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Terri Schiavo has been cremated, but the controversy lives on. You'll recall the big popular percentages in favor of removing the tube from a few weeks back. (How young we were back then!) An answer in a new Zogby poll seems to knock those numbers into a cocked hat.

When asked "If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water?" a whopping 80 percent of respondents replied, "Should not." Only seven percent were still for pulling the plug.

The complete poll results contain other stats less supportive of the pro-Schindler side, and this one may have been funked by the negative phrasing (ie, saying "should or should not be denied" when "should or should not be provided with" would probably have been clearer). Still, I look at all the lazy Karen Ann Quinlan comparisons made in recent weeks and I suspect many people didn't really understand what was meant by "life support" in this case. I'll be wondering until they pull my own feeding tube why the pro-tubesters didn't work harder to clarify the food-and-water terminology for the public. (Probably because they were too busy telling lies about the husband.)

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  1. None of these polls ever ask the real questions, do they?

  2. I looked at the Zogby questionnaire the other day; I’ve never seen more grossly disingenuous wording in a poll, and I’ve looked at a lot of dishonest polls. I’m not sure whether I’m more offended by the deceptive intent or the presumption that we’re all too dim to notice how preposterous the setup was.

  3. “If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water?”

    And what does this have to do with Terry Schiavo?

  4. This whole thing was the perfect oppurtunity for a mass hunger strike, yet no one took it that far – I guess the pro-tubers are all talk.

  5. I remember LSAT questions that weren’t as complex as that question. Can a question be considered valid if only, say, 17.6% of the respondants understand it?

  6. They could have included an option asking if the person should be gassed, so that we “culture of death” Naziesque libertarians would have a place to voice our opinions.

  7. According to all I have learned about polling companies, Zogby has been the most honest and has hit the actual counts closer than the others.

    It is best not to disagree with these results just because the Zogby poll results do not fit personal bias. Personally, I did not care what the press pundits reported, as vitriol bias was very evident on all sides. Looks like the “masses” disagreed with both sides. Nuff said by me.

  8. In other news, 91% of respondents indicated that babies should not be murdered with plungers …

  9. Come on Tim, Julian is right, the wording is totally misleading. They need to add this to the sentence “…and is in a permanent vegatative state that has destroyed any possibility of consiousness ever returning”. Does anyone think that wouldn’t have affected the results?

  10. Gene: Hit what counts closer than others?

  11. Todd’s exactly right. Zogby’s phrasing makes it sound like the feeding tube is connected to someone like Christopher Reeve – a “disabled person” who’s “not in a coma.” This produces some incoherence – why do we care that this person has “no written directive” if they’re simply disabled?

    This wording changes everything, and ceases to be a question about the Schiavo case. Schiavo was not simply “disabled” – her cerebral cortex was liquified. Even Americans who didn’t know that saw a severely brain-damaged person on the ubiquitous family videos, moaning and blinking as her family shoved balloons in her face.

  12. And what does this have to do with Terry Schiavo?

    Schiavo was not in a coma, was not terminally ill, was not on life support, had no written directive, and while there was legal certainty as to her “diagnosis,” it was not so with the medical aspect. She had a feeding tube because she lacked the power of peristalsis.

  13. Given that the term “disabled person” encompasses people with only vision or mobility problems, it’s actually quite worrying thatt as many as 20% were in favor.

  14. Stating that someone who has a medically implanted feeding tube is not on “life support” is a little disingenuous, at best.

  15. This poll is no better or worse than anti-tubist push polls that ran before. All slant the question by stating one or more contested issues as though they were established facts. Here’s the question I would like to see asked:

    A patient is not terminally ill or in a coma, but is severely brain damaged. A majority of the doctors treating him believe he is in a persistent vegetative state, with no consciousness and no hope for recovery, but a significant minority believe he is in a “minimally conscious” state instead, with some consciousness and a very remote chance of recovery. A quick and dirty CT scan run several years ago suggests that the patient lacks a cerebral cortex, a fact which, if proven to a reasonable level of certainty, would likely settle the controversy over whether or not the patient is PVS. A CT scan can’t give you that level of certainty, but an MRI or a PET scan would. The patient has left no advance directive. Should we:

    1. Kill the patient immediately, because he’s probably PVS and gee, for all we know, maybe he would have wanted to die anyway?
    2. Kill the patient immediately, because regardless of what the patient may have thought he wanted, experts agree that your life isn’t worth living if you’re only minimally conscious (or less).
    3. Kill the patient, maybe, but not before running an MRI or a PET scan to make absolutely certain that the patient’s condition really is as bad and as hopeless as you think it is.
    4. Don’t kill the patient, because only the patient himself has a right to make that choice, and by leaving no advance directive, he didn’t.
    5. Don’t kill the patient, even if you are sure he wanted to die, and even if an MRI and a PET scan both show unequivocally that he is PVS. Only God gets to decide when anyone should die, not you, not me, not the state, nor even the patient himself.

