Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pro-Life for Baby Joseph

Do hospitals have the right to remove a child's life-support against the family’s wishes? 

15-month-old Joseph Maraachli suffers from Leigh’s disease, a rare but fatal neurodegenerative disorder. Back in October his doctors concluded that that he was in a vegetative state from which he would never recover. Consequently, the government-run hospital in Canada where Joseph had spent most of his short life handed his parents an oxymoronic order to consent  to remove his life support. Joseph’s parents requested that the hospital perform a tracheotomy instead so that he could breathe on his own long enough for them to bring their son home to die.

The hospital refused, stating that a tracheotomy was indicated only for patients who needed it for long-term care. Joseph didn’t. So they wouldn’t. As if trying to provide your child with a dignified way to die isn’t bad enough, now you have to go to court to do it.  But the Ontario Superior Court, too, rejected the family’s appeal.

Enter Priests for Life, a Catholic group that funded Joseph’s trip to a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri where he finally got his tracheotomy. In April, Joseph returned home to Canada with his family. They, along with their 15,000+ Save Baby Joseph Facebook friends are all praying for a miracle. Meanwhile, the Christian Broadcast Network has hailed Joseph’s plight as a “Pro-life victory”. Capital P.

Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t.  I’ll give credit where credit is due but mere moments after the hospital’s decision came down, Joseph became a crucible for another agenda: the case against ObamaCare.

AHA!,  roared the critics with palpable glee. THIS is what you’ll get with a government-run health care plan. No choice, no freedom of health care! Hmmm. So, using this logic, can I assume that the current “freedom-based” private healthcare system would consent to an arguably futile, expensive procedure like the one Joseph got?

Well, okay, maybe not.  But with ObamaCare, get ready for death panels like the one that wanted to pull the plug on that poor baby.

But wait a minute, haven’t you heard the good news?? If you’re on life-support and you live in Texas you don’t even need a universal health care plan to set up a death panel ‘cause they already have a law for that.

Yup. The Futile Care Health Law, as it’s politely named in Texas, basically states that a hospital, in consultation with an Ethics Committee, can opt to discontinue life support when a patient is in an irreversible vegetative state.

Oh. So that’s what this is about? Ethics?

But hang on, it gets better. If the family objects, they get ten days to find another hospital. Now that’s ethical. Although, most states mandate longer notice for apartment evictions. And the best part of all?  This bill was signed into law in 1999 not by President Obama or some hippie-freak politician on the fast track to socialism, but  by one good-ole-boy-cum-Governor, George W. Bush. And other states now have similar laws but without the creepy deadline.

Look, I’m not trying to make a case for ObamaCare. But I do find it chilling that this family’s tragedy can be used so disingenuously, so sloppily, for a political agenda.  Would ObamaCare kill baby Joseph? No. Leigh’s Disease will. If his parents had insisted that the hospital keep Joseph alive indefinitely, at any cost- financial or ethical, that might have been different. But they didn’t. They accepted his imminent death; they just wanted it happen in the quiet comfort and grace of his own home.  

Ranting aside, it’s easy to espouse platitudes about the dangers of putting price tags on human lives. Someone still has to pay for it, and health care plans – government or private  - are universally dispassionate in making expensive decisions.  And nobody wants say it’s okay and even necessary to let a child die even when all efforts to support life will most certainly fail. Nevertheless, in my own pro-life way, I believe that even dying people should be able to choose quality of life and death, no matter the quantity. 

What do you think? Should the hospital have granted the Maraachli family’s request? Was it the ethical responsibility of the hospital to do so despite the clear futility of such a procedure in prolonging his life?  Please post your thoughts……

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  1. Interesting blog. Many complicated issues.

    The trouble with end or life cases like baby Joseph, is that the majority of facts are not in the public domain. The media, networking and blog articles tend to be emotionally driven by circulating misinformation. Too may people with pre-determined agendas get involved, and the patient often gets overshadowed.

  2. This is a good point. Nevertheless, I do feel that this case - indeed a very emotional one, particularly because it involves a child -raises some very real concerns about the nature and politics of healthcare. I was less disturbed by any specific decision made by the hospital or the family than I was with the way in which their experience was, and continues to be, co-opted by various political agendas by appealing to people's fears and emotions in a very calculated, dishonest way. Here is a link to one of the many, many articles I came across that demonstrates this: http://www.gosanangelo.com/news/2011/mar/31/letter-think-of-the-future/. You'll find it's extreme, but does exemplify a common knee-jerk reaction that's being propogated. Thank you for writing. Jennifer