Friday, May 22, 2009

Chemo and Democrat Socialists

Let me start this post by saying that I am discussing medical treatment of a child. I am not saying one can “treat” a child however they want – tying them to beds, beating them, indentured servitude, etc. I am talking about medical treatment. Period. Ethics has a hard time keeping up with science. Science progresses rapidly; ethics needs lots of discussion. The basic question asked by Bioethics might be phrased as “just because we can, should we?” It is in that spirit that I continue this post.

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While I listen to the RNC muse about “rebranding” the Democratic Party as the Democrat Socialist Party, I don’t hear anyone from the RNC (or the DNC, or Capitol Hill or the White House) being outraged that our government is hunting down yet another mother that refused chemotherapy for her minor child. This mother has chosen more natural treatment methods for her child’s cancer. Because of this she is on the run from law enforcement and will most likely have her child taken away when/if she is found. So I could translate this to mean that government stepping in to bail out companies in trouble, then demanding a little accountability for the use of taxpayer dollars, is not OK, but the government telling us how we must (medically) treat our children is just fine.

But wait! Children in Christian Scientist families are not required to have immunizations. Is this any more endangerment of a child than opting for other-than-chemo treatments? You say to yourself “Yes, but that’s because of religion”. Right you are! But if the child of a Jehovah’s Witness family needs a blood transfusion to prevent death, the courts will, at the request of the medical team, step in and always allow the blood transfusion. What happened to religion here?

The problem, of course, is the clashing of rights. The family has a right to provide their chosen form of medical treatment to their child until the right to life of the child becomes endangered. Should it be this way? Granted that denying the blood transfusion may result in the physical death of the child, but once given the transfusion, will the child suffer in other ways because the parents are certain that the child’s spiritual life is now gone? It must be tremendously difficult for parents to deny a life-saving blood transfusion to their child; the refusal of treatment doesn’t seem selfish – it seems based on their faith. Sticky wickets, yes?

The current case in the news can be easily found in Google, but here’s one article.

Here is another article about Dax Cowart – a 25 year-old Vietnam Vet – who was also not allowed to make his own medical decisions. (This case is studied in just about any Bioethics class and covers many, many challenges that arise in conflicting medical treatment opinions.)

And yet another article about 13 year-old Katie Wernecke, whose parents did not want her to undergo radiation therapy – even though she had undergone chemo. Katie was removed from the home.

It is my opinion that none of these cases constitute “child endangerment”. The issue here is that the medical teams sees a different option than does the family (or the person, in the case of Dax). The other issue here is that our elected officials are busy rebranding the other guys rather than having some genuine discussion around the inconsistent way we treat families. In the United States, medical students are taught how to save lives but receive very little training on how to let a patient die (usually only one semester). This contributes to the god-complex of doctors but does it do anything for the patient?

I mentioned in my Facebook post that the above subject was my original choice for my thesis. Research to write that thesis landed me on a different subject, even more controversial, asking if every life is worth saving. In the case of Dax, even though he was old enough to make his own decisions, and even though we think he went on to do great things, Dax still thought he should have been allowed to die. Dax did not think his life was worth living; only his medical team and his mother – who had just lost her husband – felt that way. Who was being selfish? Dax, or the medical team (including mom)?

I have no wish to change anyone’s mind: I wish only to encourage deeper thinking and genuine discussion. It is for this reason that I write about Politics, the Media, and other Funny Things. Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.

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