Schiavo vs. Raich coverage: Where's the outrage?

March 14, 2007

Silja Talvi, WIMN\'s Voices, Reclaim the Media

It might still be too early to tell, but I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of mainstream media outlets will not be sitting on Angel McClary Raich’s doorstep, reporting on the urgency of her struggle right now to stay alive.

Raich, who has an inoperable brain tumor and numerous other serious medical conditions, really wants to keep living on this eath. But yesterday, she was handed an effective death sentence when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found “that while they sympathized with Ms. Raich’s plight and had seen ‘uncontroverted evidence’ that she needed marijuana to survive, she lacked the legal grounds to exempt herself from federal law.” (Jesse McKinley, New York Times, “Dying Woman Loses Appeal on Marijuana as Medication.”)

The pro-lifers are also unlikely to be rounding up the troops to try to make sure that Raich survives.

And that’s a damn shame. A hypocritical shame, at that.

What’s up with the inconsistency in caring about who lives or dies? The key difference is likely to be that Raich smokes medical marijuana to stay alive, and our own brand of “Reefer Madness” is still alive and well.

An essential component of the American propaganda war against weed has always been the notion that women who smoke marijuana are easily tempted into a life of sin. All of this may not be as apparent a theme as it was in the 1930s when white women who smoked pot were depicted as “loose” women who listened to jazz and slept with black men … but just think about it this way. When was the last time you heard a prominent woman admit that she’s ever smoked marijuana? (Even to say, “I didn’t inhale!”)

That’s because the stigma is still that strong, and that pervasive.

Add to this the fact that the anti-choice movement is very closely and sickeningly tied to the drug war.

Back in 2003, I wrote a piece for The Nation, “Criminalizing Motherhood,”, about what was then one of the most alarming, early indicators of the intent of anti-choice hooligans to lead the charge to incarcerate pregnant women for drug use.

I’m talking about the case of Regina McKnight case in South Carolina in 2003, involving her stillborn child and a resulting 12-year prison sentence for the “homicide” of a child that didn’t even breathe. Never mind that stillborn babies come into the world to mothers who have never even touched drugs, or that there’s absolutely no conclusive scientific or medical evidence linking cocaine use to stillbirths or miscarriages.

McKnight went down so that the anti-choice movement could gain ground on meshing multi-pronged attacks on women’s rights, reproductive rights, and civil liberties.

As was the case with McKnight, this ruling ultimately communicates the reality that female bodies still to other entities: to the government and the men who write most of these laws criminalizing our choices. (Not to take anything away from the impact of the bible-thumping, crazed hordes of anti-choice women. )

As women, we must keep asking the question of how far have we come in our right to control our own bodies, in the context of the cultures and societies in which we live.

When it comes to women and the drug war here in the US, we actually have not come very far. We still can’t be trusted to make up our own recreational *or* medical decisions. Because it isn’t enough if we struggle with our own bodies and minds, and it definitely isn’t enough if we women have our own tragedies. We have to be punished, just like Raich is now being punished for using medical marijuana instead of popping Oxycontin.

Raich is actually the furthest person from a pothead trying to exploit a made-up illness to get some choice buds in her pocket. She’s a 41-year-old survivor, a woman who has already gone up against the odds to make it for this long. Nothing else, except for medical marijuana, has stimulated her appetite and relieved the severity of her pain effectively.

The medicinal benefits of cannabis for people suffering from a variety of ailments and chronic diseases have already been well-documented across the world–and even here in the U.S.

Raich’s story is likely to fade from the brief spotlight it’ll see in a few newspapers, and then disappear altogether. We shouldn’t let that happen.

I, for one, want to see how interested the media would be in pursuing the kind of intensive coverage we saw devoted to a woman who had already lost all of her ability to function and live without life support. Both women’s stories revolve(d) around the government’s intervention in a person’s right to live or die. In this case, Raich’s loyal husband and lawyer is fighting for her right to live just as strongly as Schiavo’s loyal husband fought for her right to die. For that, he was made the subject of spectacle, and the Schiavo story drew national headlines. The sad, almost surreal media frenzy surrounding her death was also chronicled, sometimes minute by minute, on pro-life blogs everywhere.

To all the anti-choice folks out there talkin’ all that smack about wanting to make sure human life is sacrosanct … So, show me what you’ve got.

Members of the 4th Estate, I want to see you throw the same kind of effort into covering Raich’s case as Schiavo’s.

I won’t be holding my breath, but I’m still giving it a shot. Show me what you’ve got.

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