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Audio. Michael A. Lacombe, MD, Annals Associate Editor, reads “The Myth of Choice” by Anonymous
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Elvira Parravicini, Frances McCarthy
Columbia University Medical Center
June 10, 2019
The Real Choice
A woman, pregnant with a baby with anencephaly comes to your hospital. Long-term survival is not an option. Her eyes plead with you. Help me. You take her hand, look her in the eye and offer to walk with her through this journey that she does not wish to be on. You explain to her that while her child’s life may be brief, it is precious and that she is not alone. The mother’s love for her baby does not die with the diagnosis or with the death of her child. Choice is the not the issue. Grief is. The truth of medicine is this: patients die. The issue here is about valuing the relationships that we, as providers, have with our patients. It requires us to be with them in the discomfort of delivering a terminal diagnosis.Can we then, walk with them during such sad and difficult times in their lives? When born, the baby is gently placed on her mother skin to skin. She dies quietly, peacefully in the arms of her mother, never knowing hunger, pain, or sadness (1). Her mother will grieve her in some way for the rest of her life. She has loved and lost, but she has also gained. She was able to bond, to love and to hope and she will heal. She is changed but not defeated. She is not the first and she will not be the last to face the death of a child. Hope for a cure eludes us daily but hope for healing is different. Healing is not just about disease; it is about the spirit, the resilience that rests in all of us. This baby’s life, while brief, was filled with love and dignity and without pain. This baby made her a mother. This baby changed her. All of us die in the end. It is the nature of everything that lives. Death is the final act but it does not tell the whole story. In medicine, we cannot be there only for the living; we must be there for the dying as well. This is the real story of a real family who delivered in 2015 at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital / Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY under the care of the Neonatal Comfort Care Program (2). In the US there are more than 200 services of Perinatal Palliative Care (3).References:1. Parravicini E, Daho M, Foe G, Steinwurtzel R, Byrne M. Parental assessment of comfort in newborns affected by life-limiting conditions treated by a standardized neonatal comfort care program. J Perinatol 2018;38(2):142-7.2. www.neonatalcomfortcare.com 3. www.perinatalhospice.org
June 13, 2019
Elvira, it is commendable that you have developed a compassionate approach to the delivery of terminal fetuses. However, I interpret your response as a lecture on the ONLY way that grieving women should be allowed to deal with this horrific diagnosis. The issue at hand in this country is CHOICE. The woman who does not want to hold her horrifically deformed fetus, who does not wish to continue a pregnancy (and increasing the already significant risk to her health) in this scenario should be able to CHOOSE. It is her body, her pregnancy, her health at risk, and should be her CHOICE in the way, the time, and the method that this horrible scenario ends.
June 18, 2019
Civilization of Death
The points of the writer of this article reflect unfortunate truth about devaluation of life among physicians. It is highly debatable if abortion is safer that miscarriage or delivery and in my environment "not all of them die" - instead, once in a while one survives and walks.
Mitchel L Galishoff
Valley Medical & Surgical Clinic, PC
July 7, 2019
What are compassion and dignity?
The anonymous author laments that at his/her institution pregnancy termination and withholding of care for babies with very serious defects is not often possible. The author then concludes with statements concerning providing compassion and dignity in grief. What are compassion and dignity? Who defines these terms and determines how they are applied? The Oxford English Dictionary defines compassion as: “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” The same dictionary defines dignity as: “the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.”The author is concerned about the parents, the health care team and society (costs). The position taken clearly places the interests of the unborn and newborn child subservient to others. Traditionally, the patient’s interests are paramount. Disturbing changes in medical ethics have devalued the humanity of patients when they are seriously disabled and ill. There is a growing trend towards paternalism and unilaterally applying the concepts of societal over individual interests. The author uses language that is contradictory such as “baby” and “infant” followed by objectifying, grotesque, and dehumanizing descriptions followed by the paternalistic cry of “end it.” Is the unborn or severely disabled child human or not? Is such a child worthy of dignity and care? The author’s revulsion betrays the true subject of “compassion” and “dignity.” It is not the child but the suffering author who represents each of us in this story.Does this approach capture the fullness and true meaning of dignity and compassion? In the Judeo-Christian tradition, compassion can be described as: “Quality of showing kindness or favor, of being gracious, or of having pity or mercy” and human dignity is grounded in the imago Dei. Therefore, human dignity is: “The unalterable, inherent value due every person by virtue of being a human being.” Utilitarian ethics are foreign to these concepts and ministries that flow from them.The author fails to identify the cultural and religious beliefs and values of the parents and in turn the child. Actions desired by the author as compassionate may be abhorrent to others. The family’s view of human dignity may extend fully to their anencephalic child. They may view abortion as murder. External pressure by providers, hospitals and insurers adds to their agony.I am not disagreeing with the decision to withhold high-tech neonatal care from the anencephalic infant. I am questioning the underlying assumptions behind the author’s appeal for compassion and dignity as uncompassionate and undignified by traditional theological and ethical standards. Tragedy and suffering do not demand a utilitarian response but one of grace, mercy, kindness, and love towards all those affected. At the heart of the debate are two opposing worldviews: utilitarian and Judeo-Christian. History attests that the utilitarian worldview takes us down the same dark road as the Baby Bollinger Case and the Aktion T4 program. We must teach current and future generations of physicians to critically think these issues through and understand the true meaning of compassion and dignity lest we repeat the same horrors. Soanes, C. & Stevenson, A. eds., 2004. Concise Oxford English dictionary. Smith, W. J., 2016. Culture of Death Revised ed., Encounter Books, New York Elwell, W.A. & Beitzel, B.J., 1988. Compassion. Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, 1, p.504. Grenz, S.J. & Smith, J.T., 2003. Pocket Dictionary of Ethics, p.54. Robertson, J. D., The Case of the Bollinger Baby., JAMA. 1915;LXV(23):2025
Anonymous. The Myth of Choice. Ann Intern Med. 2019;170:809. doi: 10.7326/M19-1005
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2019;170(11):809.
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Print ISSN: 0003-4819 | Online ISSN: 1539-3704
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