If you haven’t read the news reports, Joseph Maraachli is a little boy with Leigh syndrome. The degenerative neurologic disorder left him on a ventilator in a hospital in Ontario. His parents requested that he have a tracheotomy to allow him to be cared for at home like his older sister who had died of the same disorder several years before. Joseph’s physicians and the hospital where he was in Canada did not think the tracheotomy was in his best interest and obtained a court order to remove him from the ventilator to allow him to die. In March he was transferred to a hospital in St. Louis against the wishes of those treating him and on March 21 he had the tracheotomy, described by his physician in St. Louis as a common palliative procedure. Within three weeks he was able to be weaned off the ventilator and was able to return home with his parents on April 21. His life expectancy at that point was about 4 to 6 months.
What can we learn from Joseph’s experience?
It seems that those of us who are physicians sometimes feel that our training and experience allow us to know better than others what is best for our patients. We need to remember to listen to those who know our patients best. Sometimes parents really do know what is best for their child.
It also seems that when people disagree on what is best it is better to err on the side of life.
Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported the C-section delivery of Finnean Lee Connell on February 11, 2011 to 61-year-old Kristine Casey. Not only is Ms. Casey the oldest women on record in Illinois to bear a child, she also appears to be the state’s first parturient “grandmother.” Through the wonders of assisted reproductive technology, Ms. Casey’s uterus was recalled from post-menopausal retirement to incubate the child that her daughter, Sara Connell, and husband Bill had conceived via in vitro fertilization.
Commenting on the birth, Casey’s obstetrician, Dr. Susan Gerber, stated “the surgery itself was uncomplicated, and the emotional context of this delivery was so profound.” Indeed, it was for Ms. Casey, the fulfillment of a “deeper calling” that emerged as she contemplated her post-retirement years and her daughter’s protracted struggle to bear children. Of the whole experience, her daughter remarked, “It grew beyond the two of us having a child,. . . It was about the closeness with my mother, and our family having this experience that was unique and special.”
Also contained in the Tribune report was the analysis of Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, who reportedly “had no ethical objections to the idea of a 61-year-old having a baby, as long as she had undergone a thorough medical and psychological evaluation.” For Johnston, Ms. Casey’s surrogacy “seem[ed] like an unquestionably loving and generous thing for a family member to do . . . It’s a great story to tell the child . . . It’s one of those situations where outsiders might wonder if it’s OK or healthy. But the experience of that child and his family will be that it’s good. … If they treat it as good, it will be experienced that way.”
Your comments? Do you think Johnston has it right? Will this be “a great story” for Finnean and his family? Why might others “wonder if it’s OK or healthy?” Has Johnson passed over some important ethical concerns?
Recently the quiz show “Jeopardy” pitted “Watson,” an IBM supercomputer, against the show’s previous top winners including Ken Jennings, the all time record holder for Jeopardy wins. With fascination, I watched “Watson” demolish the humans in a lopsided win. The event got me thinking. I tend to believe, contrary to futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and Nick Bostrom, that machine intelligence will never surpass human intelligence.
On the other hand, “Watson” “sounded” like a human and processed the information with a speed that surpassed the best human effort. Kurzweil, Bostrom and others believe that it is just a matter of time before technology will transform what it means to be human. The assumption is that human nature is malleable, not static. The hope is that technology can intervene to take humans to a higher level of existence and even immortality.
So my question is, what does this imply for human nature? Should Christians feel threatened by these developments?
First, do you believe Christian moral reflection has been marginalized in bioethical discourse and public policy decision-making, and if so, in what ways?
Second, what may we cite as the evidence of a contemporary bioethics bereft of Christian influence? How might the bioethical terrain differ from its present state if the Christian voice had enjoyed a more sustained presence in public policy discourse?
Third, to what may one attribute this marginalization of Christian moral reflection in bioethics? Is the problem external to the Christian community, or do we share in the blame? If the latter, in what way?
We’ll save the question of a way forward for another post, but perhaps you have other questions pertaining to the diagnosis of a diminished Christian influence in contemporary bioethics and its underlying cause(s).
Warm greetings to the 300 or so alumni, students, and faculty connected with the bioethics degree programs at Trinity International University—and to others listening in!
The Trinity Bioethics Community (TBC) is a tremendous network of bioethics-trained people who have many insights and produce many resources that are well worth sharing. In addition to this blog, Trinity is launching a new online archive of excellent bioethics papers and projects that bioethics students at Trinity have produced. Members of the TBC are receiving information directly regarding how their best resources can become available through this archive. Whenever a new resource enters the archive, starting sometime in Fall 2011, posts to this blog will notify readers of its availability.
The alumni members of the TBC are also receiving information regarding how they can send to Trinity Town (the online alumni network) information describing the vocational and other settings in which they are using their Trinity bioethics training. Those communications will automatically be posted to this blog as well. So will announcements about bioethics-related events and other opportunities at Trinity.
Of special interest to many, though, will be the commentaries on news events and bioethical issues that will regularly appear in this blog. You are encouraged to reply to such posts as often as you can, to generate insightful discussions. Please also submit a new commentary/post of your own whenever you wish.
Wonderful new opportunities lie ahead for informing, challenging, and inspiring one another through the Trinity Bioethics blog!
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