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How the public responded to the Schiavo controversy: evidence from letters to editors


The history and genesis of major public clinical ethics controversies is intimately related to the publication of opinions and responses in media coverage. To provide a sample of public response in the media, this paper reports the results of a content analysis of letters to editors published in the four most prolific American newspapers for the Schiavo controversy. Opinions expressed in the letters sampled strongly supported the use of living wills and strongly condemned public attention to the case as well as political interventions. Letters tended to be against withdrawal of life support, proxy consent and associated procedures as well as against court decisions and legal procedures. In comparison with reports written by journalists, letters to editors contained fewer controversial claims about Schiavo''s neurological condition and behavioural repertoire but similar loaded language to describe withdrawal of life support. Distinct public discourses can be encountered in different stakeholders suggesting complex and extensive pluralism even within the media.

  • Journalism/mass media
  • prolongation of life and euthanasia

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