The world has taken notice of a 14-month old baby from Canada whose family has been fighting the medical establishment since October to help their child breathe. Moe and Sana Maraachli were refused a tracheotomy for their son because the apparently fatal neurological disease that the child has renders further intervention “futile.”
Working with many others, we at Priests for Life arranged to have the baby transferred to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St Louis, and I went on the medical jet to pick up the baby and his father on Sunday night March 13. Now, the child has another chance at getting better care, and the family another chance at maximizing the time they can spend with their child.
A lot of media has accompanied the event. One reporter who was not too interested in covering the story asked, “Who the hell is Baby Joseph and why should I care?”
The short answer is, Baby Joseph is all of us.
After all, the problem underlying this case is not simply one particular hospital or the Canadian medical system. The problem is a philosophy of life that says that how valuable you are depends on how well you function. The problem is a philosophy of medicine that says that if someone is going to die anyway, there’s no benefit in prolonging life. The problem is a philosophy of suffering that says we can actually determine what somebody else’s level of happiness is, and measure their misery, and that if they don’t have the good sense to eliminate it, we can step in and do so against their wishes.
If we don’t think that we and our loved ones will be affected by this philosophy when it comes to our own medical challenges and decisions, we should think again. It’s happening every day, often with subtle or not so subtle pressure from medical professionals, who, instead of rendering medical judgments, render value judgments. Doctors are not supposed to judge for us the “meaning” or “value” of extending the life of a loved one, or our own life. Rather, they are supposed to judge for us whether a particular treatment or intervention will have certain effects on a loved one or on us. They need to leave it to us, in consultation with our family and clergy, to determine what meaning or value we find in the situation.
This is what the parents of Baby Joseph, together with Priests for Life and many others, are trying to say. Baby Joseph’s parents, who want to care for him no matter how long or short his life may be, were told that this life wasn’t worth extending. It’s time to draw a line in the sand and tell the medical profession that this is not their role. “Life not worth living” belongs to a philosophy that led to one of the world’s greatest holocausts, which ended with the declaration “Never Again.”
Our efforts on behalf of Baby Joseph can actually be summarized by those two words.