An Agonizing Choice

Here is a very distressing story from close to home. A 16-month-old baby at Children's Hospital in Austin is suffering from a rare conditions that doctors say is hopeless. He is currently kept alive only by a respirator. The mother wants treatment to continue. The hospital intends to turn off the respirator if no other hospital can be found to take the child.

This is a very difficult situation. The salient question is whether there is any hope of recovery. I've never heard of this particular disease, but it sounds like the physicians all agree it will be fatal eventually. Unlike this case, they have been able to examine the child extensively before reaching conclusions.

On the other hand, life itself is a fatal disease. We are all born with a death sentence hanging over our heads - a sentence that will be executed at a time and in a manner of God's choice, not our own. This is why when we have to choose, our default answer should always be in favor of life.

Yet when prolonged life involves intense pain and suffering, the continued use of extraordinary means like respirators at some point becomes worse than the alternative. I'm speculating here, but it sounds like the mother in this case is having difficulty accepting that there is no hope for her baby. The article says she is single so she may not have much family support.

A couple of other factors are also interesting. First, it appears that no other hospitals are willing to accept the child. I would think, even if the mother is destitute and on welfare, that if there were any signs of a possible recovery that some hospital, somewhere, would agree to help. The fact that this isn't happening suggests the doctors are correct.

Furthermore, Children's Hospital is part of the Seton Healthcare Network, a Catholic charity. Not all Catholic groups are consistently pro-life but in the past Seton has held firm with church teaching about life issues, even at enormous financial cost. I suspect they are trying to do so in this case as well.

So it sounds like this baby will die, and sadly that is probably the best thing. He will then be delivered from his pain in a way human medicine cannot achieve. The mother will grieve as Mary did at the foot of the Cross.

Yet Mary saw her Son alive again. So too will this mother see little Emilio again, freed from the machines and cords that bind him to this life. May God grant her peace until then.

UPDATE: Emilio gets a reprieve.

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