How I Love These Teachable Moments
Thin and skinny mean basically the same thing — but which word are you more likely to hear when someone’s being insulting? What about fat versus overweight? Before long, world events and the Bush administration provided me plenty of “teachable moments,” since America and her friends have “governments” while our enemies lean more toward “regimes,” even though the two definitions in our school’s dictionaries were nearly word-for-word identical.
The Washington Post tells the story about yesterday’s court decision to allow 16-year-old cancer patient Starchild Abraham Cherrix to refuse a second round of chemotherapy treatments:
The family of a Virginia teenager who has refused conventional medical treatment for cancer reached a settlement yesterday with state officials, agreeing that he will be seen by a new oncologist while continuing his alternative therapy.The story goes on to talk about how the case has received a great deal of media attention, not just from a parents’-rights angle, but also to question how much control a 16-year-old should have over his own body. Will you strap him down and inject him with the chemicals against his will? (The story doesn't ask that; I did.)
The compromise means that Starchild Abraham Cherrix, 16, will not have to undergo chemotherapy against his will, as a judge had ordered. Officials in Accomack County on Virginia's Eastern Shore had accused his parents of medical neglect for allowing him to seek alternative treatment from a clinic in Mexico.
Next, some family background information:
The family lives in Chincoteague, a resort-like community known for holding a wild pony swim each year. Jay Cherrix runs a canoe and kayak rental business and home-schools his five children. He has a history of anti-government activism: Several years ago, he led residents in opposition to what they thought was a plan to bring commercial development to Assateague Island, the federally protected 37-mile beach near his shop.“Led residents in opposition.” What does this mean — did he circulate a petition? Speak at city council meetings? Lead a picket line? I don’t know, but what he did, combined with fighting back when social services tried to charge him with neglect when he wouldn’t force his 16-year-old to undertake chemo, is enough to qualify him as an “anti-government activist.”
Another teachable moment! Remember all those politicians who have railed against judicial activists in the past? Gee, class, I wonder if “activist” has any sort of connotation? Let’s type the word into Google News and see what comes up:
Widow files $20 million suit over JDL activists’ death in Federal prison
(imprisoned for taking part in a bomb plot)
Activist who won’t testify ordered to stay in jail
(an investigation involving suspected arson by environmental extremists)
Suspected SIMI activist taken into custody in Kochi [India]
(questioned after his roommate was arrested)
Judicial activists are bad enough to make members of government notice, while other types of activists wind up in prison or at least in police custody. Now, class: what connotations, if any, are there when a person who recently won a court battle fighting charges of medical neglect is said to have a (one-time, several years ago) “history of anti-government activism?”
By the way: it’s not just words that have connotations. Sometimes entire facts do, when presented in a certain order. Check this out:
An initial round of chemotherapy ravaged Abraham Cherrix, he and his parents have said, reducing his 6-foot frame to 122 pounds and causing his hair to fall out. After the therapy shrank his tumors but did not eliminate all signs of the disease, an oncologist at the Norfolk hospital recommended radiation and more chemotherapy.
Instead, Cherrix began an alternative treatment he had researched in Mexico consisting of herbal supplements and an organic diet free of processed sugar. The treatment was initiated by Harry Hoxsey, a former Texas cancer clinic operator who was accused by the Food and Drug Administration of peddling worthless medicine -- and who later died of cancer.
Wow. Cherrix wants to try a treatment whose own inventor died of cancer. That sounds pretty damning. Now consider what the National Cancer Institute says about the survival rate for children or adolescents with Hodgkin’s disease who undergo one unsuccessful bout with chemotherapy and then try it again:
In one study from the German Pediatric Oncology Group (GPOH), patients with an early relapse (defined as occurring between 3 and 12 months from the end of therapy) had a 10-year event-free survival (EFS) of 55% and a 5-year overallAbout 45 percent of Hodgkin’s chemotherapy patients in Cherrix’s situation wind up dying of cancer anyway. So, class: is there any connotation when a writer mentions Harry Hoxsey’s death but says nothing about the survival rates Cherrix would face with chemotherapy?
survival (OS) of 78%.
And for extra credit: discuss the overall connotations contained in the story. Do you think the writer agrees or disagrees with Cherrix's parents' decision? Explain.