Sunday, January 11, 2009

Euthanasia Case Study

Two years ago, I took a class on Christian ethics. One of the areas of discussion in the class involved medical ethics. We were given a handout with five case studies, and if we had sufficient time in class, we were going to discuss each case. Unfortunately, we ran out of time (our class tended to ask a lot of questions and get into some pretty good discussions).

Case Five was particularly interesting to me.

A newborn is diagnosed as a Down's syndrome child with the added complication of an intestinal blockage (duodenal atresia). The latter could easily be corrected with a fairly simple low risk operation. Without the operation the child could not be fed and would die. The parents ask that the operation not be done, and the physicians concur. Would omitting the operation be euthanasia?

Those who know us personally can see why I would be interested in where the classroom discussion was going to go. Our daughter Erin (who turned six on January 10th) has Down's syndrome and was born with with a tracheo-esophogeal fistula and esophogeal atresia (TEF/EA). From her mouth, her esophagus ended in a blind pouch. From her stomach, her esophagus was connected to her trachea. Dr. Christian (what a name!) bluntly described the condition as "inconsistent with life." It could be corrected through surgery, though her esophagus would always lack the muscle of normally-formed esophagi.

It never occurred to us to decline the surgery and just let her die. It's hard to imagine the hardness of heart that would lead any parents to choose death for their child. It seems like we risk reducing morality to legalism when we start thinking in terms of what constitutes extraordinary measures. It's a child. She might not be perfect, but neither am I. A relatively simple and common procedure will allow her to live. I don't understand why anybody should have to think about that.

I have a friend who is currently taking the same class from the same instructor. The classes have been increased from eight to ten since I took the class, so his class is more likely to discuss the cases. I intend to share with him the similarities between this case and our little saint.

No comments: