Usually, when I read one of these common stories about people denying themselves reasonable medical care for religious reasons (such as the Jehovah Witness’s proscription against blood transfusions, or the Christian Scientist’s insane denial of illness altogether), I find myself siding with the doctor trying to overcome their foolishness, rather than the deluded theists. This one is an exception.
To make it short, a Jehovah’s Witness couple are expecting twins; one of the twins has a circulation defect that prevents pulmonary circulation, meaning it would suffocate to death as soon as it was born and needed to breathe air; they refuse any surgery to correct the problem; doctor gets a court order, operates at birth against the parent’s wishes, and saves the infant.
I think the doctor was way out of line. This is a case in which the parents were fully aware of the situation and knew that the fetus would die at birth, and elected (for screwy reasons, admittedly) to not pursue extraordinary measures to save its life. They had not deluded themselves into believing medical intervention was unnecessary and that magic would heal the child, they had resigned themselves to its death. And until the child has enough self-awareness to actually want to live, I think that is a decision parents have to be allowed to make. If they want that particular baby, they should be allowed to elect to have major surgery, but if they don’t, they should be permitted to allow its condition to run its course, unless the outcome is likely to be survival with serious damage.
The cost of these medical interventions can be prohibitive, and it can be entirely reasonable to decide not to invest money and time into a fetus who has neither autonomy nor unique qualities, nor an individual personality to which the parents have attached their affection. Let them die. Let the parents decide, not a doctor.
The article cites a particularly horrendous case.
In 1990, for example, a woman named Karla Miller went into premature labor at 23 weeks of gestation in Houston. Because a child born that early has a 75 percent chance of death or severe disability, the husband chose not to sign a consent form that would allow resuscitation. But the neonatologist resuscitated the girl, who grew up severely retarded, legally blind, and quadriplegic. The parents sued the hospital for ignoring their wishes, but in 2000 the Texas Supreme Court ruled for the hospital. George Annas, a medical ethicist at Boston University, later attacked the decision in the New England Journal of Medicine, since “the court implies that life is always preferable to death for a newborn . . . no matter how unlikely their survival is without severe disabilities.”
I wonder if that neonatologist has since taken responsibility for the round-the-clock care and various expenses and stresses of that kind of affliction?