Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog


The Slippery Slope in Action

A while back, I explored the issues involving government intervention in parents' rights to determine proper medical care for their children. We started off debating the case of Jessica Crank, who died from a massive tumor. The tumor could have been removed, but her mother refused the surgery, based on religious grounds. There was a major flap over this, and most folks sided against the mother, and wanted her prosecuted.

Then came a case in Michigan, where a girls parent's opted for alternative medicine over traditional surgery because the doctors told them that there were serious risks and a very good chance their daughter wouldn't survive the surgery, or would have very severe complications. The hospital sued to force the parents to allow the surgery. Once again, I spoke against this invasion of parental rights, and warned that we were progressing in a very dangerous direction. I was told I was too "black and white" and that there were "shades of gray" that most reasonable people would recognize.

The issue just got a lot blacker.

In England, the courts have ruled that doctors can allow a baby to die, despite the objections of the child's parents.

Doctors have been permission not to resuscitate baby Charlotte Wyatt the next time her condition seriously deteriorates.

A high court judge has ruled in favour of doctors at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS trust who wanted the power to refuse life-saving treatment to 11-month-old Charlotte.

Her parents, who have decided not to appeal against the ruling, had wanted the doctors to resuscitate their daughter in the hope a miracle that would allow to her to grow and eventually be able to leave the hospital.

The judge, Mr Justice Hedley, said the case revolved around when Charlotte should be allowed to die rather than if she should. He said she should have a pain-free death in the arms of those who love her, and not be kept alive artificially.

Doctors will now resuscitate Charlotte long enough to ensure her parents, Debbie and Darren Wyatt, can be with her as she dies.

See how the bar has moved? Before, it was about not allowing parents to refuse treatment for their children, then about not allowing parents to choose which treatment is most appropriate for their child. Now, it's about not refusing treatment of any kind despite the parents wishes.

What is even worse is that England has government run socialized medicine; in essence, the government, not the parents is determining whether a child's quality of life is worth preserving.

That scares the hell out of me, and is probably the best argument to be made against socialized medecine. Unless you want a gov't functionary to determine whether your baby lives or dies.

Not so damn gray anymore, is it?

It gets worse. The doctors don't want to ventilate her because of the additional pain and suffering, yet they agree to ventilate her until her parents can get to the hospital to say goodbye. Why do I feel like Monty Python wrote this particular bit? We won't hurt her to keep her alive, but we will do it to let her die with her parents.

What the hell?

Finally, there's this from Mary Riddell, published prior to the decision:
Last month's Panorama programme, based on a tracking study, showed disturbing outcomes for babies born before 26 weeks. Of the 1,200 infants delivered alive in the UK and Ireland between March and December 1995, 314 survived to go home. Of those, 40 per cent had moderate to severe problems with cognitive development at six years of age.

That leaves out of account the 60 per cent of survivors who are effectively perfect, and the parents who would have made no other choice, however disabled their child. But it also crushes the myth of marvels. Modern medicine can keep babies alive at increasingly young ages, but it cannot guarantee their health. This imbalance has been glossed over for too long by a society primed to think that death is always the worst result.

I'm assuming she meant that of 1200 preemies, 314 made it out of the hospital, with 40% showing moderate to severe cognitive disabilities. Her point seems to be that since medicine cannot guarantee a favorable outcome, we should be more accepting of the idea that maybe they shouldn't really try so hard all the time. I'm sure the parents of the 60% would disagree, as would many of the 40%.

Nobody has more invested in the survival of their child than the parents; nobody cares more about the best interests of that child than the parents. For the state to step in and say, "No, your child must die" is simply wrong, regardless of the circumstances.

OK, now that this step on the slippery slope has been taken, what will be the next one? It's fairly easy to predict, actually. If quality of life is the arbiter of survival for infants, there's nothing to say that it can't do the same for cognitively disable adults. I'm guessing that the next fight will be similar to the Schiavo case, except with the sides reversed. The family will be fighting to keep the victim alive, but the doctors, or just as likely, the insurance company, will sue to remove a feeding tube, or stop a ventilator.

Anyone want to bet what the verdict would be?
Posted by Rich
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