your kids learn about God -- in school, according to their definition, not from you. You in favor of school prayer*? Fine. You happy your kid's going to be praying from the selection made up by some real angry Southern Evangelicals who think your church, be it mainstream Protestant or even Catholic, is a false church? Ahhh, not so much fun now, is it ... They're going to decide if you live or die despite your wishes or your family's, they're going to let their poor understanding of science inflame their morality to the point where your kid dies of a disease that could've been stopped by stem cell research.


Blogger Management said...

Schiavo autopsy shows massive brain damage

By Mitch Stacy, Associated Press Writer | June 15, 2005

LARGO, Fla. --The autopsy of Terri Schiavo backed her husband's contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state, finding she was severely and irreversibly brain-damaged and blind as well. The report, released Wednesday, also found no evidence that she was strangled or otherwise abused before she collapsed.

Yet medical examiners could not say for certain what caused her sudden 1990 collapse, long thought to have been brought on by an eating disorder.

The findings vindicated Michael Schiavo in his long and vitriolic battle with his in-laws, who insisted her condition was not hopeless and suggested that their daughter was the victim of violence by their son-in-law.

In its report, the medical examiner's office cast doubt on both the abuse and eating disorder theory.

The autopsy results on the 41-year-old woman were made public more than two months after Schiavo died of dehydration on March 31 following the removal of her feeding tube 13 days earlier. The death ended an extraordinary right-to-die battle that engulfed the courts, Congress and the White House.

The autopsy showed that Schiavo's brain had shrunk to about half the normal size for a woman her age and that it bore signs of severe damage.

"This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons," said Pinellas-Pasco County Medical Examiner Dr. Jon Thogmartin, who led the autopsy team. He also said she was blind, because the "vision centers of her brain were dead."

George Felos, attorney for Michael Schiavo, said the findings back up their contentions made "for years and years" that Terri Schiavo had no hope of recovery. He said Michael Schiavo plans to release autopsy photographs of her shrunken brain.

"Mr. Schiavo has received so much criticism throughout this case that I'm certain there's a part of him that was pleased to hear these results and the hard science behind them," Felos said.

Nevertheless, attorney David Gibbs III said Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, continue to believe she was not in a vegetative state and questioned the conclusion that she was blind.

The finding that she was blind counters a widely seen videotape released by her parents of Terri Schiavo in her hospice bed. The video showed Schiavo appearing to turn toward her mother's voice and smile. She moaned and laughed. Her head moved up and down and she seemed to follow the progress of a brightly colored Mickey Mouse balloon.

The parents said the video that showed she was aware of her surroundings, but doctors said her reactions were automatic responses and not evidence of consciousness.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the autopsy did nothing to change President Bush's position that Schiavo's feeding tube should not have been disconnected. He had signed a bill, rushed through by Congress in March, in a last-ditch effort to restore her feeding tube.

Thogmartin also said Schiavo would not have been able to eat or drink if given food by mouth as the Schindlers wanted after the tube was removed. In fact, he said, she might easily have choked to death if such feedings had been tried.

"Removal of her feeding tube would have resulted in her death whether she was fed or hydrated by mouth or not," Thogmartin told reporters.

The autopsy included 274 external and internal body images and an exhaustive review of Terri Schiavo's medical records, police reports and social services agency records.

Thogmartin said that the autopsy produced no conclusion on what triggered the temporary heart stoppage that caused her collapse and brain damage. He said there was no evidence of drug use, though he cautioned that Schiavo was not tested in 1990 for every conceivable substance that could have been in her blood.

He said there was no proof she suffered from an eating disorder such as bulimia, which can disrupt the body chemistry with lethal effect. The main piece of evidence cited for an eating disorder -- the low levels of potassium in her blood in 1990 -- could have been caused by the emergency treatment she received at the time, Thogmartin said.

While she had lost more than 100 pounds since high school, Schiavo never confessed to an eating disorder, she did not take diet pills and no one had witnessed her purging food, the medical examiner said.

He also discounted the possibility that she had overdosed on caffeine from drinking large amounts of tea in an effort to keep her weight down.