    Personally, I fall somewhere between 3 and 4, and am willing to bet a large chunk of the population does, as well.

  16. According to all I have learned about polling companies, Zogby has been the most honest and has hit the actual counts closer than the others.

    For his own polls. But he is a paid pollster, and he asks the questions he’s paid to ask. So, yes, it’s perfectly understandable that Zogby will accurately report the results of a biased and slanted poll.

    I’d love to see who commissioned this one.

    It’s a crappy poll, because the questions are crappy. Zogby’s methodology and sample selection mean exactly bupkiss here, because the questions are so ludicrous as to render the results meaningless.

    Which was undoubtably the intent. We’ll be able to find out who commissioned by checking to see whose using the results the hardest. They want to be able to say “80% of Americans disagree with what was done to Terri Shiavo”, facts be damned.

  17. A majority of the doctors treating him believe he is in a persistent vegetative state, with no consciousness and no hope for recovery, but a significant minority believe he is in a “minimally conscious” state instead, with some consciousness and a very remote chance of recovery. A quick and dirty CT scan run several years ago suggests that the patient lacks a cerebral cortex, a fact which, if proven to a reasonable level of certainty, would likely settle the controversy over whether or not the patient is PVS. A CT scan can’t give you that level of certainty, but an MRI or a PET scan would.

    Actually, the highlighted parts there are false, and would screw the poll.

    The “vast majority of every qualified doctor who has actually observed the patient” agrees she’s PVS. The ‘significant minority’ you refer to consists almost exclusively of either unqualified doctors opining well outside their field, or doctors who haven’t so much as scanned her records — just viewed a heavily edited videotape.

    And the CT scan was quite conclusive — no need for an MRI. You don’t need to map function when it’s easily seen — at a glance — that the structure is gone. Asking for an MRI in this sense ‘to be sure’ is like asking for a traffic-flow analysis on a section of road that was just hit by a nuke.

  18. “A disabled person…not kept alive on life support”?

    What Julian said and a doubleplusHUH? That’s beyond disingenuous. That’s just a lie.*

    *by lie I mean a statement that is not factually-abled.

  19. Morat, you’re wrong. Of the five doctors who observed her for the court case, only 3 – Michael Schiavo’s 2 and George Greer’s 1 – agreed she was PVS. Since then, scores have weighed in, some hailing from such “unqualified” institutions as Mayo Clinic. And your claim that a CT scan is “quite conclusive” makes me question whether you even know what a CT scan is. If you really think you can read them that conclusively “at a glance,” then I’d suggest you try and earn yourself an easy $100,000.

    What you are asking for is no better than the Zogby poll. The only difference is that you want to force-feed the readers a different set of made-up “facts.”

  20. Gene:

    Zogby hit counts closer than others? Really? Didn’t his exit polls call the election for Kerry?

  21. There is only one objective way to poll this, it sems to me: “Should or shouldn’t Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube have been removed?” Period. True, this leaves out people who never heard of her, but they must have ben living in a cave, anyway. Virtually any other poll has a subjective element in how it describes the caese, and Zogby’s is worst of all. It may leave the impression that the person in question is *mentally* at full capacity, and merely physically “disabled”; it says “not on life support”, when by many definitions feeding tubes *are* a form of life support; it asks “should they be denied food and water” instead of “should the feeding tube be removed if her husband says that’s what she wanted and her parents disagree” Etc., etc. All in all, this poll is more worthless than even last year’s Zogby presidential polls–and that is saying a great deal..

  22. Well, whatever one might think about the way that the question characterizes Schiavo’s situation, the phrasing of “should or should they not be denied” is a little confusing.

