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Political Malpractice

June 19, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who's also a physician, can't catch a break with either the polls or his medical opinions. The autopsy results released Thursday on Terri Schiavo demolished his previous contention, made after he viewed some bedside video clips, that she didn't seem as brain-damaged as her doctors had said. Meanwhile, a national New York Times/CBS poll Friday put the percentage of people who think Congress "shares their priorities" at just 19%, a rating perhaps even worse than the California Legislature's. It's a terrible number for Frist, who has not discouraged speculation that he'll run for president in 2008.

Frist defended himself on talk shows Thursday, saying variations of, "I never made a diagnosis [of Schiavo].... I wouldn't even attempt to make a diagnosis from videotape."

That's splitting the hair pretty thin. The autopsy on the poor woman, who died in the public glare after her feeding tube was removed in March, showed a shriveled brain that could not have been "minimally conscious," as Frist suggested. The autopsy found that she couldn't see either. Frist had stated in March, "When the neurologist said, 'Look up,' there is no question in the video that she actually looked up."

But we're nit-picking. Frist is on to something. Perhaps the majority leader could help fix the broken U.S. healthcare system. People lacking health insurance could be sending their homemade videos to the Senate now for an instant diagnosis.

We admit we're not the first to think of this. Some not-so-deep research turned up photos of tonsils, lumps and toe ailments, left on a Web forum to be forwarded to Frist. (The easiest way to see them, if you really want to, is to Google "Frist" and "personaldemocracy," the name of the forum.)

Practicing physicians do use Web tools to help patients who are homebound or distant. Telemetry helps monitor mundane things, such as blood pressure, and offers sophisticated tools for trading diagnostic advice. Frist, however, has come up with a much faster and cheaper system, if a bit hard to insure for malpractice.

Given that there might be some connection between Congress' poll numbers and Frist's campaign to push federal courts into a family dispute over letting Schiavo die, he shouldn't spurn the career opportunity.

With the battle over Schiavo's condition beyond dispute, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday that state prosecutors will, at his request, look into the time elapsed between Schiavo's collapse 15 years ago and a call to 911 by her husband. (He's the villain to those who demanded she be kept alive.) Maybe Bush could become a cold-case detective himself.

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