The cause of death was ruled dehydration from removal of the feeding tube, but the underlying reason for her brain damage was officially listed as "undetermined."

In addition, the autopsy found no traces of morphine in her system at her death, although she had been given two doses in the days before she died. The Schindlers had contended that morphine might have been used to speed their daughter's death.

The Schindlers fought their son-in-law in court over their daughter's fate for nearly seven years, battling to the end with conservatives at their side. Michael Schiavo said his wife never would have wanted to be kept alive artificially in such a condition.

Courts repeatedly rejected extraordinary attempts at intervention by Florida lawmakers, Gov. Jeb Bush, Congress and the president on behalf of her parents.

Experts said that the autopsy demonstrates how difficult it is for people to recover from severe brain damage.

"People should understand that sometimes, for known or unknown reasons, individuals sustain massive brain injury that for which healing is not possible," said Dr. Karen Weidenheim, the chief of neuropathology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "Everything that could have been done was done for this lady for 15 years, and this case is very tragic."


2:17 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Pope condemns gay marriages as 'anarchy'
Mon Jun 6, 2005 02:49 PM ET

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, in his first clear pronouncement on gay marriages since his election, on Monday condemned same-sex unions as fake and expressions of "anarchic freedom" that threatened the future of the family.

The Pope, who was elected in April, also condemned divorce, artificial birth control, trial marriages and free-style unions, saying all of these practices were dangerous for the family.

"Today's various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex are instead expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man," he said.

The Pope spoke to families at Rome's St. John's Cathedral on an issue that has become highly controversial around the world, particularly in Europe and the United States.

In April, parliament in traditionally Catholic Spain gave initial approval to a law legalizing gay marriage. It is widely expected to be approved by the Senate and to become law.

But just last week, California's Assembly killed off a bill that would have allowed gay marriage in the most populous U.S. state.

The Pope, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Vatican's doctrinal department for more than two decades, said "pseudo freedoms" such as gay marriages were based on what he called the "banalisation of the human body" and of man himself

2:17 PM  
Blogger Management said...

BARBARISM IN TEXAS....This story is almost too horrible for words. The details are a little thin, but here's the outline.

In 2003, Texas passed an anti-abortion law that instituted a 24-hour waiting period; required doctors to show women pictures of fetuses, tell them about adoption procedures, and warn them that an abortion could lead to breast cancer; and forced abortion providers to keep the identities of all their patients in their records. Plus one more thing, as the Fort Worth Weekly reported at the time:

The bill as passed also includes another requirement that managed to escape the floodlights of controversy and debate: Abortions from 16 weeks onward now can be performed only in hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.

The clause is a major Catch-22. Very few Texas hospitals perform elective abortions, and the few that do charge extremely high fees and require that the patients go through complicated ethics reviews. And of the state's hundreds of surgical centers, none performs abortions.

So, with no place to get an abortion after 16 weeks, what does a panicky, 17-year-old girl do if she's four months pregnant? Erica Basoria decided to try to induce a miscarriage. When that didn't work, she asked her boyfriend to step on her stomach. A week later she miscarried.

This is all bad enough, but what comes next is fantastically worse: Texas also has a shiny new law criminalizing "fetal murder," and the fact that Basoria wanted a miscarriage in this case doesn't matter. Her boyfriend, Gerardo Flores of Lufkin, has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his part in this tragic comic opera:

Flores' mother, Norma Flores, stood in stunned silence, surrounded by family members for several minutes after her son was led away by Sheriff Kent Henson.

Under state law, a woman cannot be charged for causing the deaths of her own fetuses for any reason.

....[Prosecutor Art] Bauereiss told jurors he was focused on Flores. He couldn't help that Basoria was outside the reach of the law, he said. If the babies had been killed after being born, it wouldn't have been so controversial, he said. "Think what a horrible crime this would be,” he said. "We wouldn't hesitate to label it for what it is."

....Prosecutors chose not to pursue the death penalty against Flores, meaning he received an automatic life sentence with parole possible after 40 years.

