One indelible memory I have from the last days of my father’s life was rifling through his filing cabinet at 3 AM. This was not a scheming attempt to uncover some dark family secret, and shamelessly confront him with it on his deathbed. No, I was dispatched to run a reconnaissance mission back to my father’s home office looking for a “do not resuscitate” order (DNR), which essentially functions as an advanced directive in writing from a patient who does not wish to have “unnecessary” life sustaining treatment, and instead wishes to have a more natural death. I was moved to rush, as the attending physician at the hospital said he was about to put my father on life support unless he received legal notice not to do so. Knowing my father, and the specifics of his wishes, I knew the last thing he would want was to be brain dead, indefinitely hospitalized, and hooked up to a machine that went “beep-beep-beep.”
Long story short: I found the DNR with a few minutes to spare and my father ultimately got his parting wish.
I was reminded of this significant moment in my life recently by the trials and tribulations of Daniel Hauser, a 13-year-old Minnesota boy suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who just last week lost a court battle he and his family waged to refuse any further invasive treatments (chemo, radiation, etc) and instead (with the consent of his parents) explore a more holistic approach to wellness and health. Hauser’s doctors claim that Daniel has a 90 percent chance of survival with treatment and a 95 percent chance of not seeing the end of the year if he doesn’t receive treatment. Fairly grim statistics. However, Daniel and his parents are ardent believers in a more natural path of treatment (the practices of the native American Nemenhah religious organization) and have a tremendous amount of faith in following this discipline toward a cure. Daniels mother says, “we believe in traditional methods. To strip that away would be stripping his soul right out of his body.”
Since the court ruling in favor of continuing chemotherapy against the will of the family as well as young Daniel, he and his mother have gone missing (most likely fleeing the mandate of the court) and have ignited a firestorm about parents rights, religious freedom, child endangerment, and personal freedoms.
It is difficult to know how this particular case will be resolved, but judging from the emotional uproar around the Terri Schiavo case from a few years back, we are likely to hear a lot of moral grandstanding and admonishments before anyone is truly cared for.
This particular case with Daniel Hauser appears to be suitably complicated, with doubts and dispersions being cast upon the parents and the ailing child being made into a symbolic martyr for the cause (what cause it may be is still unclear). Regardless, the whole tumult brings up difficult and troubling questions about not only life and euthanasia, but also how family members and loved ones choose to administer (or not) the needed care.
So how does this all sit with you? Are the parents just kooks and unfit to take care of their ailing child? Is the court way out of line and infringing on both individual and religious freedoms along with civil rights? Should the protection of life be the be all and end all?