Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Rule of Rescue

I briefly mentioned the case of Charlie Gard in my last post. Now both the Pope and some clown have weighed in. (The link is to a comment on this, which I will allow to speak for itself.) Who knows exactly what the clown meant by his tweet, but the Vatican statement included the specific assertion that the Pope prays that the parents' "wish to accompany and treat their child until the end isn’t neglected," and the statement from the Pontifical Academy of Life that

We should never act with the deliberate intention to end a human life, including the removal of nutrition and hydration. We do, sometimes, however, have to recognise the limitations of what can be done, while always acting humanely in the service of the sick person until the time of natural death occurs.
To be clear, Charlie Gard has irreversible brain damage. He cannot hear, see, swallow, cry, or breathe. It is unlikely that he has any conscious awareness, but please try to imagine what it is like if he does. He is being kept alive by a machine that breathes for him, and by another machine that pumps nutrition and hydration into his body. If the machines are turned off, natural death will occur.  Indeed, it is probably fair to say that it has already occurred, and what we are seeing is only a simulacrum of life.

Oh, by the way, it costs a great deal of money to keep the machines going. The Vatican hospital has offered to continue the exercise, presumably indefinitely. Transporting him, with his machines, would be extremely expensive. Did you know -- and does the Pope know -- that some 3 million children under five die every year from "conditions that could be prevented or treated with access to simple, affordable interventions"?

Are the Pope and Donald Trump offering to do anything at all for any single one of them?

The title of this post refers to an ethical instinct that people have to provide succor to a single, identifiable individual who is in dire circumstances. They will say that no price is too high, that human life is infinitely precious. But obviously, nobody actually believes that.


Anonymous said...

It's pretty easy to agree with you when looking at this on a case by case basis. Surely this child is pretty well screwed and the proposed experimental treatment in the US has only a very slight chance of making a difference.

That being said, I think what's driving a lot of people crazy is the larger issue of the state refusing the parents' wishes even when there is no longer any financial burden to the public healthcare system. They can't even take the child home much less to the US.

When healthcare is centralized, there is no option if you don't like the outcome of their decisions and this case illustrates just that.

Cervantes said...

They can take the child home if they want to! Of course that would require disconnecting him from the machines. And this has nothing to do with "centralization," it's the specific doctors at that specific hospital that made the decision, nobody else.

Cervantes said...

I should add that it was the courts that ultimately decided, based on the best interest of the child. It works the same way here.

Anonymous said...

“So we chose to take Charlie home to die,” his mother said Thursday in the video, which was posted on YouTube. “And we have said this for months that this is what we want. That is our last wish, if it went this way — the way it's gone. And we've promised our little boy every single day that we will take him home because that is a promise we thought we could keep.”

Charlie's father said in the video that they want to take their son home and give him a bath, cuddle with him on the couch and let him rest in a crib he has never slept in.

“We're now being denied that,” Gard said. The parents said hospital personnel told them they could not arrange transport for Charlie and, when the parents offered to pay for it, the parents said the hospital personnel told them that was not an option.

Really looking forward to handing over healthcare to government. (/sarcasm)

Anonymous said...

So the parents should be allowed to take the machines with them? Because the kid's not going to make it out of the door if he's disconnected from the machines. Even if the machines are portable enough to be moved, suppose a child who has a chance of living is brought into the hospital and dies because the machines are out on loan to the parents.
Here's my take: If the parents are so affluent that they can afford to move hospital machinery to their home, then I'm glad government is not handing over the benefits of healthcare to the entitled few at the expense of the poor.

Anonymous said...

What frightens people about single payer government-run healthcare are instances like this where the government tells you when it's time to die.

This would be an issue in the US.

The optics of this politically are terrible for proponents of single payer.

Cervantes said...

Once again, you are completely misunderstanding this story. Here are the facts:

It is the child's doctors, not, repeat not the government who wish to discontinue life support. This has nothing whatever to do with single payer healty care, insurance, or money of any kind, whatsoever. The doctors do not believe that it is in the best interest of the child to continue life support, and the British courts agree with them, as does the European high court for human rights.

Disputes of precisely this kind occur in the United States, now. Some of them have been highly publicized, but apparently you don't read the papers or watch TV. Doctors have not wanted to continue to provide futile treatment, families have disagreed, courts have decided. Nothing whatsoever to do with single payer, private insurance, public insurance, the government, death panels or anything else you are fantasizing about. This is a dispute about appropriate medical treatment between physicians who are personally caring for the baby, and the parents. Get it straight, unless you don't actually want to, which I am thinking is very likely the case.

Anonymous said...

This is a dispute about appropriate medical treatment between physicians who are personally caring for the baby, and the parents.

Oh, I totally agree.

And it would appear that the physicians arguments take precedence over the parents and can ask the government to enforce their will. And I believe the reason for this power is the fact that in the UK government IS healthcare.

What they say goes.

Think this would happen in the US? Think the government would prevent Charlie from private paying for treatment in another country and instead, advocate for his death?