This is the intersection of stupid kids, stupid laws, mendacious legislators, and fanatical prosecutors. It's what happens when states ban access to otherwise legal abortions and kids don't know where to turn. And if circumstances and the law had been slightly different, Bauereiss probably would have prosecuted Erica Basoria too and sought the death penalty for both.

It's like living under the Ayatollahs in Iran. It's simple barbarism.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Abortion Law Refugees

Women needing late-term procedures can no longer get them in Texas.


Julia had already decorated her unborn son's nursery, when an ultrasound at 22 weeks revealed that he was a tiny body of suffering. Severe, permanent muscle contractions had swelled his skull and joints and deformed his legs and his hands and feet were clubbed. His muscle tissue had deteriorated to only a quarter of normal size. By the time the shadowy image on the ultrasound was deciphered, she realized she was facing the unthinkable.

"He would have never been able to walk, sit upright, hold a pen ... run, or crawl. He would never even be able to hold himself up in a wheelchair, let alone push himself around in it," Julia said. But most haunting in her mind was the image of her son unable to suck his own thumb. "It seemed like such a travesty to withhold from a child even the ability to console itself," said the Austin woman, who asked that her full name not be used.

With only a few days in which to make a decision, Julia and her husband, after much soul searching, determined that the best outcome was not a brief life filled with suffering and surgery. "Our son would not have lived longer than a year or so, and he would have required surgery after surgery just to achieve one year," Julia said. "We decided that termination of the pregnancy was the only caring option." She recalls how the couple spent time saying their final goodbyes. "My husband held my hand as I prayed and handed Thomas over to heaven," Julia said.

A year and a half and two miscarriages later, Julia is pregnant for the fourth time. But she is concerned about a new law in Texas that it virtually impossible for women to terminate their pregnancies from 16 weeks onward. "My husband and I deserve to be able to save this child [from suffering] just as we saved Thomas, should we be faced with the horrible choice again," Julia said, "It is a decision that no mortal should ever have to face, but one that I would gladly make again to prevent any of my children from suffering."

Elective abortions are still legal in Texas until the third trimester, or about 24 weeks. But since Jan. 1, because of the new law, there's practically no place in the state that a woman can get one after 16 weeks. Texas women are being forced to travel to Louisiana, Arkansas, and Kansas to have the procedures done.

Before January, Fort Worth's West Side Clinic, for instance, saw five to 15 women each week seeking abortions beyond the 16-week stage. It was one of only two clinics providing that service to West Texas. Changes that would allow the clinic to perform such abortions, under the new law, would cost about $2 million, without increasing patient safety, said clinic official Bob Gross.

"We are seeing a lot of reproductive refugees of the system," said Bethany Herrera, patient relations supervisor at Routh Street Clinic in Dallas. "They come to the clinic looking to get help, but we have no choice but to send them away with referrals out of state."

In spring 2003, a bill called the Woman's Right to Know Act whipped up a storm of controversy in the Texas Legislature because of three provisions: It instituted a 24-hour waiting period between when a woman seeks an abortion and when it can be performed, directed that a 20-page so-called "Woman's Right to Know" booklet be given to prospective patients, and required abortion providers to keep the identities of all their patients in their records. The booklet, along with vivid pictures of fetuses, lists alternatives to abortion and gives what many have called inaccurate information on health risks associated with the procedure.

But the bill as passed also includes another requirement that managed to escape the floodlights of controversy and debate: Abortions from 16 weeks onward now can be performed only in hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.

The clause is a major Catch-22. Very few Texas hospitals perform elective abortions, and the few that do charge extremely high fees and require that the patients go through complicated ethics reviews. And of the state's hundreds of surgical centers, none performs abortions.

Abortion rights supporters and providers say that -- while the provision was ostensibly aimed at protecting the health of pregnant women -- it actually endangers them. They say the law makes follow-up care more difficult to obtain and denies the procedure to mothers who late in their pregnancies discover that the fetuses they are carrying have serious and often irreversible deformities. In fact, abortion rights supporters believe the provision was intentionally designed to make such abortions unobtainable in Texas.

