Disappointed in Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff has long been one of my favorite writers. He is a consistent civil libertarian with a love for and long history with jazz, so there is much to admire. But on the Terri Schiavo case, he has swallowed the nonsense coming from the right hook, line and sinker. In his latest column, he writes:

She is not brain-dead or comatose, and breathes naturally on her own. Although brain-damaged, she is not in a persistent vegetative state, according to an increasing number of radiologists and neurologists.

Utter nonsense. There are two who claim she is not in a PVS, Hammesfahr and Cheshire. Neither of them has the slighest bit of credibility. Hammesfahr is a pure charlatan who told the court that he had helped people "far worse than Terri", but could not produce a single case study or any test results or medical records to support that contention. All of Hammesfahr's work has been with stroke patients, not with PVS patients. And that's without even mentioning his ridiculous and dishonest claim to being a Nobel Prize nominee. Dr. Cheshire's claim that she is not in a PVS is based, by his own admission, not on evidence but merely on a "sense" of Terri's "presence". The Guardian Ad Litem's 2003 report noted that when the 5 doctors chosen by the court and the two sides in the dispute testified on her condition, the ones who argued that she was in a PVS had an enormous amount of empirical data to back them up - test results, comparisons to similar cases, cat scans, and so forth - while the other side only had anecdotal arguments. They even made a big deal out of someone in another state who had woken up without even bothering to find out if that patient was in PVS or not. The right is desperately clutching at straws, throwing out one unsupported argument after another. And I'm pretty disappointed in Nat Hentoff, truly one of my literary heroes, for falling victim to it.

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Hentoff also has a long history of embracing strident anti-abortion politics. I'm not disappointed because I don't much care anymore what Nat Hentoff thinks about anything.

Unfortunatly, Nat Hentoff jumped the shark a while ago. First he came out four-square in favor of the Swift Boat Veterans, praising them for their courage in taking on John Kerry's war record. Then he wrote a column likening the experience of conservatives in academe to Apartheid. There have been several other examples as well. His columns for Free Inquiry have gotten so bad that I'm debating whether to renew my subscription.

By Jason Rosenhouse (not verified) on 30 Mar 2005 #permalink

Ed -

I've been thinking about something and I was wondering if you or another of your readers with a more legal mind would mind commenting. What would be the legalities involved if, for example, people volunteered to insert food and water not into her mouth, but into her through the G-tube perhaps via a syringe - in effect acting as a surrogate for the machine. How would such a thing be seen in the legal context?

Of course medically it may not be feasable or even possible, but I was curious as to the possible legal ramifications.


I used to pay attention to Hentoff. He was a decent jazz music critic, and a while ago was a decent civil libertarian. I can't remember what commentary of his caused me to question his sanity, but it has been clear for some time that he had become something of a nut.

Thanks for the link. That is the Christopher Hitchens I have long enjoyed. Wish there was more of him these days.

Dave - the first thing that springs to my mind is that it would be battery, or nonconsensual touching. Mrs. Schiavo made her wishes clear, and has not actually or constructively consented to such feeding.

It's looking to me, Ed, like you will need to set up a category archive for these Terry Schiavo posts. Particularly once she passes and the neuropathology results come in.

In fact, I just did that so people could find them all put together in one place.

Reading Hentoff in the Progressive in the early 90s it seemed to me that he had a few screws loose. In fact, the Progressive published a critical LTE from me then, and Hentoff went off in a huff, saying he wouldn't write for the Progressive if ungrateful readers like me were reading. Gawd, maybe we really don't want to grow old. We're not always like a fine wine.

By serial catowner (not verified) on 30 Mar 2005 #permalink

There's nothing sadder than a progressive commentatior joining the dark side. I use to be a fan of Dennis Miller when I was a teenager, but now it's just plain sad to look at the Bush butt-kisser he is now.