Monday, March 21, 2005

Class, Race & the Right to Life

We have two scenarios: 1) Court allows hospital to remove ventilator from 5 month old BLACK baby with a severe genetic disorder -- no political outcry; 2) President & Congress fight to "save" the life of a WHITE woman in a vegetative state whose parents are God-fearing Christians.

While no one should dispute the fact there are key differences in these two cases, it still seems surreal that conservative politicos are pulling out all the stops to "save" one life, while completely ignoring the value of a second life, one that eerily mirrors many of the complex issues of the Schiavo case.

As has been pointed out in my previous post on this topic, More on Schiavo, the News Hounds blog reported that the very law that allowed the doctors and court in Texas to make a life and death decision for Sun Hudson WAS SIGNED INTO LAW by none other than one George W. Bush! The same George W. Bush who this weekend flew back to the nation's capitol to be available to sign the bill that, in essence, removes Michael Schiavo's right to determine the fate of his wife.

So, what are the salient differences between these two patients? Why is Terri Schiavo's life worth fighting for, while Sun Hudson's is not*?

According to MSNBC, "Sun Hudson had been diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder called thanatophoric dysplasia, a condition characterized by a tiny chest and lungs too small to support life." Under the impression that there is no known cure for this condition, the hospital felt "it would be unethical to continue with care that is futile and prolongs Sun's suffering".

But on a web site called The Homeschooler's Curriculum Swap, Flamingo Sherri writes,
Thanatophoric dysplasia is an unpleasant and rare form of dwarfism that occurs once in about 35,000 births in the US. CNN does not properly describe the prognosis of the disease, however. It is not always fatal, although nearly so in the neonatal stage. Usually, thanataphoric dwarves (the name is Greek for "death bearing") only live for hours, or days at the most. Once a baby gets past the neonatal stage, survival is possible, although the child will never have hope for a normal life. The limbs usually have significant deformities and the spinal column as well.

What makes this case significant is that Sun Hudson had lived for five months, which presumably meant that he could have survived longer and perhaps even overcome some of the difficulties of his affliction, although that was a long shot.
In Terri Sciavo's case, most doctors agree that there is no cure for the woman's condition. However, her parents believe there is a possibility their daughter could have an improved quality of life.

Therefore, in both cases, doctors felt that the prognosis was/is bleak and there was/is little hope for a miracle turnaround.

An obvious difference between these two cases involves two things that the mainstream media and politicians don't like to discuss -- race and class. Sun Hudson was the child of a single black mother. While I didn't find any articles that explicitly stated that Wanda Hudson was a POOR black mother, almost every report I did find made sure to point out that the cost of the child's treatment was being borne by Texas Children's Hospital.

People of means generally have some manner of health insurance. While I'm certainly NOT suggesting that such insurance will always cover the tremendous expense involved, it generally will pick up a portion of the tab.

Related to the issue of race and class is the manner in which Wanda Hudson and Terri Schiavo's parents are portrayed in the press. In the former, several media sources have gone out of their way to question Hudson's mental state -- maybe with good reason, maybe not.

According to NBC5,
She believes her child was conceived with the sun in the sky, which is why she named him Sun. "No one was with me when I was alone on a cold, winter night being shown the beauty of the earth. I've never seen the moon and the stars the way the sun above showed the moon and the stars to me," Hudson said.

Maybe Wanda Hudson IS delusional. Maybe this quote was taken out of context. Who knows? Maybe this quote was simply manufactured.

Compare this, however, to the way the press portrays Bob and Mary Schindler. These people are praised as concerned parents whose Catholic faith has provided them strength throughout this trying ordeal.

All in all, it simply strikes me as odd that these two tragic situations that SHOULD be linked, by timing and circumstance, are wholly divorced. While it would be too simplistic to argue that class and race are the sole determining factors in the differences between these two lives, it would be just as simplistic to state that class and race don't play key roles.

What do you think?

*Note: In a case similar to Sun Hudson's, Ohio Children's Services is seeking custody of Aiden Stein, a comatose 16-month old, in order to remove the child from life support.


  1. Yeah, it's not right that a white woman should have her right to die impinged upon while a black boy does not. They should quit treating whites as second class citizens who need their decisions made for them. Um, oh wait - that's not what you were saying. Never mind then :)

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