Matter of Life and Death

In his Oct. 16 article on the Nancy Cruzan case {Health}, Don Colburn quoted George Anna as saying, "It's hard to find anyone who thinks that Nancy Cruzan should not be disconnected from the feeding tube."

This is untrue. Many people -- including doctors, ethicists and lawyers -- oppose her dehydration and starvation. The problem is that reporters rarely quote such people. The Colburn story was typical -- he quoted two men who favored withdrawing Cruzan's food and water and no one who opposed it. This gives the public a false picture of the case. So has the failure of many reporters to note crucial facts related to the case. To mention just a few:

Tube feeding is neither high-tech nor recent; it was done as early as 1875.

Several people diagnosed as in "irreversible" coma or vegetative state have, in fact, awakened.

Nursing staff who take care of Cruzan have expressed strong opposition to withholding her food and water.

Many disability-rights activists are alarmed at the implications of starving Nancy Cruzan. They fear other severely disabled patients may be next.

As a writer specializing in life-and-death issues, I am often dismayed by superficial and inaccurate reporting on these issues. We're talking about people's lives here. Let's get it right. -- Mary Meehan Poetry 101

The lusty, loving bard of Scotland, Robert Burns, would have enjoyed Duke University Prof. Henry Louis Gates's attributing "My love is like a red, red rose" to that other bard, Shakespeare {"Rap Lyrics Likened to Literature," Style, Oct. 20}.

Having lived in the land of academia, I know what it is to be out of touch, but Gates -- with his labored analogies and condescending manner, epitomized by his spelling out "parody" for the obtuse -- might be an ideal candidate for a sabbatical leave, for rest and research.

-- Catherine S. Mattingly Watch Your Language

Peter Mikelbank referred to the Marquis de Sade as a "black saint, a French satyr, a Jekyll-Hyde with whip and quill" {Style, Oct. 14}. While he may be unconscious of the effect such metaphors produce, using "black" to connote wickedness conveys a not-so-subtle racism through language. Two decades after the black power and women's movements forcibly drew attention to linguistic racism and sexism, this is inexcusable.

Martin Luther King Jr. was very likely a black saint. De Sade, though, was a white sinner, or, since one hopes his whiteness had nothing to do with his cruelty, simply a sinner. If writers such as Mikelbank require elaborate metaphors to convey the marquis' seductive allure, they should use their creativity to invent nonracist ones. -- Andy Feeney Cowardly Conduct

Every day, we read about more brutal attacks and vicious murders in the Washington area and wonder how people have come to treat one another with such absolute inhumanity. We thought that your paper condemned this type of behavior, but then you use the adjective "daring" to describe a recent 10-shots-in-the-back slaying {Metro, Oct. 20}. Why not "cynical," "ruthless," "sick" or "cold-blooded"? Or perhaps most appropriate, "cowardly"? -- Charlotte Mooney -- Christopher Jones The Nun Story

The headline "Nuns Air Battle on Abortion" {Religion, Oct. 13} implied that it is possible to dissent on the issue of abortion and remain a Catholic nun in good standing. In fact, the two figures in the story, Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey, are former nuns. Are you incapable of accuracy or full disclosure when reporting on abortion?

-- Robert J. Shalhoub Misplaced

On the Oct. 20 Free for All page, you printed Robert J. Griendling's complaint about coverage of a First Amendment case being relegated to Style instead of being in the news section where it belonged. This was not a unique event. Like the Cincinnati obscenity trial, the 2 Live Crew trial, another First Amendment case, was also relegated to Style.

I also find that you tend to place stories in Sports when they belong elsewhere. For example:

A formerly illiterate drug abuser testified before the Senate. This was obviously a Style story, since illiteracy and drug abuse are not sports. Just because the illiterate drug abuser was Dexter Manley did not make it a sports story.

Four Washington Capitals were accused of rape, yet the story was in Sports. The story of David Wingate, another athlete accused of rape, was in Sports too.

The case of a man who was accused of aggravated assault and possible attempted murder in Texas was in Sports, because the man was Washington Redskin Ricky Sanders.

Would the story of John Wilkes Booth assassinating Abraham Lincoln appear in the Show section because Booth was an actor? Whoever chooses the section in which to place stories needs an infusion of common sense.

-- Ellen Aaron