There is a very sad story going on that involves a terminally ill one-year-old boy in a persistent vegetative state, whom doctors give no hope of recovery. Worse still, little Joseph Maraachli's condition is deteriorating, and both the doctors and the family know that he will die. At the time of this writing, he may have already died. There is no silver lining to this story. It is altogether tragic, though that word seems barely able to fit.
The doctors were unable to obtain consent to remove Joseph's breathing tube (which was keeping his airway clear of mucus), so they are seeking consent from the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) Joseph's parents want to bring their son home to die in comfort, surrounded by loved ones, and not in a hospital. But in order to safely bring Joseph home, he needs a tracheotomy performed. As if this story couldn't be any sadder, Joseph's parents, Moe and Nadar Maraachli went through this before, eight years ago, as their daughter had the same condition Joseph has. Then, the tracheotomy was performed, allowing their daughter to spend her last moments of life at home.
But doctors have concluded that a tracheotomy is too risky for Joseph, and would surely cause great discomfort, pain and infection, leading to a very painful, extended death.
- If the doctors leave the breathing tube in, Joseph will deteriorate and slowly die as parts of his brain die off piece by piece.
- If the doctors remove the breathing tube, the fluids in his body will fill into his lungs, and he will choke and die.
- If the doctors perform the tracheotomy, Joseph will experience a great deal of pain, get an infection, and die painfully.
Like I said, this is a terrible, tragic story, and there is no silver lining. Joseph will die, and there seems to be no way that this story could get any worse. One would have to be a heartless cynic to use this story to further their own ideological goals. What kind of despicable human would exploit the desperation of the parents of a dying child? And yet....
|Oh no. Not this again.|
They've used a Canadian story before in order to scare Americans from public health care. In the Summer of 2009, there was a story of Shona Holmes, who was suffering from a brain cyst. She was put on the waiting list to have the cyst removed, but was unable (or unwilling) to wait for the procedure. The type of brain cyst that Holmes had was definitely bad (causing temporary partial blindness and discomfort), but would have caused no permanent injury, and was not fatal. Fox News declared that it was not a cyst, but a brain tumor, and told American audiences that our heartless Canadian socialized medicine was willing to let the brain tumor go unoperated because it's too expensive. A lie that Holmes was only too happy to perpetuate.
Unlike the Holmes story, this story can have no happy ending. There is no operation waiting, at great expense, for him at the Mayo Clinic. Still, the Fox News pundit, Megyn Kelly (shown here, talking about the "news") brought Joseph's father onto her show to get his story, and afterwards had a discussion about how the Canadian Courts intervened because of a 'cost issue.'
Obviously, the father's story seems heart-wrenchingly desperate. All things considered, he is being remarkably brave and thick skinned as he is trying everything and anything he can to act in what he believes is in the best interests in his son and family.
However, in the segment after Joseph's father, Kelly spoke to two others, and it didn't take long for the discussion to go where Kelly was leading:
MEGYN KELLY: Dr. London, do you think that there is something going on here in terms of Canadian health care system, which pays -- you know, they pay for all of the medical care. Do you feel like that's playing any role here?
DR. KATHLEEN LONDON: I can't believe that it would, because again, a tracheostomy is such a simple procedure, and the parents are saying they are going to care for this child at home. So I'm not really sure how this could be a cost issue or anything else. And I'm actually quite confused and wondering what details are we missing, and is there something else?
KELLY: What do you make of it, Wendy?
WENDY MURPHY: Well, look, I think it absolutely is a cost issue because putting in the tracheotomy will allow the child to live longer which costs the hospital that daily cost care. Please --
LONDON: No. They're taking him home.
KELLY: But he could come back.
MURPHY: No, but I understand. But they also then have oversight responsibilities. Whether the child were -- have a tracheotomy and stayed in the hospital or go home, they still have oversight responsibilities, which costs money every single day that that child is alive.
This is what I'm worried about with Obamacare. You know, it's not quite likely to be that bad. We don't really have death panels as people have come to understand that term. But we are going to have government agencies and panels making decisions based on cost, and that's a lot closer to the Canadian model than we've ever seen in this country. So we should be worried. It won't get this bad, but it will come close. [Fox News, America Live, 2/22/11]
This is hardly an earth shattering revelation, but it's clear that the facts don't matter to Kelly and Fox News. The story has nothing to do with the costs incurred by our health care system, but is about the rights of the parents, the rights of an infant in a persistent vegetative state, and the knowledge and expertise of the doctors involved. This is a discussion worth having.
The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (which I'm assuming is the "Death Panel" Kelly and company is referring to) is a public protection safeguard designed to intervene when the best interests of a person are not protected. It doesn't just intervene (on request) with cases that involves patients in a persistent vegetative state, but also in matters of estates, guardianship issues, and in making substitute health care decisions (such as intervening when a person gets in a car accident, and no known next of kin is able to be reached). The OPGT exists for one sole purpose: to protect Canadians who aren't being protected for one reason or another.
This sad case of little Joseph may fall under their scope, and they may intervene. Whatever their decision, it's not about the costs. If they decide that the doctors should not remove the breathing tube, or perform the tracheotomy, they will be doing so out of protection of Joseph, not in consideration of the costs. The OPGT is an office of the Attorney General, which makes is part of the Judical branch of government. The scope of the judicial branch cannot, by constitutional convention, encompass decisions of financial costs of the health care system, which falls under the legislative and executive branches (Canada has a fusion of powers, not a separation of powers like the US does) of the Federal and Provincial governments. That's why the judicial system exists: It protects the laws and rights of Canadians no matter what the elected bodies decide...it is outside the scope of popular opinion, because it has to be.
If any organization were to intervene due to costs (which isn't happening), it would be the one of these branches of government, NOT the court system. Of course, if the legislative branch were to make a decision based on the costs, the OPGT would block the decision, because when it comes to individuals constitutional rights, rights trump costs. Any discussion of "death panels" or the supposed overburdened costs of Joseph's care crowds out the serious ethical and legal discussion that needs to be made.
Make no mistake, this issue is not about our socialized medicine, or the idiotic scare-mongering of death panels. This is a case of the rights of the family to chose the manner of death for an infant in a persistent vegetative state. I'm not weighing in on whose voice should take precedence: the family's or the doctors'. I'm not an involved party, and I think it irresponsible for anyone to question or condemn the parents or the doctors involved. I have as much sympathy as I am able towards all involved party, and I hope that something, anything that is not terrible comes of this, but I'm not too hopeful. This story is bad all over.
This story is gut-wrenchingly sad enough as it is, and it doesn't need cynical politicking and scaremongering from Fox News to scare people away from socialized medicine.
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