By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
There is a futile care case in court in Canada involving an infant named Isiah, whose parents want to continue life support, versus the hosptial that seeks to unilaterally remove treatment. From the story:
When Isaiah was born in Oct. 2009, he suffered severe oxygen deprivation. Doctors say they’ve done everything they can. But the parents believe their son is showing signs of improvement. The boy was born in the Rocky Mountain House Hospital after a difficult 40-hour delivery. On Oct. 24th, 2009 the boy was airlifted to hospital and admitted for treatment. The boy was then placed on a ventilator in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. A letter sent to the parents by Alberta Health Services on Jan. 13th stated that the boy’s doctors believed all medical procedures had been exhausted. They informed the parents that the boy will never recover from a severe lack of oxygen at birth. “The diagnosis is unchanged; your son suffered severe anoxic brain injury at birth and has irreversible brain damage. There is no hope of recovery for Isaiah,” the letter stated.
What does “no hope of recovery” mean? Does it mean the baby will die, even with life support? But he has been alive for 90 days and hasn’t succumbed yet. Or instead, does it mean he will be permanently disabled? If so, that should not be reason to cut off wanted care. Indeed, doing so is discrimination.
According to the family, the medical team has been wrong about how Isaiah would fare:
Isaiah’s mother Rebecka May stated in court documents that her son has continued to grow since his birth. May said medical staff informed the family that “Isaiah would not grow.” But the woman noted that Isaiah has “continued to grow since his birth and now weighs ten pounds eleven ounces.” May also mentioned in documents that her son’s pupils dilate, his eyes open daily, and he moves his hands, arms and feet with “increasing frequency.”
Doctors are not perfect, and prognoses are sometimes wrong, particularly when it comes to children. Remember Haleigh Poutre, who doctors said would never recover–but who was saved when she showed signs of awareness before the “plug could be pulled” and is now receiving special schooling, much improved.
This case is in court, where it belongs rather than being decided behind closed doors by an ethics committee. The parents want to give it another 90 days, but the hospital has “offered” 30–haggling as if this were a lawsuit over the value of a damaged car. At least the judge is clearly taking this matter very seriously and has decided to get another medical opinion. But it seems to me, that when parents want their baby to be able to continue to fight for life, when he seems to be showing apparently unexpected signs of improvement, a tremendous burden of proof should be required for hospital administrators to veto the parents’ decision.
Alex Schadenberg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, has been following the case closely. For more details, check out his blog.
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