If there is a list of GetReligion’s deadly journalism sins that affect religion coverage, one of the top items has to be this one: Don’t play the God card unless you intend to follow through and offer the reader some facts about the actual role that faith played in the story.
You know the kind of story we’re talking about. So you have this fallen football star who is trying to come back from moral failure and he talks about how the Lord is on his side, etc. Then that’s it. Readers never hear from a pastor or see any information that documents that the person is active in a faith tradition in any way, period. Or what about the famous coach who is talking about faith all the time and it’s clearly central to his life and work — yet the stories rarely offer any specifics?
Well, the Newspaper That Lands in My Yard served up a story of this kind the other day — with a twist.
In this case, it’s hard to say that the story played the God card because we are dealing with a controversial figure who may or may not still be a Unitarian minister. This is significant, because Dr. Lawrence Egbert is, we are told, a brilliant academic who is now becoming known as “The New Doctor Death,” an activist who has been present at 100 deaths. This summary passage describes the landscape of this Baltimore Sun report:
A decade after Jack Kevorkian went to prison for helping a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease commit suicide, Egbert, 83, has been dubbed “The New Doctor Death” by Newsweek after being criminally charged in two states for his role as medical director for the Final Exit Network. An Arizona jury acquitted him last month following a three-week trial in the death of a Phoenix woman. He has also been charged in Georgia.
The cases have revived the debate over assisted suicide and placed Egbert, a retired anesthesiologist, at the forefront of the debate over Americans’ right to take their own lives. The Final Exit Network is the only known group performing such work, and members say their assistance is compassionate and progressive. Prosecutors call them “killers.” Even other right-to-die advocates, including Kevorkian himself, disagree with their methods.
Amid the controversy, Egbert has been dismissed from his role teaching classes at the Johns Hopkins University and has had a falling-out with his church.
So, that’s an important point, mentioned high in the story in its summary of the major themes.
One would expect to find out what happened, right? What was this “falling out” about? How does this man’s faith or lack thereof fit into this controversial cause?
One would expect that. Along the way, we find out all kinds of things — on one side of the story. When it comes to brilliant apologists, this is apparently a very one-sided debate. This is not terribly surprising, when reading Sun coverage of social and moral issues. If you read the whole story, you will not find a single unpredictable voice.
Religion makes another brief appearance in mid-stream:
(Egbert) says the key moment came in the mid-1980s when the pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Dallas asked if he would euthanize a parishioner with cancer. After researching the issue, he agreed, and though the woman’s daughter talked her out of it, he became a believer in the benefits and rights to assisted suicide.
At the very end, there is one more visitation by the ghost:
Egbert said that he’s received wide support since his arrest but that there has been a backlash locally. At Hopkins, he had been an assistant professor in the anesthesiology department, taught an ethics course, conducted interviews on prospective pre-med students, and was a Unitarian minister at the school’s chapel. Following publicity of the criminal charges, Egbert retains only his title as a professor and is not teaching classes.
Note the past tense. Egbert “was a Unitarian minister” at the chapel in one of the world’s most prestigious medical schools.
But that’s it. That’s all the information the reader gets. I, for one, would be interested in knowing what happened during this so-called “falling out.” This is especially important since Egbert was drawn into this cause through a Unitarian connection and the, if the story is accurate, he cared enough about this progressive approach to religion to become ordained.
So, who out there wants to know how one exits the Unitarian Universalist fold in a debate over euthanasia (if this is, in fact, what happened)? My hand is raised. Way up.