Bill Keller, the former editor of The New York Times, and his wife, writer Emma G. Keller, have caused outrage after writing two separate articles which complained about a cancer patient using social media to describe her experiences with the disease.
Lisa Bonchek Adams, a mother of three and a stage four breast cancer patient, has posted over 100,000 tweets to document her treatment, and has gathered 11,000 followers.
The controversy began when Mrs Keller wrote a piece in the Guardian in early January entitled: “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” in which she accused Ms Adams of “dying out loud, especially on Twitter.”
Mrs Keller asked readers: “Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies?”
Users on the website were quick to defend Ms Adams, with one writing: “Lisa Adams is obviously hurting, but she’s not hurting anyone else. Leave her alone.”
The article has since been replaced on the Guardian website by a message stating that the article is being investigated – preceded by a message that said the column was “inconsistent” with its “editorial code”.
A Guardian spokesperson said: "The Guardian's independent readers' editor is still in the process of investigating the article in question, and will report on his findings at greater length in due course.” The newspaper has not yet responded to questions regarding the nature of the investigation.
According to the Washington Post, the controversy was worsened by Mrs Keller quoting an exchange of direct messages with Ms Adams without her knowledge or permission. Mrs Keller acknowledged her mistake in an update to the piece, and said she regretted not warning Ms Adams that the messages would be quoted.
Ms Adams responded to Mrs Kellers article on Twitter, complaining of the: “many inaccuracies," adding: "I’m quite perplexed and concerned. Misses everything I’m trying to do. Stunned. Saddened.”
Undeterred by the response to his wife’s article, Mr Keller used his column in the Sunday New York Times to compare Ms Adams’ treatment to that received by his father-in-law, who died of cancer in 2012 in a UK hospital.
Mr Keller wrote on 12 January: “There, more routinely than in the United States, patients are offered the option of being unplugged from everything except pain killers and allowed to slip peacefully from life.” He called his father-in-law’s death: “humane and honourable” in comparison to the “expensive misery of death in America.”
He went on to quote a dean at the US Stanford University, Steven Goodman, who said Adams’ blog “shouldn’t be unduly praised. Equal praise is due to those who accept an inevitable fate with grace and courage.”
While the column received positive responses, it was also criticised similarly to Mrs Keller’s piece, prompting Ms Adams to tweet: “The main thing is that I am alive. Do not write me off and make statements about how my life ends TIL IT DOES, SIR.”
In a statement to The New York Times’ public editor dated 13 January, Mr Keller said he “tried to be clear” that he “respect[s] Lisa Adams’ choices, and I meant it” and that “some readers” had “misread” his point.
“The most vociferous – seem to believe that anything short of an unqualified ‘right on, Lisa!’ is inhumane or sacrilegious,” he said, adding that some readers had understood what he was trying to say.