The title is from a 2005 essay by Gilbert Meilaender in First Things. Not surprisingly, Dr. Meilaender speaks with much more clarity than I ever could in discussing the sort of dilemma that we face when considering the baby, Emilio Gonzales, and the treatment vs. the care he is to receive from his doctors, his mother, and the State and the distinction between letting “die those who were clearly dying,” and “letting patients die who are in fact not dying.”
We are not abandoning the care of Emilio by saying, “This much and no more.” If he requires constant painful intervention and technology while his condition continues to deteriorate, we do not cease to care for him when we cease to intervene and use technology.
As Dr. Meilaender points out,
On the one hand, we should not aim at their death (whether by action or omission). We shouldn’t do whatever we do so that they will die. On the other hand, because we do not think that continued life is the only good, or necessarily the greatest good, in every circumstance, we are not obligated to do everything that might be done to keep someone alive. If a possible treatment seems useless or (even if useful) quite burdensome for the patient, we are under no obligation to try it or continue it. And in withholding or withdrawing such a treatment, we do not aim at death. We simply aim at another good: the good of life (even if a shorter life) free of the burdens of the proposed treatment.(emphasis mine)
No one that I know is arguing that Emilio is not dying – or that he could have died from any number of past events if the doctors had not intervened. It is time to stop intervening.
There is also a difference between causing another to do his duty and forcing another to act against his conscience and what he believes is his duty because you very much want him to do what you want him to do. How often do you want your doctor and your ICU nurse to practice going against her or his conscience? How often should the State force an action – a repeated action that causes other people to be forced to act – against a professional’s conscience?
The Texas Right to Life lobbyists told me that they are offended because the Ethics Committee mentioned Emilio’s “dignity.” If the report published by the North Country Gazette is the actual Committee report, the members affirm Emilio’s human dignity – but say that the aggressive treatment is an assault against his human dignity:
• The current aggressive treatment plan for Emilio amounts to a nearly constant assault on Emilio’s fundamental human dignity, and with little, if any, corresponding benefit to Emilio. Thus the burdens associated with such care clearly outweigh its benefits.
A trial of care including the ventilator, the feedings, and the chest tubes for a pneumothorax were appropriate. When Emilio continues to require more invasive care, when we can not keep him the same, much less make him better, it is time to stop hurting him, at least.
To force the doctors, nurses, phlebotomists and all the other people who are caring for Emilio to put aside their concern for his best interests, to subjugate their consciences and duty to Emilio for his mother’s wishes is simply wrong.
To accuse them and even the Bishop of the diocese of Austin, of acting with the intention to “murder” Emilio (as June Maxam of the North Country Gazette quotes Melanie Childers as doing here and as “plb” quotes NCG here), to state that the hospital Ethics Committee is willing to speed Emilio’s death in order “to free up a bed” (as Jerri Lynn Ward is quoted as saying in this news article: “You have a treating doctor who makes the initial decision, then you have an ethics committee at that same hospital with, frankly, a very clear conflict of interest,” Gonzales’ attorney Jerri Lynn Ward said. “They have something, a bed they can free up basically, if their decision goes unchallenged.”
, is simply evil.
(Edit 8:30 AM 3/21/07 addressed the “dilemma” of spelling)