By Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 3/31/2005 1:19:29 PM ET 2005-03-31T18:19:29

5 p.m. ET

There are currently about 30,000 registered sex offenders in the state of Florida.  In the month before nine-year-old Jessica Lundsford was murdered, 1800 of them were missing in the system, meaning the state had no way of knowing where they were or whose children were in danger.

One of these offenders is John Evander Couey, arrested recently and charged with Jessica's murder.  He was able to locate himself in the child's neighborhood without notification and then allegedly rape and kill her before purchasing a bus ticket under a false name and fleeing the state.  Oh, and let's not forget that he had been previously arrested 25 times for other crimes including molestation and battery of a child. Seems like one big failure of a system to me.

I'm not picking on Florida.  This is really just one example in an unfortunate sea of countless others.  California has certainly had its share in recent years.  David Westerfield's murder of Danielle Van Dam comes to mind, as well as the tragic murder of Samantha Runyon.  The Runyon case is particularly horrifying because it plays into a parent's worst nightmares, the kind of story you see in made-for-TV movies.  An absolute stranger sweeps up a child playing in her own yard, molests and murders her.

We the media tend to only pick up on these stories occasionally.  It's Samantha's pretty, gap-toothed grin or the sordid details of the Van Dam murder that capture our attention.  Also, the abduction and murder of a child is a statistically rare occurrence. The Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that somewhere around 100 kids a year are the victims of this most heinous act.

Sexual abuse and assault, however, are not rare, and those crimes don't just happen to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed young girls we feature in the news.  There are an estimated 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America.  Abuse at the hands of priests, parents, coaches, Boy Scout leaders, and babysitters.  The abusers live and work in your community, possibly right alongside your sons and daughters. 

We are failing our children, but I'm not sure what the answer is.  Community leaders in Florida are calling for a locator bracelet program for sex offenders.  If Martha Stewart needs to wear one, why shouldn't a pedophile?  Others say that the laws need to be much tougher.  Maybe a person who has molested and battered a child shouldn't ever be released from prison.  On the other side, psychologists and corrections officials say that many of these men and women can be rehabilitated.  This will be an interesting debate, so be sure to tune in.

Also today, a report on the U.N. Oil for Food scandal was released.  Kofi Annan is standing his ground, but some feel it is time for the Secretary General to step down. 

All that and more.  Keep the e-mails coming.

12 p.m. ET

The Terri Schiavo case has become a three ring circus, with the Schindlers, the Schiavos, and the media each desperately trying to attract the most attention.  Meanwhile, a woman is dying in a Florida hospital, and some pretty significant questions about her condition remain unanswered.

While other shows may be catering to zealots and activists who have latched onto this issue just to further an agenda on one side or the other, today on Connected we are going to offer pure information, free of elected officials and family bickering.

A panel of some of the finest doctors and ethicists in the country will assemble for the hour to answer the fundamental questions at the core of this drama: How is brain death defined?  Is it possible to recover from a persistent vegetative state?  And, most importantly, if a person is doomed to remain on a feeding tube for the remainder of her days, does that constitute extraordinary care?

These questions help illuminate not only Terri Schiavo's plight, but the situation that thousands of other families are confronting all around the country.  If you or a loved one end up with significant brain damage, what would you do?  It's best to get all the information now.

One ethicist quoted on the case this week asked a very powerful question. If you were in Terri Schiavo's position and you were able to wake up and look around for fifteen minutes, to observe your condition and know your fate, would you choose to continue the life support?  If you can answer that question one way or the other, you are ready to write your living will.

Join us for what could be one of the most important hours of television you will watch.

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