Human Exceptionalism

Benefit of Doubt Given to Death in Brain Injury Cases

It seems to me that when someone suffers a serious illness or injury, the benefit of doubt should be given to life. This isn’t to say that life support should never terminated (although I certainly think it is immoral to remove a feeding tube based on “quality of life” considerations by those other than the patient). As a hospice volunteer, I believe a time comes to stop trying to maintain life and allow nature to take its course. We have taken this approach in my own family. My father died of colon cancer in hospice care.

But the State of Massachusetts seem to have taken the exact opposite approach with poor Haleigh Poutre. After she was seriously beaten, the public guardian decided within 8 days(!) to cut off her respirator and feeding tube. That is not nearly enough time for the brain to begin to recover, particularly that of a child. This case illustrates a worrying trend in health care: When the injury is to the brain, increasingly the benefit of the doubt goes to death, not life.

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