A videotape of floor debate on the bill shows the sponsor, staunch abortion opponent Frank Corte Jr. of San Antonio, using a map to show the locations of more than 250 ambulatory surgery centers around the state, where abortions could be performed. Herrera, of the Routh Street Clinic, said Rep. Corte denied during debate on the bill that the provision would limit access to abortion. "I'm surprised his nose didn't grow longer than Pinocchio's," she said.

Kathi Seay, the Republican legislator's policy advisor, denied the charge. "I can assure you that he did not misrepresent the implications; he was not dishonest in any way -- shape, form, or fashion," she said. "He was very upfront with the number of ambulatory surgical centers in the state, and the fact that -- if there are physicians that choose to do those in those settings -- there should not be a lack of access at all." Which, in a way, is the point Corte's opponents make: The centers don't do abortions, so access is denied.

Gross, vice president of Fort Worth's West Side Clinic, said the new law greatly increases the already-heavy burden for women seeking such procedures. Such women must now spend much more time and money in obtaining abortions, the cost of which usually increases for every week it is delayed.

"Most often, women seeking abortion after 16 weeks are women who wanted to have a baby but discover late in their term that they have fetal anomalies incompatible with life," said Sarah Wheat, director of public affairs for the Texas Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Fetal tests such as amniocentesis routinely are not performed before 16 weeks gestation, and results don't come in until after 20 weeks. "If the physician recommends that she terminate the pregnancy, what can she do if there are no places for her to go in Texas?" Wheat asked.

Kyleen Wright, president of the Texans for Life Coalition, disagreed. She said that "just a tiny percentage of women" seek abortions for reasons related to the mother's health or fetal abnormalities. "You don't make policy on two percent [of the population]; you make policy on the 98 percent," she said. "Far more are protected by that law than the small number that are inconvenienced."

Another group affected are teen-agers, who make up a third of the women obtaining second trimester abortions nationally, said Diana Philip, executive director of Jane's Due Process, which promotes fair and equal access to reproductive choice for Texas teen-agers. Young women often wait until the second trimester, she said, because of lack of medical care, trauma from rape or incest, or fear of an abusive household. In one case, she said, a first-generation Mexican-American teen-ager's family told her "she'd be hurt, disowned, and thrown out of the house if she ever came home pregnant," Philip said. She hasn't heard of a single teen-ager making it out of state on her own. "The patient just doesn't make it there," she said.

No agency or group tracks the number of women leaving the state for abortions because of the new law. But a North Louisiana clinic director, who asked not to be named, said about 20 Texas women a week now make the trip to her facility to seek abortions after 16 weeks. "But we get phone calls from a whole lot more," she said. "We've gotten women from all over Texas -- McAllen, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Abilene. ... They are surprised to find so many restrictions in place. They seem to think it's been done secretly so that they just didn't know what was going on."

In Mississippi, lawmakers in March passed an even more restrictive law, restricting abortions from 13 weeks on. But according to news reports, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the Mississippi law on July 23, stating that it "did nothing new to protect patient health." The decision could spur a court test of the Texas law. Janet Creps, a staff attorney for the national Center for Reproductive Rights, said her group might challenge the 16-week provision in Texas if the Mississippi ruling becomes final and is upheld by appellate courts.

Creps believes that the new Texas law does little to make abortion safer but definitely makes it more expensive, because of the requirements it imposes on providers. In order to be considered a surgical center, an abortion clinic would have to meet requirements regulating air flow, firewalls, corridor width and room size, staffing, and even the number of parking spaces needed for physicians and staff, Creps said. "These structural requirements are big-ticket items that would require closing down the clinics and doing a lot of physical plant changes," she said.

In the end, said Herrera, of the Routh Street clinic, "It's the same procedure that doctors in clinics have performed in clinics for the past 30 years with an enviable record of safety."

However, abortion opponent Wright said that safety record is not so enviable, because reporting of complications from abortions has been "very deceptive." Often when patients are taken to a hospital, "physicians will report the complication as being a result of pregnancy rather than abortion," she said. "They [abortion providers] have been very successful at masking their safety record."

