Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Pro-life" tragedy

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2011/03/18/2011-03-18_attempted_rescue_of_baby_joseph_maraachli_prolife_poster_child_is_deeply_misguid.html
Attempted rescue of Baby Joseph Maraachli, pro-life poster child, is deeply misguided
By Peter Singer

Friday, March 18th 2011, 4:00 AM


GettyLittle Joseph Maraachli is a new poster boy for the "pro-life" movement. But what has happened to him should instead teach us what to do - and what not to do - if we are really serious about saving human lives.

The 13-month-old from Canada, who has been having medical treatment for most of his short life, suffers from a severe neurodegenerative disease. He has difficulty breathing on his own. His head is small for his age and has not grown for three months. He has seizures. His pupils do not respond to light or follow a moving object. His movements are not purposeful.

At the hospital in London, Ontario, where he was being treated until a few days ago, eight physicians were unanimously of the opinion that he has no hope of recovery, and there is no treatment that could reverse his condition. They say he will never get out of bed or interact meaningfully with his environment.

The physicians sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for sick children there agreed that further treatment is futile. Joseph's doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die.

Joseph's parents, who have previously had another child who died from the same disease, objected to the removal of the breathing tube. Instead they wanted an operation performed that would cut a hole in the child's neck, so that a breathing tube could be inserted in it and kept permanently in place. Joseph's doctors refused to do this. They acknowledged that the operation might prolong Joseph's life, but said it would not improve his well-being. A Canadian tribunal agreed with the doctors, giving them permission to remove the breathing tube.

Then Priests for Life, a Catholic -abortion and anti-euthanasia organization stepped in, chartering an air ambulance to fly Joseph from Canada to Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, in St. Louis, which will perform the operation the parents requested.

"We Rescued Baby Joseph!" says a page on the Priests for Life website. The organization's director, the Rev. Frank Pavone, says he has been told that it could cost as much as $150,000 for Joseph's stay in the pediatric intensive care unit. That doesn't include the cost of the aircraft, which would have added thousands more to the bill. Priests for Life is, of course, asking its supporters to donate to pay these costs.

Here's the irony. According to the most rigorous charity evaluation agency in the country, GiveWell.org, you can save a child's life for about $1,000. All you have to do is give the money to their top-rated charity, Village Reach, which delivers vaccines and other urgently needed medical supplies to rural areas in developing countries.

If Priests for Life were really serious about saving lives, instead of "rescuing" Joseph so he can live another few months lying in bed, unable to experience the normal joys of childhood, let alone become an adult, they could have used the money they have raised to save 150 lives - most of them children who would have gone on to live healthy, happy lives for 50 years or more.

We've seen such things happen before. In 2005 the anti-abortion movement put a huge effort, and large sums of money, into "saving" Terri Schiavo. In the end, after Congress had been recalled specifically to enable a federal court to hear the case, she was allowed to die. An autopsy showed her brain had been severely and irreversibly damaged.

We can obsess over Joseph and Terri - or we can make an honest effort to save the lives of countless children whose names we may never know. It is our choice.

Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University. His most recent book is "The Life You Can Save."

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