Dale and Karen were excited to learn they were expecting their first child. However, their joy turned to sorrow when a sonogram (record taken from an ultrasonography test using high frequency sound waves) revealed that their daughter was missing a brain and spinal cord (anencephaly). They were told that babies with this condition are stillborn or only survive for a few hours. There seemed to be few options for treating this baby even if she would be born alive. All the specialists that Karen and Dale consulted recommended that Karen have an abortion since she’s still in her first trimester of pregnancy. But Dale and Karen decided that Karen would carry their baby until full term, if possible, and then donate her organs to help other sick infants. Her personal obstetrician said that he would honor her wishes no matter what her decision was. He advised that Karen have a cesarean section (C-section) in order to give the baby a chance to survive the birth. Their daughter, who they named Jessica, was born alive and was immediately placed onto a ventilator to assist her breathing and help to maintain the quality of her internal organs, which appeared to be normal.
A legal problem immediately arose when the doctors had to declare that Jessica was brain-dead to remove her organs for transplant. She did not possess a brain that could be connected to electrodes to determine if there was a cessation of brain function. According to the lawyers hired by the hospital, a court would have to make the determination that the baby was brain dead After a hearing, the court denied the parents’ petition to turn off the ventilator and declare their baby dead. An appeals court upheld that decision. Even though the court acted quickly, a week had passed and Jessica’s organs were no longer usable. She died quietly while still connected to a ventilator.
Who should make the life and death decisions of severely disabled babies?
Is it ever proper to hasten the death of a severely disabled baby?
If a genetic screening indicated there was a certainty that a couple would conceive a severely disabled child, should the government ever intervene and recommend an abortion?
What are the ethical implications for a society that wishes to eliminate persons who are disabled or are considered defective?