I’m studying for my Humanities class and need an explanation.
A baby girl born anencephalic and her parents’ decision to have her killed and her organs harvested to be used to save other sick babies. After reading the passage about her case below, and based on what you have learned in this course so far, post a brief comment (150-175 words) stating your opinion of the moral issues involved in the Baby Theresa’s case.
Try to address the following questions. How the position taken by Theresa’s parents and doctors can be (or can’t be) morally justified by the ethical theories studied so far? Which position (parents’ or lawyers’) would you side with and why?
Baby Theresa’s Case
Theresa Ann Campo Pearson, an anencephalic infant known to the public as “Baby Theresa,” was born in Florida in 1992. Anencephaly is among the worst congenital disorders. Anencephalic infants are sometimes referred to as “babies without brains,” and this gives roughly the right picture, but it is not quite accurate. Important parts of the brain – the cerebrum and cerebellum – are missing, as is the top of the skull. There is, however, a brain stem, and so autonomic functions such as breathing and heartbeat are possible. In the United States, most cases of anencephaly are detected during pregnancy and aborted. Of those not aborted, half are stillborn. About 350 each year are born alive, and they usually die within a few days.
Baby Theresa’s story would not be remarkable except for an unusual request made by her parents. Knowing that their baby could not live long and that, even if she did survive, she would never be conscious, Baby Theresa’s parents volunteered her organs for transplant. They thought her kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and eyes should go to other children who could benefit from them. The physicians agreed that this was a good idea. Thousands of infants need transplants each year, and there are never enough organs available. But the organs were not taken; because Florida law does not allow the removal of organs until the donor is dead. By the time Baby Theresa died, nine days later, it was too late for the other children – her organs could not be harvested because they had deteriorated too much.
The newspaper stories about Baby Theresa prompted much public discussion. Would it have been right to remove the infant’s organs, thereby causing her immediate death, to help other children? A number of professional “Ethicists” – people employed by universities, hospital, and law schools, whose job it is to think about such things – were called on by the press to comment. Surprisingly few of them agreed with the parents and physicians. (Rachels, James: The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 5th edition by Stuart Rachels. McGraw-Hill, Boston, 2007, pages 1-2.)