Kae McLaughlin, TARAL's executive director, said that such allegations are irresponsible because they imply that clinic physicians are criminally negligent. Anti-abortion activists' strategy, she said, "is to ... level charges against things we cannot prove, because they know the state does not keep statistics" on complications other than those leading to death. The Texas Department of Health reported that about 6.6 percent of abortions in 2002 were performed after 15 weeks and that, out of all abortions in Texas, only one patient died from complications.

When a Dallas physician wrote to surgical centers around the state, he found only one whose operators said they'd consider performing abortions and none that actually do so now. That could change, however -- by a total of one.

Wheat said that a new Planned Parenthood clinic under construction in Austin should be able to meet surgical center specifications, although its construction has been slowed by threats and protests. It's due to open this fall. "It'll be the one place in the state where women could go to get the procedure done from 16 weeks," she said "Still, it's a long ride from El Paso to Austin."

2:18 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Teen guilty of fetal murder


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Nineteen-year-old Gerardo Flores of Lufkin was sentenced to life in prison Monday in a landmark test case of a state fetal protection law. An Angelina County jury deliberated just under four hours, finding him guilty on two counts of capital murder for his part in killing his unborn twins.

The case will be appealed, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court, defense attorney Ryan Deaton said after the verdict.

Most fetal murder cases involve attacks by strangers, said Assistant District Attorney Art Bauereiss, who prosecuted the case. The facts in Flores' case were a bit unusual, but the evidence supported a guilty finding, he said.

"Most of the family is very pleased with the verdict," Bauereiss said.

Flores' girlfriend, Erica Basoria, 17, was led sobbing from the Angelina County Courthouse by her mother and older sister. While her family testified against Flores, Basoria stood by his side, maintaining she was involved in causing the at-home miscarriage.

Flores' mother, Norma Flores, stood in stunned silence, surrounded by family members for several minutes after her son was led away by Sheriff Kent Henson.

Under state law, a woman cannot be charged for causing the deaths of her own fetuses for any reason. A similar federal law went into effect in April 2004, a month before Flores was charged.

Bauereiss told jurors he was focused on Flores. He couldn't help that Basoria was outside the reach of the law, he said. If the babies had been killed after being born, it wouldn't have been so controversial, he said.

"Think what a horrible crime this would be,” he said. “We wouldn't hesitate to label it for what it is.”

The law includes the definition of a person — with full rights to legal protection — as existing from the moment of conception. Prosecutors chose not to pursue the death penalty against Flores, meaning he received an automatic life sentence with parole possible after 40 years.

Basoria, then 16, was five months pregnant when Flores stepped on her bulging belly more than once the week before she gave birth prematurely in a bathroom at Flores' house the night of May 6, 2004. The defense said she hit herself at the same time, making it impossible to tell who killed the babies. Testimony alleged both may have wanted a miscarriage so the babies wouldn't infringe on college and social plans.

His girlfriend coerced him into it, Flores said in a taped police interview played at trial in which he demonstrated stepping on her. Bauereiss repeated the clip for jurors during his emotional closing statement.

No one would ever know the potential those unborn lives could have held, he said. Family would never get to see the boys' first steps, teach them to tie their shoes or take prom pictures.

Worst of all, he said, Flores' own children could not save themselves.

"Those babies could not raise their hands in self-defense to say, ‘No, Daddy, no, Daddy!'” Bauereiss said, emotion nearly choking his words. Basoria's family members sat a few rows behind him, tears rolling down their cheeks.

"Hold him fully accountable for this most unholiest of crimes," he finished.

Deaton begged jurors in his closing statement to give Flores something besides capital murder, choosing instead among injury to a child or manslaughter, with a wider punishment range. State District Judge David Wilson on Monday morning denied Deaton's motions to include jury instruction on several other choices, including criminally-negligent homicide.

The case was tragic, just two kids in love making mistakes, Deaton said. But it was Basoria's fault for egging Flores on, he said.

"She invited violence into their relationship," he told jurors.

Flores has 30 days to file an appeal.

Ashley Cook's e-mail address is

2:19 PM  

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