Judges, Doctors Trumping Legal Contracts?


I will admit that sometimes I forget to keep up with news. Many days I rely solely on Facebook and Twitter for my ‘headlines’ and then go find out what’s going on. I don’t recommend this plan for information as you will generally miss out on many “non-trending” newsworthy items. So if, like me, you hadn’t been closely following the Jahi McMath case, you likely haven’t mulled over the legal ramifications of what is actually happening in the case.

A quick overview of the Jahi McMath illustrates a truly devastating case of a 13-year old girl put under for basic removal of adenoids and tonsils. After surgery, she began bleeding and went into cardiac arrest. She was later declared “brain-dead” by two physicians and one court-ordered physician (where this court-ordered physician came in, I’m still researching). Her heart and lungs continue to operate but she lacks brain activity. These functions are how cessation of life is determined and are also the cause of the conundrum in this case.

Little Jahi has been living (according to her family) in a ‘dead’ (according to medicine) state for 26 days (as of publishing). During a time when her family is not only grieving the damage to their daughter, they are amidst a legal battle which includes a restraining order [which is actually set to expire today at 5pm] against the Children’s hospital at which Jahi was originally admitted. She has since been transferred to an undisclosed location and is receiving intravenous nutrients as you read this.

I remember the Terry Schiavo case, though I was young for much of it, and I remember the legal battle and the slaughtering of both involved parties in the news for years and years. The problem then and the problem now is a moral one, not a legal one…and we ALL know you cannot legislate morality. Life care, medical decisions, these have personal consequences. And when no formal arrangements are made for their care, these things happen. Of course loved ones are going to hold on for as long as they possibly can. Parents have the right to do this for their minor children. Husbands and wives have the right to make these decisions, too. Any one designated as the ‘medical power of attorney’ has the right to do this. It is essentially a legal contract.

At the present time, the McMath family is not costing the California any money, either. Because Jahi was declared ‘dead’, insurance will not cover medical costs, however, pro-life and Catholic organizations as well as the Terry Schiavo Foundation have all funneled money to help cover costs.

My final concern doesn’t really warrant too long of an explanation but it is one of the most important questions we must ask: If the practiced religion of the McMath’s prohibit the removal of life support measures, should a Judge have the discretion and power to override that?

And what about the right to privacy?

It makes sense that this is one of the reasons the Affordable Care Act is so frightening. Any type of government intervention –on any level, for any reason– is a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? Court ordered out-patient counseling? Judicial supervision and mandates for in-patient rehabilitation? Sterilization? Refusal of care against familial wishes that ultimately determine life or death?

I don’t know about you but I struggle with the desire for a legal responsibility and legal contract to be upheld and the complete insensitivity on behalf of the courts to demand people ‘pull the plug’. You cannot ask yourself what you would do in a similar situation because every case has different circumstances, emotions and religious beliefs that come into play. The question here is simple, but not simply defined: How much State is too much State?

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