Jewish World Review April 14, 2005/ 5 Nisan, 5765
Polls distort Terri's life and death
One of the most widely circulated telephone polls was the ABC News
poll. Its interviewers told those who picked up the phone: "Schiavo
suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 16 years.
Doctors say she has no consciousness, and her condition is
Although Terri was brain-damaged, she was not on a respirator or any
other machinery. She was breathing naturally and was fed three times
a day through a feeding tube. This was not "life support," as most
of us interpret that term.
Furthermore, a considerable number of neurologists claimed that she
was conscious and responsive in ways that were more than just
reflexes. They and a number of radiologists also noted that her
condition was not irreversible and might be improved through new and
advanced methods of therapy (which her husband had denied her for
Other pollsters flatly said in their calls that Terri was in a
persistent vegetative state (PVS), but that, too, was denied by
dissenting neurologists whose affidavits are also part of the court
record. The definition of PVS in Florida Statute 765.101 is: "The
absence of voluntary action or cognitive behavior of any kind, and
an inability to communicate or interact purposefully" with other
I have statements from people who spent time with Terri during her
final weeks, and they describe decidedly meaningful and purposeful
interaction with her environment.
But with these inaccurately worded polls creating a grave
misconception of her condition around the nation and worldwide, it
was inevitable that, as one person in Detroit told a BBC
interviewer: "There's too much talk about life, and not about the
quality of life."
Those who support euthanasia, or "merciful pulling of the plug,"
believe that certain people's "quality of life" do not warrant their
These are compassionate Americans who, this time, have been misled
by the polls and the media's careless, lazy reporting on the Terri
In the March 24 Newsday, before Terri died, Cathy Cleaver Ruse, of
the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops, accurately and bluntly revealed the
inexcusable incompetence of the pollsters:
"The (ABC News) poll also says the family disagreement is whether
she would have wanted to 'be kept alive.' But Schiavo is not dying
or wasn't, while she was being fed. So the question isn't whether
she should be 'kept alive' or 'allowed to die,' but whether to stop
feeding her, in which case she will die."
And so she did.
And how many Americans knew from the polls that her husband who
provided hearsay "evidence" of her wishes, corroborated only by his
brother and sister-in-law has for years been living with another
woman, with whom he has fathered two other children?
The polls, which so confused so many millions about Terri Schiavo's
actual quality of life and her further potential are by no
means the only polls that have misinformed Americans on a wide range
of vital public issues.
It is long past time for newspaper, cable and network operations and
wire services that mechanically circulate alleged public opinion
polls to do more than continue to be accomplices to misinformation.
Whenever a poll is printed or reported, the results should be
preceded by the full contexts of the questions asked of those
The ABC News poll, for example, led to this penetrating response by
a valuable blogger, Ed Morrissey (captainsquartersblog.com): "Since
when does ABC conduct push-polling for euthanasia?"
The polls also assured us that a great majority of Americans
objected to congressional involvement in Terri's case through the
federal courts. How many Americans knew that the very liberal Sen.
Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) supported bringing in federal courts because, he
"State courts vary in their evidentiary proceedings and in their
process 50 different ones. Iowa differs from Florida or Missouri.
So sometimes a person might get caught in a certain evidentiary
proceeding, in a state court, that does not really tell the whole
That is exactly what happened to Terri Schiavo because the entire
"process" that led to her cruel death was based on the fatally wrong
ruling of one state judge, George Greer. He ruled that Terri's
"wishes" as told by her husband, with all of his conflicts of
interest, were "clear and convincing evidence" while he ignored a
precisely contrary account, sworn before him by a close friend of
Terri. A federal court review which, while Terri was alive, was
denied all the way up to the Supreme Court was badly needed to
assess Terri's "wishes" and for many other reasons.