I hardly kept my promise to post every few days, but now that classes have actually started (the first week is no more than simple introductions to the Prof. and course material) I imagine I will have plenty to write about. And, that is why I am writing today. My Ethics conference this afternoon was interesting to say the least. It was our first conference of the year, and since we have not covered any theories in our lectures, the T.A (Teachers Assistant) brought in a case for us to examine, namely, the Baby Theresa case.

The case began in Florida (1992) when an anencephalic baby named Theresa was born. Infants born with this condition are missing the majority of their brain (in most cases). Children born without the main  parts of the cerebral cortex, which includes the neocortex (the ‘thinking’ part of our brain), lack most of the senses that most other homo-sapiens have at birth. Additionally it is claimed that such babies cannot feel pain, and are unconscious beings. After Theresa was born, her parents were explained the particular condition Theresa had and they were then given the choice as to whether they wanted to donate Theresa’s organs to the hospital so that the doctors could save the lives of other infants that were awaiting transplants. The parents made a decision to donate the organs, but the laws in Florida state that organ donations could only be carried out after the death of the body. Therefore the parents had to wait until Theresa’s body died for the doctors to take her organs. Nine days after the birth Theresa died, although her organs were not removed because they had deteriorated too much and were no longer acceptable for transplantation.

Without a doubt the law is there in order to prevent the misapplication of transplantation procedures. An example of a misapplication would be a doctor cutting up an individual who has been in a coma for a month for the sake of saving someone else. In this example the person has the possibility to wake up, whereas Theresa’s death was inevitable (Most babies with the before mentioned condition die within a few days to a week). The law protects individuals from having their organs removed before their death – which is obviously the correct approach to such matters. Though in Theresa’s case her outcome had already been decided by unknown forces. It is unfortunate to say, but her outcome had already been decided. She was able to breathe on her own because she had a developed brain stem (something that is not often seen in cases like these), but she would never be able to experience anything of the world, ever.

Had the state of Florida reviewed the case independently of other cases, such as mutilating bodies that are in a coma, they might have seen that there is a greater good to be achieved in these cases. Namely, saving the lives of an unknown number of infants. Instead the laws rigidity froze the events so that Theresa’s organs were wasted. It would be unfair to say that the law caused the death of an unknown number of other infants, but we should consider the outcome if the law had been reviewed for this particular case.

I would never ask for the law to be removed from legislation (because it does protect and save lives), but I would ask that the law be applied in a different manner for particular cases; in such a fashion that particular cases, such as this one, are examined in order to see if there is a greater good to be achieved, and if there is a life saving benefit that can come from bending the law than this is the choice we ought to make.

Please let me know what you think. It is a sensitive topic, but one that should be discussed.


~ by Peter on September 13, 2010.

6 Responses to “Untitled”

  1. Was thsi case used as jurisprudence in reference to the debacle surrounding Floridian Terry Schiavo’s right to die?

  2. For the discussion during our conference, no. The case was being examined independently in order to generate discussion on basic ethical matters. The Schiavo case resembles the Theresa case two ways:
    1) Both individuals share a name (Theresa/Teresa(Schiavo)
    2) Both cases force us to ask questions such as: What is life? Is complete consciousness a necessary characteristic of life? Of course these question can run on forever. The main issue is of course the moral values we adopt towards ‘different forms of life’.

    Other than the above mentioned the cases are distinct for the purpose here, and for the original discussion in the conference.

    Thanks for the comment Mark.

  3. I think it will be impossible to ever enact independent reviews of such cases. As in euthanasia for the terminally ill, somebody will go to jail. No one will ever touch this—it’s too emotional for especially religious people to handle. It doesn’t matter that it could have saved lives—unscientific people will still see it as murder. Can you imagine what hell the judge who stamps “OK to euthanize and harvest organs” on this baby’s paperwork would go through? Nope. Isn’t gonna happen. It would have to be done privately, which is highly unlikely in a hospital bureaucracy.

    • I agree that this discussion tests the capacity of human emotions. Though, assisted suicide for the terminally ill is different than the case mentioned. The child in the example was born without a major part of her brain, whereas the terminally are sick where death is inevitable, but they might still be able to enjoy some qualities of life. Of course this does not apply for all cases, naturally the decision for assisted suicide lies with the individual, and if a person cannot make a decision by their own will, than the choice ought to be left for the parents. Are the parents infallible, definitely not, they may make a selfish choice, or they may altruists. I also agree that if it were permissible in these particular cases, it would need to be carried out privately. It would prove difficult to change the policies, and to find doctors that would willingly carry out the procedures.

  4. If this ever happens in the future where cases are reviewed, is it really even the parents’ decision? I mean morally or whatever? It just seems so contrary—using science to its best advantage, saving lives—but only with the permission of the “owners.” Who pays these bills I wonder.

    • The parents are not morally obliged to make a choice, and they are also not morally reprehensible for making the ‘wrong’ choice. This is because a wrong choice does not exist for these cases – if we evaluate this case by setting standards of morally right or wrong. I do think that the parents have a natural obligation to their child, an obligation to make sure they do not suffer or procure any pain. In no circumstance are the parents devalued to mere “owners” of a body, they are biological (in most cases) parents who adopt the responsibility for the child after he or she is conceived.
      Also, as alienated spectators to these events we cannot make judgments about the parents decision, if looked at from a right/wrong perspective. Alternatively, we can evaluate it with our own ethical opinions, and say that the parents have made a good or a bad choice.

      Thanks for the comments 🙂

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