Monday, December 3, 2007

A Waste of Human Life

Doctors in training are taught to respect the beliefs of those we treat. But when you are on the wards, this is more difficult than it sounds. A recent story in the news has really got me fuming. Here we have a 14 year old kid, with a terrible yet treatable disease, refusing a series of blood transfusions that would have saved his life because he is a Jehovah's Witness. Why?? What kind of faith allows a child to martyr himself? How can you consider blood sacred, more sacred even than life itself? Does his family and its religious advisers think that God is on a cloud somewhere, glad that a 14 year old kid has committed judicially sanctioned suicide-by-cancer? Do they think that God would have punished them if he had decided that he wanted to live instead? The traditional ethical position (which is mentioned in the article as well) is that no one can withhold consent for lifesaving treatment of a minor on the basis of religion. It gets complicated (again as mentioned in the article) because in this case, saving his life would have involved a series of transfusions. Ethical principles that are clear in an emergency often get hazy in the long term. Also, they seem to be treating him as a "mature minor," an ethical/legal concept that allows us to dispense condoms, and treat for STDs and substance abuse in teens without parental consent or notification. Who knows what kind of man this boy could have grown up to be. It saddens me to think that such a young life has been snuffed out for nothing.

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