Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Can't See The Giant Soul-Sucking Club-Wielding Trolls in the Forest for the Trees

There's some stuff I've been wanting to get off my chest for months, so let's just start there:

1. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that freedom of speech and of the press shall not be abridged.  That means you have the right to an opinion.
2.  You also have the right to speak that opinion, or express or publish it in any way that's open to you.
3.  You do not have the right to be free from any and all criticism once you express that opinion.
4.  Because, shocking as it may seem, all other people also have the equal right to an opinion.  
5.  You do not have any absolute right to be paid for speaking that opinion.  
6.  Further, if you are being paid for speaking that opinion, you can be fired at any time.  There's nothing in the Constitution that says anybody paying you for speaking that opinion cannot at some point decide to fire you.
7.  Ferexample, if you're getting paid to advise your clients on, say, their investment portfolios, and you suddenly decide to opine on the ugliness of your client's tie and the degree to which he was an idiot for voting for McCain, your boss would have every right to fire you.  
8.  So if your opinion, and your manner of choosing to speak it, ends up costing your employer a lot more money than it would have cost him/her if you'd just kept your big yap shut, you should really not be surprised at all if you get fired.  
9.  And that goes for everyone around you.

Okay? Okay.  Let's move on: 

The rumors are true, everybody.  Various press factions are actually agreeing about this.  After spending ten months locked in a psychiatric ward because her parents and the state of Massachusetts disagreed about what was best for her, fifteen-year-old Justina Pelletier is finally getting out.  Well, not OUT out.  She's not going HOME home. But she's leaving the psychiatric ward and going back to Tufts University Hospital, where this whole sordid saga started out. She's going to a "step-down" unit because she's still "medically fragile."  She's still in state custody, and her parents still want her back (naturally).  But that can happen later. She's leaving the psych ward. She might even able to (gasp!) go outside.  And maybe, instead of being restricted to a 20-minute phone call once a week and a one-hour supervised visit, she can actually start seeing some of her friends and family members.  

At some point, the ongoing argument between her parents and the Tufts doctors vs. the doctors at Boston Childrens' Hospital  needs to be resolved.Interesting, though, that the Judge decided to send her back to Tufts.  That sounds like a vote.

Now, this case hasn't been reported extensively in the media. (And why not? Fifteen-year-old sick girl? Incarcerated with crazy people when there's no evidence she's homicidal or suicidal? For ten MONTHS?  Hello? Anderson Cooper?  You need to start reading my emails.) Well, actually there's a gag order, which means we don't have a fresh set of facts every time there's a court hearing. Media needs sound bites, so that's a problem.  It's also problematical that this whole thing has become a big debate about parental rights -- that is, your right to choose who cares for your sick child and under what circumstances.  Methinks that focus is entirely off.  

In a nutshell, Justina is a sick little kid. I won't elaborate because it's out there if you want to find it but myself, personally, feel a little weird about reporting the medical symptoms of someone I've never met, much less a minor.  I feel weird enough using her name, though it's been around the media for a while. (I can see it now; ten years in the future, Justina graduates from college, goes on her first job interview and the interviewer says, "Oh yeah. You were the kid who spent ten months in the psych ward.")  She had one diagnosis from the Tufts doctors, who had prescribed medication and on which she was doing pretty well.  She was even a competitive ice skater back before all this began. Then one night she came down with unrelated pneumonia and her parents took her to Boston Childrens' on the advice of the pediatrician.  Within a few days, the doctors at Childrens' decided this was a child abuse case, called in the Department of Family Services and took custody of Justina under an emergency court order.  The hospital told Justina's parents that her illness was all in her head, in a manner of speaking, and sent her to the psych ward without letting her parents seek a second opinion.  And there the matter rested, while Mom and Dad and the State fought about it in court.  

For ten months.  Ten MONTHS. Truly, I'm ill.  Look, people, both the WHO (Principles 4 through 8) and the AACAP have guidelines about who needs to be in a locked psychiatric ward. Both of them talk about this thing called the "least restrictive environment."  And both of them pretty much agree that kids don't need to be locked up in any way, shape or form unless they're homicidal or suicidal, and some lesser variations on the theme. Justina's in a wheelchair.  She can't walk by herself.  She's not very likely to kill anybody.  I don't know if she's suicidal (I would have been), but even if she was, why did it take ten MONTHS to stabilize her? That's pretty sucky medical care.  Most patients take a few days, a few weeks at most. And then if she still needed to be in the hospital, they could have sent her back downstairs to the pediatric ward. 

But that's what tends to happen, when two opposing forces get into a pissing match about who's right.  In the meantime, the thing they're fighting about tends to get totally overlooked.  That thing, in this case, was Justina. Everybody just kind of forgot that she had any civil rights at all, including the right to personal liberty.  Justina had a court-appointed guardian (which is typical in cases like this), and not even the guardian thought to bring up to the Judge that Justina hadn't done anything wrong.  That maybe being behind bars was not in her best interest.  It took a civilian complaint from a psychiatric nurse, made as part of the mandatory reporter rule (if you're a health care provider, and you suspect a child is being abused, you have to make a report--yes, that's what started all this, but this time it worked in Justina's favor) to get that issue even looked at.  And I'm still not sure it's really been looked at.  Justina wasn't at her own hearing.  Why is that? She's fifteen, not six.  She probably has an opinion. Even if it isn't followed, it should be heard.  

  Like most people, I think I'm right about certain things.  In fact, there are some things where I'm so sure I'm right that if you think otherwise, I'm likely to dismiss you out of hand.  If you don't know what those things are, you probably haven't been reading this blog very long.  But I try to be very careful about this whole concept of absolute rightness.  You may be an elephant-hugging Republican while I'm a kiss-my-ass Democrat (85% liberal, according to this survey from Time Magazine)  but we can still probably talk about some things and who knows, I might even learn something from you.  

But if we can't be respectful of each other and remember that we both have the right to an opinion, we might start arguing about who's right, and bring reams of statistics and telling personal anecdotes to illustrate the points.  By the time we're that far, all we're going to do is drive each other crazy.  Sort of the pounding of the unstoppable forces on the immovable objects.  And we'll each leave thinking the other is nuts or mean or stupid, which isn't true (no, it's never true), which both demeans the other person and drags us down (because we become the kind of person who would write off another human being because he or she disagrees with us, and who wants to be that kind of person?) 

So anyway, the next time somebody's driving you crazy in a long ridiculous argument that doesn't seem to have any frickin' point, maybe you can catch yourself and say, "Why am I so gung-ho to prove I'm right, here?" And maybe, once you do that, you'll realize that nobody's right, anyway.  Everything changes all the time.  What you're right about now, you may realize tomorrow is completely wrong.  Meanwhile you've expended all that time and energy, made yourself angry, made the other person angry and in the middle of it all, you've lost all sight of the basic point.

Which, I think, is what happened to Justina.  I doubt she gave a shit which doctors were right as long as she could see the sunlight and be with her family.  I hope she has calmer days, blue skies and no locked doors ahead. 

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