I just watched the latest episode of Chicago Med, one of my favorite shows. There were, as usual, a number of different cases going on, but the most poignant was that of a family with two young children and a pregnant mother whose heart was too weak to function for two. The older of the two children, a daughter about 11, was slowly losing her battle with leukemia. The unborn child was a perfect match as a blood marrow donor for the daughter with leukemia.
The conundrum was that the mother would not survive very long with her bad heart, and needed open heart surgery, but the anticoagulants that would make the bypass procedure feasible would damage and perhaps kill the baby. There were two other alternatives: heart surgery without bypass, which was much riskier than surgery with it, or intubation of the mother to keep her breathing after her heart gave out, which would result in her being in a “persistent vegetative state”.
The mother, over the objections of her husband and children, chose the intubation because at least it would keep her alive long enough to deliver the child who could save her daughter. Finally, after abject pleading by her children, she allowed the surgeon to do the heart procedure without bypass. She survived, but her child did not. Her daughter with the leukemia wanted her mother more than her own survival, and her mother was willing to sacrifice her life and her “quality of life” to save her daughter.
I am writing this the day after my post about Anna March and her “intersection” argument to preserve abortion on demand. A couple of thoughts: the doctors informed the mother multiple times that because her heart was pumping blood for two people, it was too weak to do the job. The mother was willing to radically sacrifice her autonomy–including even the ability to breathe on her own–to protect her children. How you view those facts (yeah, I know it was a TV show, so consider this a thought exercise) says a lot about you.
Someone who believes as Anna March does would promote quality of life (primarily that of the mother) as the most important consideration, so allowing the mother to be intubated would be out of the question. The problem and solution would be simple: since the unborn baby was overtaxing the mother’s heart, abort him. Problem solved, but the parents wouldn’t consider that since it would probably condemn the sick daughter unless they could find another perfect blood marrow match and get on the list before the daughter died. They could also argue that the mother wasn’t trying to save her baby’s life primarily, but the life of her born daughter, which did appear to be the case.
However, the family in the show was functioning as a unit. The daughter said she didn’t want her life to be the focal point of the family. She lamented all the attention she was getting to the detriment of her little brother, and would rather have her mother alive than save herself. The father was not willing to have his wife become a vegetable no matter what. The little brother was too young to understand much of this except that he was about to lose his mother and he begged her to live. Let’s not ignore the burden to be placed on the son who was about to be born, saving his sister’s life.
Now in your thought exercise, compare the worldviews. One says nothing is more important than the autonomy of a woman. But what if that woman is part of a family? Is her autonomy really a standalone issue? The other worldview says that we are all part of a larger web of relationships, and one person’s decision usually affects others. I am reminded of a proverb that had a profound affect on me. “I slept and dreamed that life was pleasure; I awoke and found that life was duty; I acted and found that duty was pleasure.” True freedom isn’t the right to do whatever you want for you, it is the ability to know and pursue your duty to others. I wonder if Ms. March and her constituency would say that your duty is just to yourself?