Thursday, 17 March 2011

A life not worth living?

There is an appalling, horrifying story in the Sydney Morning Herald today, of the Family Court granting permission for medical treatment to be withdrawn from a baby which will inevitably result in the child's death.

Here are the facts as reported:

"The girl, known as ''Baby D'', was a twin born at 27 weeks' gestation in August last year. Although her twin largely recovered and graduated from neonatal intensive care, Baby D developed a blocked airway and could not breathe without a endotracheal tube. She also suffered a severe brain injury that likely rendered her blind, mentally retarded and unable to walk.

However, Baby D was a highly unusual case in that unlike other infants with severe brain injury, her brain stem was not compromised, she had no underlying irrecoverable life-threatening problems, and could breathe on her own - so long as the plastic tube opened her airway.

The court heard that she was conscious and aware, cried, responded to touch and was comforted by being held and cuddled.

Three paediatric specialists told the court they agreed with the parents' decision to extubate Baby D and provide sedation and pain relief - which would inevitably result in death - if her airway closed and she was in distress.

In a judgment handed down yesterday, Justice Young said the specialists concurred that ''any future life for Baby D is … very burdensome and futile with no expectation of any enjoyment of life and without sight and meaningful brain capacity''.

Please pray that these parents might have a change of heart.

11 comments:

Tony said...

I just pray that the parents make the right decision.

But I also caution against you assuming you know what that decision is because you read it in a newspaper.

Journalists -- even good ones -- try to distil events into easy-to-comprehend parts. What they don't tell us -- for reasons of brevity or (as you observed with CathNews) because it doesn't 'fit' their take -- is often as important as what they tell us.

Kate said...

I'm not sure what you are suggesting here Tony, please help me understand.

This is one of those instances where I think we probably can rely on the media getting it pretty much right in terms of the basic facts of the matter - there is clearly a written court decision that can be drawn on after all.

So for the sake of argument let us assume firstly that we have the facts of the case. How can it ever be right to remove the device that prevents her airtubes from blocking up, thus causing her to die?

And taking your point about the media, under just what circumstances would withdrawing medical aid in a case like this be morally correct in your view?

Because I would suggest that the reasons cited by the judge and medical practitioners in the article at least run directly counter to Catholic doctrine!

Tony said...

You can assume what you like 'for argument's sake', Kate, and that gives us fodder for debate, but I think it's dangerous to assume anything about the reality of this case.

Also, I don't think a specific case that relies on the perspective of a journalist is a reasonable standard of evidence to come to definitive conclusions.

So, again, I pray that they do the right thing. To do that, they need 'space' to think and reflect -- hard enough in the circumstances; harder if they are the subjects of the media cycle -- and that they have the benefit of good counsel.

Kate said...

Tony - A story appears in the newspapers.

The immediate question is, what should be our response to it - and this one immediately raises the question of what are the principles that we should apply in a situation like this?

Instead of addressing this you offer obfustications that imply that there are no principles, that some other possibility than respecting the sanctity of life might be open in this situation.

I invite you to tell us what other possiblity is genuinely open to a catholic in interpreting this story.

Tony said...

My genuine response is this, Kate:

I pray that the parents in this story have the time and space to reflect on their decision and that they have access to good counsel.

I genuinely believe that anything other than that is speculation.

On the broader principles, I offer these reflections:

2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons.
It is morally unacceptable.


I agree.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.
The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.


An act may be 'murderous' but if it is a genuine error of judgment it is not murder.

2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment.

I agree.

With the increasing intevention of technology the judgement call about what is and what is not 'burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate' is getting harder in many cases.

Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted.
The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.


I agree.

2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted.
The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable.


I agree.

Kate said...

So Tony, here is where you go off the rails in my view. You quote the Catechsim as saying:

"Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.
The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded."

But then comment: "An act may be 'murderous' but if it is a genuine error of judgment it is not murder."

That is not what the catechism says.

The Catechism says that it is murder and must always be forbidden and excluded!

Let us start there.

Tony said...

By way of clarification (and just in case my source is innaccurate) my source is: http://www.christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/fifth.html.

I quoted this sentence:

The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

And you conflate that to:

The Catechism says that it is murder and must always be forbidden and excluded!

Can you not see an important difference here?

Kate said...

Tony - It is crystal clear what the Catechism says here. It is saying that murder is always objectively just that, no matter whether an error of judgment is involved.

Think of the case of a positive act, and trying a defense of 'it was an error of judgment' - for example if a parent threw his child off a bridge (or something of that kind) and killed her. The circumstances might possibly, in some rare instances, change the penalty, the degree of guilt. But they do not change the objective fact that a murder occurred.

Andrea said...

"Justice Young said the specialists concurred that ''any future life for Baby D is … very burdensome and futile with no expectation of any enjoyment of life and without sight and meaningful brain capacity"

It seems to me the "treatment" baby D needs, ie a plastic tube to enable her to breath ON HER OWN, is particularly burdensome. I suspect that Justice Young means he (or the specialists) thinks it would be burdensome on the parents - you could say that about many children with disabilities.

And how does he (or the specialists) know whether Baby D can be happy, or have enjoyment in life - he is judging it by his own standards?

I hope and pray the parents will make the right decision.

Andrea said...

My previous post should read that the treatment "isn't particularly burdensome"

PM said...

And since when has the (anti-) Family Court had power over life and death?

It clearly regards children as chattels or designer accessories for their parents.