Monday, April 30, 2007
What is in the best interest of the dying?
There are few things sadder than seeing a child with a tube up his nose. When Catarina Gonzales first showed me video she had shot with her camera phone of her little boy, Emilio, my heart broke for them both. Emilio is Catarina's life, and soon, Emilio will die. The 17-month-old suffers from Leigh's disease, a rare genetic disorder that's destroying his central nervous system. Emilio can't hear, see or eat without help.
Emilio is spending his final days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Austin Children's Hospital in Texas. A ventilator keeps him alive. Doctors say they can't help him. In fact, they believe the ventilator is prolonging Emilio's suffering. The hospital, which is run by the Catholic church, believes the ethical thing to do is to stop life support and let Emilio die. In Texas, that's permissible. Under a law signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush, a hospital can cease life support if it is deemed "medically inappropriate".
But Catarina says it's not her son's time. She is suing the hospital. The two sides have been in and out of court, with the next hearing scheduled for May 8. Catarina contends the hospital is "trying to play God by saying who lives or dies." She says that Emilio isn't in pain and that he responds to her touch. In the meantime, Catarina is by Emilio's side day and night. She spends hours on her cell phone, trying to find another hospital to take her son. But so far, she's had no luck.
In some ways, Emilio's situation is the same one thousands of American families face every day. When death is near, what is in the best interest of the dying? Should doctors have the final say or the family?
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