Baby Chris was born at 23 weeks gestational age (40 weeks gestation is full-term) and weighs about 1. 2 pounds. Because of extreme prematurity and extremely low birth weight, this baby has less than a 10% chance of surviving. Even if the baby survives, the likelihood of very serious physical and developmental damage (cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing impairments, respiratory impairments, and other problems) is very high. (In one recent study, ALL of the infants who survived long enough to be discharged from intensive care had significant long-term damage.
) Treatment, that is, treatments, would be invasive, painful, and would continue over a long period of time. It is really so sad that a newborn baby would begin his life under such very difficult circumstances. What is worse is that the treatments that would supposedly save him would instead condemn him into the most compromised existence possible. Instead of living the normal, carefree existence of a child, Chris would have a life that is forever associated with pain, medicines, surgeries, and rehabilitation.
Not even an adult can handle such a distressing way of life. But the doctors of Chris cannot just refrain from giving him treatments. They are doctors, after all, and it is their duty to cure the sick. Even the hospital policy and the courts would certainly agree with them. Furthermore, it is the right of the sick to receive treatment that would cure him or her of his ailment. Does this mean that the physicians of Chris can virtually turn him into a human guinea pig?
While a doctor has an obligation to cure the ailing, the welfare of his or her patient must always be prioritized above this duty (Cohen-Kohler and Illingworth 366). In the context of the subject of the limits of medicine, the concept of patient welfare is synonymous to the rights to informed consent and to have a say on the treatment plan that the doctor devised. Simply put, any steps that a physician will take to continue or withhold treatment must be fully explained to the patient beforehand and carried out with his or her consent.
Furthermore, the wishes of the patient must be taken into consideration. However, because Chris is a newborn baby (making him a minor in the eyes of the law), it is his parents who should make the final decisions on a treatment plan for him. In both the legal and the social perspectives, the parents are considered as the primary custodians of their children (Maccoby and Mnookin 282). Unless it has been proven that they are incapable of carrying out their responsibilities as parents, it is they who are supposed to decide for their minor children.
It is permissible to make Chris comfortable but not start treatments that would prolong his life. It must be remembered that because he is premature and has very low birth weight, his survival rate it less than 10%. Should Chris survive, he will spend his entire life battling serious health conditions such as cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing impairments, and respiratory impairments. Furthermore, the treatments that will be administered in order to prolong his life are invasive and painful and would last indefinitely.
The problem with many doctors is that in their excessive zeal to carry out their duty, they reduce the concept of human life to biological normality (Stark 6). Their idea of a cured patient is someone who is biologically alive and is free of infirmity, never mind if the treatments that are given to him or to her severely reduce the quality of his or her life. Medicine should not be limited to the elimination of disease or the treatment of an injury. Rather, medicine must treat illness and/or injury with the goal of restoring the overall health and functionality of a person.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) puts it, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (qtd. in Furber 192). Under the present circumstances, therefore, it is not permissible to do everything possible to save Chris’ life. Even the most radical treatments would save him only in the sense that he would be kept biologically alive. These would not completely spare Chris from the debilitating effects of cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing impairments, and respiratory impairments.
Worse, these treatments would make him suffer even more pain. Subjecting Chris to more treatments defeats the very purpose of medicine – restoring people to their fullest functionality by curing them of their disease and or injury. How can Chris live the life of a normal child if he cannot even get out of bed without machines attached to him? How can he and his parents enjoy life as a family if he constantly has to undergo painful and invasive long-term treatments? What is the point of keeping Chris alive if he will just spend the rest of life in illness and pain?
Putting him on aggressive lifesaving treatment would merely worsen the situation. To begin with, his chances of survival are only less than 10%. Should Chris live, he will endure a host of complications that would most likely end in death. He could likewise die while undergoing treatments – the human body can only take so much pain, medicines, surgeries, and rehabilitation. Simply put, with or without treatments, Chris is likely to succumb at any moment. By putting him on aggressive lifesaving treatments, his doctors are giving his parents false hopes.
Instead of enabling them to prepare themselves for the impending death of their son, they are making them hold on to futile case. Babies are human beings and therefore, they also have the right to live and die with dignity. Doctors do not have the right to withhold this from them simply because they do not have the capacity to decide for themselves and/or because of a misplaced idea of what medicine should accomplish. Works Cited Cohen-Kohler, Jillian Clare and Patricia Illingworth. “Access to Medicine and the Role of Corporate Social Responsibility: The Need to Craft a Global Pharmaceutical System
with Integrity. ” The Cambridge Textbook of Bioethics Eds. Peter A. Singer and Adrian M. Viens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 359-368. Furber, Christine. “Promoting Health to Men. ” Men’s Health: An Introduction for Nurses and Health Professionals. Eds. Tony Harrison and Karen Dignan. London: Harcourt Brace and Company Limited, 1999. 191-210. Maccoby, Eleanor E. and Robert H. Mnookin. Dividing the Child: Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody. 3rd ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1992. Stark, Andrew. The Limits of Medicine. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
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