    It reminds me of the story some years ago of a poll in which 20% or so of respondents denied the Holocaust. Then it turned out that the phrasing was something like “Is it possible or not that the Holocaust might not have not happened?” or something along those lines. You’d need a flow chart to figure out which answer means what. Anyway, a follow-up poll, done with more transparent phrasing, revealed that Holocaust deniers were much rarer.

    (Hope I didn’t invoke Godwin’s Law there.)

  23. It reminds me of the story some years ago of a poll in which 20% or so of respondents denied the Holocaust. Then it turned out that the phrasing was something like “Is it possible or not that the Holocaust might not have not happened?” or something along those lines. You’d need a flow chart to figure out which answer means what.

    I remember that poll. But here’s what I’ve been puzzling over ever since like Columbo: Couldn’t that mean the other 80 percent of respondents also got the question backward, and are therefore Holocaust deniers?

  24. Poll question I’d like to see:

    “If you become incapacitated and do not have a written directive, would you prefer that decisions on your treatment be made by your spouse, or by a majority vote of your state legislators?”

  25. Um, shouldn’t any evidence of the wishes of the disabled person in question be taken into account here? After all, multiple court cases were filed about the Schiavo case to determine just that.

    In the absence of evidence that the person wishes to be released from life, I certainly wouldn’t just arbitrarily do the releasing. I’d have to say “should not” to the question as stated, too.

    But if satisfactory evidence was presented that the individual wished to be allowed to die? Then I’d say, as I said in the Schiavo case, let them have what they want!

  26. Tim: As I recall, they clarified the matter with a subsequent beter-worded poll which showed that the overwhelming majority of people believed that the Holocaust happened.

  27. Umm is it just me or is the entire question a bit off. I strongly support removing the feeding tube from a nonresponsive person missing most of thier brain. However I would probably answer that I do not support removing the tube to the question asked. The reason is because there are many other possible cases that fall under the description given and for almost all of them my answer would be to keep feeding the person. The level of abstraction here is so high as to make the question meaningless and in no way contradicts the earlier polls.

  28. I supported removing Christopher Reeve’s feeding tube. But he survived to make a Lifetime movie anyway.

  29. The best question to ask on April 15:

    If Congress is unable to do anything productive, would you support removing their feeding tube?

  30. Poor Mrs. Schiavo’s mental condition was described as “not in a coma.” That’s it.

    The desperate stretching for a result is so transparent, that to even put out this story is self defeating for the tubers.

    I should probably keep quiet, though, and let the fundies shout their position from the rooftops for the next three years. Yup, 80% support, guys. Buy airtime. Go nuts.

  31. I should probably keep quiet, though, and let the fundies shout their position from the rooftops for the next three years. Yup, 80% support, guys. Buy airtime. Go nuts.

    joe-

    What you need to do is donate to any group that’s planning to run ads about “life issues” on behalf of GOP Congressional candidates in 2006. The real significance is not the $20 that you send them (just a drop in the bucket), it’s the perception of “grass roots support” that will persuade them to run with this.

    Better yet, send them multiple donations. Send one from “joe”, another from “joe Bart” of New Hampshire, another from “joe Gunnels” of Alabama, maybe one from “joe Bourne” and so forth.

  32. If Congress is unable to do anything productive, would you support removing their feeding tube?

    You know, not to sound like an ass, but I think I actually coined the phrase “pull someone’s feeding tube” on H&R, way back when this whole hullabaloo was breaking news…I could be wrong, but I’d sure feel important if I actually did.

  33. This implausible interpretation of the terrible Zogby poll just in from Brandi Swindell from Generation Life:

    “This new Zogby poll shows what Americans thought specifically about the slow and deliberate death of Terri Schiavo. With this new information, we see it is very probable that the news networks were wrong when they assigned a drop in the approval of President Bush to his involvement in Terri Schiavo’s case. What is more plausible, is that Americans think less of both President Bush and Governor Bush for entering into fight for Terri Schiavo’s life, but then backing down to a tyrant ‘state’ judge. It’s a political fact that America has little regard for losers, and even less for quitters.” — Brandi Swindell.

  34. One of the docs who claimed to have thoroughly examined Schiavo (as part of the original group) was on some morning talk show last week. He claimed there were 8 doctors who actually examined her, that 7 of them agreed she was in PVS, and that the 8th was the guy Hannity claimed was a Nobel candidate (later to be exposed as having been “nominated” by his own Congressman).

    Anyone else hear this?

  35. I remember that poll. But here’s what I’ve been puzzling over ever since like Columbo: Couldn’t that mean the other 80 percent of respondents also got the question backward, and are therefore Holocaust deniers?

    Not likely. IIRC, that question had so many negatives stacked on top of each other that it’s unlikely to have systematically caused people who meant “no” to say “yes,” or vice-versa. More likely, 60% managed to decipher the question and answer it according to what they really thought, while the other 40% got confused and did something random.

  36. Yes, I did read about that, Crusader Rabbit.

    Anyone who labels a person lacking almost all of their cerebral cortex in a persistant vegatative state as simply “disabled” is a master of the understatement.

    Do the poll again and replace “disabled” with “no higher brain function and little to no chance of future conciousness” and see what the results are.

  37. Do the poll again and replace “disabled” with “no higher brain function and little to no chance of future conciousness” and see what the results are.

    That’s sort of what happened only sort of the other way around.

    Terri Schiavo, about whom most people knew the facts (in spite of the army of disinformation propagators assembled by the Schindlers) was replaced by an unknown “disabled” person with an almost completely different set of circumstances. It’s no wonder the poll results were different.

    Of course we also have to address the growing phenomenon of wanting to overrule the Rule of Law with “whatever is up in the polls today”.

  38. As Ronald Bailey points out, Zogby went along with the early exit-poll crowd in predicting a landslide victory for Kerry last fall, so I would hardly consider him an infallible font of polling accuracy. As several other posters have also pointed out, the obtuse wording of the poll questions guaranteed a confusing result.

    The interpretive problems raised by this and other polls is a prime example of why “government/law by opinion poll” is so damn dangerous. I for one am getting pretty tired of having one group or another trot out a poll everytime they want to present the illusion of mass public support. Most polls are so riddled with sample-size, selection and question bias that they are utterly worthless, particularly when dealing with something as volatile and fickle as individual opinions. Even outfits such as Gallup, who have been in the business for decades and have developed fairly sophisticated polling techniques have problems dealing with complex issues such as were raised by the Schiavo case.

  39. Schiavo’s cortex was not reduced to fluid…there is no such process. It was undergoing a very common process called cortical thinning. How common? Your cortex is thinning right now. If you drink heavily, it’s thinning faster than normal.

    Take your Parkinson-ed grandma or grandpa for a CT and you’re going to see a very similar image: cortical thinning by a few mm and enlarged sulci (which make the gyri indistinct, swimming in CSF, lending that “liquified” look people have been harping on). A CT that shows drastic cortical thinning is compelling evidence of impaired brain function, but that’s all. You cannot draw a long-term prognosis from CT results.

    The nature of the brain, specifically as it relates to our consciousness, is currently beyond the reach of medical science. The poll question is consistent with the definition of PSV. R.C. Dean does have a point, that a feeding tube is a form of life support, but it is the most minor form of life support, necessary in a vast number of situations for otherwise perfectly healthy individuals.

    I’m not saying that she wasn’t a vegetable, but we do not know and the “PSV” moniker doesn’t speak to that condition *at all*. I don’t have a problem with electing to unplug the respirator of a comatose patient. What I am saying is that we may have starved a conscious human being to death and called it a compassionate observation of her dignity or some other such shit.

  40. “Schiavo was not in a coma, was not terminally ill, was not on life support, had no written directive, and while there was legal certainty as to her “diagnosis,” it was not so with the medical aspect.”

    Oh. Well, I know this guy who is not in a coma, not terminally ill, not on life support, and has no written directives. Can I stick him in a hole and bury him?

    Oh, but I forgot to mention: he’s dead. But John Edwards disputed it, so I figured I’d better not mention that controversial part…

  41. “A CT that shows drastic cortical thinning is compelling evidence of impaired brain function, but that’s all. You cannot draw a long-term prognosis from CT results.”

    But you can with that, plus the lack of the normal EEG waves, plus the medical exams that cannot illicit consistent relevant responses, plus the fact that the state of the brain on the CT was not caused by a gradual thinning but rather massive and sudden near-global damage from lack of oxygen. That’s what would make her condition radically different from your severely impaired grandma, even if the single CT slice available to the public was the only CT finding (and its not: there were several different CTs from different times, with many more slices)

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