Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Too Annoying!

I'm just catching up with the Dec. 2 NY Times Magazine, which contained Sally Satel's story about looking for a kidney, the cover article about former Washington governor Booth Gardner's search for assisted suicide, and, of most interest to readers of this blog, Charles McGrath's search for Anna Netrebko. How many annoyances in these articles? Let me count the ways.
  • Satel, a psychiatrist, doesn't understand why the people around her might not want to donate a kidney to her! That she doesn't understand the emotional reasons is appalling, since she is a psychiatrist. That she says there isn't much medical risk of donating is worse.The surgery, per se, isn't all that hazardous. But kidney failure in old age isn't uncommon; neither is diabetes, which puts an enormous strain on the kidneys. The future risks of donation are thus harder to quantify. Lastly, and I realize this is very cold, but a large number of Satel's fellow libertarian-conservatives espouse the virtues of selfishness. Perhaps the people around her are just following Randian principles.
  • Letters responding to Sally Satel's article are here.
  • The Booth Gardner story troubled me in various ways, though I was very pleased by the inclusion of feminist viewpoints and those of disabled activists. I was disturbed by the situation of bioethicist Sally Wolf's father, who was dying in agony. I think she was probably wrong to say there was no way to hasten his death, but what really got me was that he was apparently not being adequately medicated for pain. (Rant deleted about inadequate pain management in the so-called health care system.) I was also troubled by the many contradictions in what Gardner says he wants and how he is living his life: not like someone who wants to die.
  • On to Trebs. When McGrath talks about how media-savvy and famous Netrebko is, I have to ask if he's ever heard of Geraldine Farrar, the Met's greatest draw a century ago, who on her retirement was carried down Broadway on the shoulders of her fans. She was enormously skilled at manipulating the media, and had a great publicity machine. Check, for example, the ease with which you can buy Farrar postcards on eBay. It's like buying Caruso 78s: very, very easy. Or check out that memoir of Farrar's, written from the viewpoint of her dead mother!
  • And the line about Netrebko being "one of a new breed" of opera singers who can act does a huge disservice to generations of riveting singers. Muzio, Rysanek, so many more. I think what he probably means is, opera singers who act the way film stars act. Yes, the style IS different when you're being photographed from inches or feet away versus being viewed at 90 feet from a balcony. Opera is primarily a live theatrical medium.
  • I'm not sure I'll be able to drag myself to the end of the McGrath story, yeah. Too annoyed!
Updated, Jan. 1, 2008: I've added the links. And I never did finish McGrath.


Anonymous said...

What bothered me the most about the Booth Gardner story was the subtle but pervasive bias in favor of all the people who are in fact not wanting to make the choice of an assisted suicide, but who were self-pitying bystanders to those who were. It's fine and necessary to worry in the abstract about all the possible abuses of assisted-suicide laws, but I think people should really try put themselves into the position of the person who wants to die. For me, I wouldn't want any fancy-schmancy second-guessing by so-called "ethicists" (whose ethics I might not share anyway), and certainly not by religious types, but would want simple help in ending my misery. As many people have pointed out, we're more compassionate to dying pets than we are to dying humans.

And frankly, yes, there would be mistakes - but as it is right now, there are tens of thousands of people who die each year in the US because of errors in medication or because of infections they caught while in hospitals. I don't see that mistakes in assisted-suicides are particularly more horrible than any others. If you are dead because of an error, you're still dead, regardless of the specifics of the error.

Anyway, thanks for pointing to that piece - I wouldn't have seen it otherwise.

jfl said...

Perhaps Mme. Satel has not offered her fellow libertarian friends enough incentive to donate a kidney? Brow-beating them into it with whiny, indignant moralizing surely won't do the trick.

Ah, but it is illegal to offer money for body parts in this country. And therein lies the problem. One wishes Mme. Satel had written about *that*.



Lisa Hirsch said...

Anon. - interesting comments, thank you. You're very right about the weight given to the bystanders. I disagree that it's bias, because the author's discomfort with assisted suicide is clear. I would expect that the bioethicist has, in fact, tried to put herself in their place. I don't know what you know about the role of ethicists in medicine today, but I think you might find what they do of interest.

jfl, heh, yes.

I'm going to update the body of the posting with some URLs, including to the laters that Satel's article generated.

opragal said...

"...does a huge disservice to generations of riveting singers. Muzio, Rysanek, so many more."

I would include Resnik on that list.
I *like* Trebs, but oh, urgh. It just . never. stops. and its lacking substance.