Friday, January 20, 2006

Science & Medicine Don't Know Everything

For the last thirty years, the focus of medical ethics has been patient autonomy. Because not every patient is competent to exercise choices in treatment, the law has evolved to allow "surrogates" to make choices for the incompetent. Of course, in the case of children, surrogates (parents, guardians, etc.) make treatment decisions. Surrogates are supposed to make such decisions in the best interest of the patient.

In a terrible case, a State Agency is making treatment decisions for a child who was severely beaten by her stepfather. Michelle Malkin has the story:

Last fall, Haleigh was hospitalized after her stepfather allegedly burned her and beat her nearly to death with a baseball bat. Haleigh, in a coma, was kept alive by a feeding tube and ventilator. Doctors said she was "virtually brain dead" -- in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

The Massachusetts Department of Social Services wanted to remove Haleigh's feeding and breathing tubes.

The Court gave permission to withdraw life-sustaining treatments and the respirator was removed. Maxed Out Mama has the story about how this child has come out of her coma and started breathing after the respirator was removed:

They took her off the ventilator, and she continued to breathe. Obviously her condition is slowly improving, and now her life is conditioned on whether society is willing to pay for her care. She is now reportedly moving somewhat, so the "sheared brain stem" is obviously not accurate. Lord only knows what was in those medical records and what testimony the court heard.

Now the doctors are disagreeing as to whether or not the feeding tube should be removed, again from Maxed Out Mama:

Virginia Peel, a lawyer for DSS, which has legal custody of the girl, said Haleigh’s doctors have agreed she will not come out of her vegetative state.

“This is not about the right to life,” Peel said. “This is about the circumstance under which this person is allowed to die.”

Both of Haleigh’s doctors agree she should be removed from the ventilator, but they are split over whether her feeding tube should be disconnected.

They have said that with her feeding tube alone, Haleigh could live as long as two months.

Without any life support assistance, she would die much sooner, the doctors said.

Egan said Strickland should be allowed to have another doctor examine the girl, but Peel said that isn’t necessary.

“When you have consistent medical opinions, why do you have to find a doctor who might — who might — challenge that,” she said.
Is Ms. Peel acting in the best interest of this child, given that attitude? Wouldn't a caring parent get multiple opinions?

Why would anyone be willing to place their fate in the hands of a bureaucrat?

The Anchoress discusses this and says:

Doctors DON’T know everything, particularly when it comes to the human brain, and the spirit, as well. This child is a minor, could not have declared her intentions for herself even if - at some point previous - she’d had a chance to. I hope to get a chance to write on it later or tomorrow.