Friday, February 18, 2005

A Pro-Life Nightmare

This story will probably keep a few people on my side of the pro-life debate up at night:

Doctors could remove life support from a baby boy born with a fatal form of dwarfism as early as next week if an appellate court upholds a Harris County Probate Court judge's groundbreaking decision to let the hospital determine the infant's fate.


The rapid turnaround indicates the appellate court doesn't want to prolong the conflict between the hospital, which believes continuing treatment is inhumane, and the infant's mother, Wanda Hudson, who disputes the doctors' diagnosis.


McCulloch's ruling, if it stands, has the potential to make history, say bioethicists, because no U.S. judge has ever decided in favor of discontinuing life support on a living infant, although they have upheld hospital decisions in court after the baby has died.


Those who survive the newborn period do not live to adulthood, experts said. Unconscious and sedated for comfort, Sun does not wiggle or open his eyes, hospital officials said.

Although patients on ventilator support may live for years, that would not be the case with Sun, experts said.

Because of his small rib cage, his lungs cannot expand to sustain his body and he will be slowly starved of oxygen.

Texas Children's doctors have said they believed "it was immoral to subject a terminally ill child to unnecessary life-sustaining medical procedures."


Texas law allows doctors and hospitals to make some decisions involving life support, even against family wishes. The law requires a hospital's ethics committee to approve a doctor's recommendation to end life support if the patient's family disagrees.


Hudson said she spent three days in a psychiatric hospital after the delivery because doctors at St. Luke's were alarmed about statements she was making about her baby being the human embodiment of the sun.

Because of concerns about the mother's mental competence, a Texas Children's spokeswoman said, the hospital encouraged court involvement and offered to cover Hudson's reasonable attorney fees.

During the three hearings to determine her baby's fate, Hudson interrupted the proceedings with rambling outbursts. She talked about how she communicates telepathically with her son, but also about the painful experience of fighting for his life.
There are so many complications in this case that I am not sure where I stand. Usually I take the position that life support is not morally obligatory in such circumstances, as long as there is no active euthanasia. But the fact that this is being done in opposition to the wishes of the patient's mother is somewhat chilling, as is the hospital's assertion that it is "immoral to subject a terminally ill child to unnecessary life-sustaining medical procedures." This is just too much of a "we know what's good for the little people" scenario. But in the face of the mother's obvious looniness, who really can make the decision?

In the final analysis, I think the child should be kept on life-support since he is not in any obvious discomfort and the benefit of the doubt should be given to sustaining life. But I would not want to be the judge in this case and I hope that the article is incorrect when it implies that the case could set a precedent. This is a perfect example of hard cases making bad law.

(Via Mirror of Justice)

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