Debate Over the Death of a Child: What’s Fair?

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Debate Over the Death of Washington DC Orthodox Jewish Child: What’s Fair?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

A 12 year old boy is currently lying motionless in his hospital bed in Washington DC after sadly being pronounced “brain dead” (and therefore, medically dead) on Tuesday.

The hospital staff would like to turn off the machines that are keeping his heart pumping and his blood pressure under control so that they can be made available to others in need who have a chance of long term recovery. However, the boy’s parents, devout orthodox Jews, are fighting to keep the machines intact, citing that their religious beliefs dictate that death does not happen until the heart stops beating. This, of course, is a catch 22—they won’t shut off the machines until the heart stops beating—and the heart will not likely stop beating until the machines are shut off.

We must, of course, be tolerant of religious views and practices as we would want others to be tolerant of our personal views. The hospital is going to court over this because the staff feels that treating this child is “offensive to good medical ethics” because, unlike the highly publicized cases of Terri Schiavo and Karen Ann Quinlan, the boy has no brain activity.

There is currently a debate even within the orthodox Jewish faith about when death does indeed happen—is it when the brain no longer is active or when the heart stops beating? Aside from that, should religion or science define the death of this child?

The statement that if God is the decider of life and death, how do we play a role in this process … is an important theological concept and exactly on point. Medicine has a physiological definition as to when they believe death has occurred. Jewish law believes that the definition of death is not exclusively a medical one but is also a theological one and should be decided in the theological or religious arena. The two obviously work together to some extent but the final arbiter is the religious determination. (Rabbi, Dr. Edward Reichman)

What an emotional and sad case.

There is nothing more tragic than the death of a child. Anyone must feel for these parents. However, given that we are exploring fairness this month, let’s ask, is it fair to the boy—to others awaiting treatment—to the hospital staff—to keep sustaining the boy and using hospital resources? What would you do if you were in such a situation? Should the hospital respect and tolerate the views of the parents even though their views differ from the medical view? What makes sense?

For me, I wouldn’t personally want to stay hooked up to machines in a vegetative state with no brain activity and no hope for recovery. I wouldn’t want anyone in my family to have to suffer like that either. HOWEVER- would I want someone to tell me that my view was wrong? Should we all simply be able to say when enough is (or is not) enough? Who gets to decide? What’s too much?

Please comment below.

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Would you like to Give Away your Child?

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Nebraska Safe Haven Law: Used Fairly or Not?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

We all get frustrated at times with our children.  It can be exhausting.  It can push mothers and fathers to their limits.  On the worst days, it can even make parents throw up their hands and teeter on giving up.  But they don’t.  Except when they do. Or perhaps– except when they can.

Given that November is Fairness month for Powerful Words, I’d like to propose a few thought-provoking fairness questions.  You opinions are certainly appreciated.

The question is: Fair or Unfair?

A woman in Nebraska dropped her 18 year old “child” off at a hospital, BryanLGH Medical Center West, citing Nebraska’s newly enacted Safe Haven Law (in July), which states that a “child” can be dropped off at any licensed hopital without question or penalty.  The law was enacted for the purposes of protecting newborn babies who were either unwanted or unable to be cared for by the birth parents.

The mother of the 18 year old relayed that she could no longer control the girl who is bipolar and has refused to take her medication.  The Safe Haven Law does not specify the age of the “child” in question therefore it is not illegal to take advantage of the law in this way.  However, is it fair?

This law has been used in creative ways since its enactment 4 months ago.  In September, 3 Dads abandoned their children at two Omaha Hospitals.  One father left 9 siblings between the ages of 1 and 17 years old.

“They were tired of their parenting role,” says Todd Landry of Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Most parents are citing behavioral problems rather than financial issues for the need to abandon.

“This was never the intent of the bill,” (Republican state Sen. Arnie Stuthman, cowriter of the bill).

In order to get support for the bill, the writers changed the wording to encapsulate all children.

“We really opened a can of worms,” he says. “We have a mess.” He says the law needs to be fixed.

A special meeting is planned on November 14th to assess the law again. Will their be an influx of abandoned defiant teens or challenging preteens in the mean time? There have already been 30 children and teens dropped off since the Safe Haven law was enacted in Nebraska. All 50 states have “safe haven” laws, but the others apply only to infants less than 1 year old.

So, what do you think– fair or unfair use of the law?  Fair or unfair to the parents? To the children? To the state? Or is it an issue of a different kind all together? Please comment below.

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Fairness is the Powerful Word of the Month!

Dr. Robyn Silverman Announces the Powerful Word of the Month: Fairness

Fairness Quotes:

“I know the world isn’t fair, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” (Bill Watterson)

“Equality does not create fairness.  It’s fairness that creates equality.” (Dr. Robyn Silverman)

“The plain truth is that I am not a fair man, and don’t want to hear both sides” (Henry Louis Mencken)

“People of character will never compromise the justice of others.” (Duane Hodgin)

“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” (Groucho Marx)

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

“Expecting the world to be fair to you because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.” (Dennis Wholey)

“All some folks want is their fair share and yours.” (Arnold H. Glasgow)

“All is fair in love and war.” (Proverb)