Monday, January 23, 2006

A Child of God

Wesley J. Smith and Michelle Malkin are both reporting that Gov. Romney is appointing a panel to look into the case of 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre. Romney explained his reasoning by saying:

Romney said he was appointing the panel because, "an individual is a child of God, and this is something that we care very deeply about and that's why were going to focus on this particular case."

Assuming that the panel is going to review the treatment decisions made by DSS, including the plan to withhold hydration and nutrition, we can only hope that the members of the panel will hold the belief that an individual is a child of God, and, therefore, has value outside cognitive and physical abilities. For some years,this has not been the prevalent belief among many social scientists, including those who go into government social services.

Francis Schaeffer, collaborating with C. Everett Koop, M.D. wrote about this in his book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race way back in 1979. One of the issues he discussed was the practice of setting aside newborn Downs Syndrome children born with short intestine syndrome, allowing them to die of starvation, rather than performing the very simple surgery that would reverse the problem. In fact, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School produced a documentary entitled Who Shall Survive, portraying the death of such an infant.

I saw part of this documentary in one of my law school classes in 1979 or 1980. I walked out, and to this day have no recollection of what the class was. I do remember seeing a writhing, miserable baby on the screen crying for sustenance right before I left in disgust.

When writing Whatever Happened to the Human Race, Francis Schaeffer noted a report produced in 1975 by the Sonoma Conference (in California) on Ethical Issues in Neonatal Intensive Care entitled "Ethics of Newborn Intensive Care." In the report a panel of twenty answered yes to this question:

Would it be right to directly intervene to kill a self-sustaining infant?"

Schaeffer said...

One of the marks of our time is that many of the nonphysicians on the panel, including bioethicists, lawyers, a nurse, a social worker, a sociologist, an anthropologist, and a philosopher, could see no difference at all between not putting a child on a machine and not giving it food. Letting a dying child die and actually killing a living child by starvation were all the same to them. The physicians on the panel said they themselves would hesitate to kill such an infant directly, but would no prevent someone else from doing so.

Schaeffer calls this what it is by noting..

This is total relativism. Values are a purely subjective matter and could change with any circumstances.

Given the previous decision of the doctors that Haleigh's tube should be removed that I reported here, it appears that the position of physicans has drastically changed about the question of actively hastening the death of a cognitively impaired infant or child through dehydration and starvation. Now, rather than letting others do it, they would do it themselves.

So, we can only hope that Gov. Romney ensures that the panel he is appointing includes people who agree with his assessment of human life. The direction being taken in medicine and the social sciences is antithetical to that idea. If he does not take care to include people who do not hold a utilitarian, humanist view of life, the decision of the panel regarding the treatment decisions made in Haleigh's may not be in line with Gov. Romney's position.

I agree with Wesley J. Smith when he says:

By all means: Investigate. And let us hope that the conclusion is reached that food and water should not be removed from people based solely on "quality" of life considerations in the wake of a catastrophic brain injury.