Friday, April 17, 2009

When Infants Die

Doc over at Mind, Soul, and Body has a thoughtful piece on some of the most difficult circumstances I can imagine – being faced with the prospect of a dying infant.

Dying infants break our hearts for all kinds of reasons, and parents and loved ones face a titanic struggle between what they face and what they believe.

You see, we carry around in our very beings a plethora of expectations around life, especially around the lives of a newborn:

Nobody should die young.

Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children.

We don’t care if it’s a boy or girl; we just want our child to be healthy.

But that is not what we find in the pediatric ICU. We find very, very sick babies. We find absolutely no prospect of recovery.

There will be no happy photos of first days at kindergarten, school, or college. There will be no endless, badly filmed video that will be played over and over again across the years, with chuckles all the while.

No first love, no getting married in clothes that years later will look so terribly dated.

All gone.

But not yet gone. Before us, a frail form clinging to what could have been.

Doc explains just how disabled and medically vulnerable these children are. His descriptions don’t make for easy reading, but they’re accurate.

He struggles, as do we all, with where to find the compromise between comfort care and the unrelenting reality that sooner, rather than later, every effort will fail.

But, in the end, it’s really not that complicated, because there are essentially two choices.

We can go the route of Peter Singer, who insists we should euthanize these infants, or, in Baroness Warnock’s harsh world, that they should be “put down.” Or we can take note of what happens routinely in the Netherlands, where dying babies are routinely euthanized because they have no hope of a “good quality of life.”

What hideously casual utilitarian decisions!

But, as Doc suggests, there is another, better choice: Supporting the family, gently explaining every option. Using every medical and palliative tool to provide comfort and ease pain. Being patient as families grieve.

All this, because we are dealing with a human life, an exceptional life, no matter how brief. 

A life worth just as much as anyone more perfect. 

Loving and gentle medical care so that whatever time is left can be spent making the memories, brief as they will be, to warm and console hearts after that Long Slow Goodbye


Claire said...

Thought perhaps you and your readers might enjoy this quote that I quite accidentally found. Many thanks for your posts.

Margaret Somerville wrote in The Ethical Imagination – The 2006 Massey Lectures:

"The morality of the 21st century will depend on how we respond to this simple but profound question: Does every human life have equal moral value simply and merely because it is human?

"Answer yes, and we have a chance of achieving universal human rights. Answer no, and it means that we are merely another animal in the forest."

Dr. Mark Mostert said...

Claire, thanks so much. Margaret is such a beautifully elegant thinker and writer. Please continue to stop by and contribute - we need every voice we can find.