Still More on Life and Death

Squeezed April 22, 2005

OK, I really should let Terri Schiavo R.I.P. But, here’s a thought experiment for you.

Say for a minute that the Terri Schiavo case were still going on, except instead of in Florida, the case happened in Great Britain. And, just for kicks, let’s say that Michael Schiavo, far from fighting his in-laws tooth and nail, actually was one of the people advocating that she be kept alive. Would that be good enough?

Apparently not in Great Britain, if this case is typical. Eighteen-month old Charlotte Wyatt suffered severe brain and organ damage when she was born prematurely, and she has cannot see or hear, nor has she ever left the hospital where she was born.

On the surface, this looks like the Schiavo case, where the parents are trying to fight for their child’s life. In this case, the child is a minor so living wills don’t really apply here. However, in this case, their opponent is the hospital and doctors, who claim that Charlotte can feel nothing but pain and that the plug should be pulled. Today, a judge ruled that the doctors have the right to refuse to resuscitate Charlotte should she stop breathing (which has happened several times in the past).

I don’t think that’s right.

Now, granted, I actually was on the side of Michael Schiavo in the case of Schiavo v. Schindler. The courts had consistently ruled that, as her nearest next-of-kin, and in the absence of a living will, he had the right to make decisions vis-a-vis her care. And that’s how it should be, even to the point of refusing medical treatment if he believes it is in her best interest. I’m still not sure whether starving and dehydrating Terri to death was appropriate, but in the absence of clear and convincing documented written evidence to the contrary, he has that right and I respect it. The Schiavo case, at its core, was an intra-familial dispute over which next-of-kin should make the call over a critically ill person’s care.

The difference between the cases, as I pointed out above, is that the Baby Charlotte case is an issue of the health care industry making the call over whether someone’s child should live or die. That’s overstepping the bounds of ethics. The health care industry should serve those who are sick, not the other way around.

Our doctors can recommend courses of treatment to us, but it is up to us whether we follow them or not. (I mean, how many of us have had our doctors warn us about our high cholesterol, while we continue to stuff ourselves silly with saturated fat?) Don’t get me wrong…we ignore medical advice at our own risk. But, in this case, although the doctors might recommend that the parents not waste their time with resuscitating Baby Charlotte, the Wyatts have every right to say, “Give her the bloody CPR anyway.” They have that right, and the doctors should respect that. It is, after all, their daughter’s life.

On a happier note, the Wyatts are expecting another child. But let’s hope that the new arrival has an older sister by the time this is done.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments from first time commenters are moderated and will be posted at my first opportunity, usually within 48 hours.