Saturday, April 30, 2011

Withholding treatment from babies is unjustifiable unless the treatment is overly burdensome or does not work

Medical treatment can be withheld in cases where the treatment itself is excessively burdensome for the patient or when the proposed treatment does not achieve its goal of treating the patient's condition.  Today, more and more, hospitals and doctors are implementing policies which prevent all treatment, even treatment that is highly effective, when they think that a life is not worth saving.  In these cases, they call the treatment "futile" not because it does not save the patient's life, but because it does.  In their opinion, although the treatment sustains life, the quality or length of life is not sufficient to justify the investment of time and resources. They call this refusal to treat, "allowing to die."  This phrase, however, masks the the fact that they have made a decision not to provide effective treatment, not that the life cannot be saved.   Even though they can save the life, treatment is called "futile" because it's not a life worth saving.

This CNA story, in the link, by David Kerr reports on the proposal to withhold treatment from babies born prematurely or sick due to some disorder. 

Dr. Wilkinson outlines his controversial argument in the American Journal of Bioethics. “The prevailing official view is that treatment may be withdrawn only if the burdens in an infant’s future life outweigh the benefits. ... I conclude that it is justifiable in some circumstances for parents and doctors to decide to allow an infant to die even though the infant’s life would be worth living,” Dr. Wilkinson wrote.
This judgment, that the baby would be "allowed to die" is precisely the type of attitude at the basis of the Canadian doctors' refusal to treat the child in the well-known case of Baby Joseph.

CNA reports,
A proposal to allow premature or sick newborn babies to die even when their life would be deemed worth living by medical staff has been condemned by a leading member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Doctor Carlo Bellieni says the suggestion being made by the Oxford-based physician James Wilkinson is both “flawed” and “an erroneous way of considering life.”
The report goes on to explain Dr. Bellieni's reasoning:
Such a suggestion makes for bad ethics and poor patient care. “Firstly, babies are not the property of their parents. Secondly, at birth parents are often stressed and full of pain and suffering. The mother has the pain of childbirth. The father has the shock and stress of being faced with a very premature baby. When you’re in such pain and stress, you’re not really free to make clear-minded decisions that are so important for your offspring.”
Most importantly, Dr. Bellieni said, “the decision about life should only be taken on an objective basis and in the interest of the patient, not in the interests of a third party.”

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