Ann Neumann Lecture: Critiquing Coverage of Religion and the Right-to-Die Movement

Missy Velez

The talk given by Ann Neuman on Thursday, April 3, was advertised as a lecture about the end-of-life rights movement and its involvement with religion. The beginning of her lecture was informative and described the advent of the respirator, Automated External Defibrillator and feeding tube technologies, and how these have extended what was a formerly narrow definition of life. She then went on to describe the three most well-known cases involving the right to die movement and religion: Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan and Terry Schiavo. This was the point in her lecture, however, when I began to become confused.

A main point of contention was also the way in which Ms. Neumann portrayed the Catholic Church. Although I am not a religious person, I attended both middle and high school in a private, all-girls Catholic school and am fairly well-versed in Catholic teaching. Disappointingly, Ms. Neumann did not reference any other religious views on the right to die movements and focused exclusively on the aspect of Catholicism and Catholic hospitals.

Her bias against Catholic hospitals became strongly apparent during the question and answer portion of her presentation. Instead of focusing on right-to-die topics, Ms. Neumann began to stray to the topic of abortions and also put a strong emphasis on the problem of feeding tubes. Ms. Neumann stated that once a patient in a persistent vegetative state within a Catholic hospital is intubated, it is nearly impossible to extubate them. From my experience, I found this to be a misrepresentation: my father is a surgeon who has worked at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Baltimore for decades, and if a family of a patient in a persistent vegetative state wishes to end that patient’s life, it is well within their abilities to do so. It is certainly not out of their hands, nor is it exclusively at the mercy of the hospital’s director, as Ms. Neumann argued it was.

I found Ms. Neumann’s example about a woman having a miscarriage and being denied a D and C (Dilation and Curettage) at a Catholic ER both exceptional and wildly misrepresentative of Catholic hospitals. All hospitals must have an ethics board, which is purposely diverse and serves the purpose of making sure that the physicians of the hospital are acting in ways that are best for their patients and within the Hippocratic Oath. Few hospitals and physicians, Catholic or otherwise, would encourage a patient to remain on a ventilator or relying on a feeding tube when the patient clearly has no chance of reclaiming their life. This is against what most physicians want to do, which is to provide the best care for their patients.

After researching Ms. Neumann, I found that she was a contributing editor for an online publication, “The Revealer,” which is a publication funded by New York University’s Center for Religion and Media. Ms. Neumann describes herself as a hospice volunteer, which by no means certifies her as an expert on end-of-life issues. I had hoped to find some sort of higher education or bioethical experience on her biography but was not surprised when I did not. I had expected a scholarly examination of the end-of-life rights movement and its interaction with various religions and politics.

Contact Missy Velez at [email protected]