Lord knows why, but I keep going back to Secondhand Smoke, the pro-life, global-warmin’-denyin’, public-healthcare-hatin’, intelligent-design-lovin’, Daily-Mail-quotin’ blog written by Discovery Institute affiliated lawyer Wesley Smith. I try to stay away, but like a child peeping between his fingers while hiding his eyes, I’m just fascinated by it.
A recent post concerns a Kiwi woman whose doctors removed her life-support machine in the belief that it was futile. This was contrary to the wishes of her parents, who are acupuncturists who “had drawn on specialist acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners for support during the critical period when life support was withdrawn”. She survived.
In Smith’s telling of the story, the doctors “forced” the patient off the machine – which, to be honest, can’t have been all that hard given that she was unconscious. He goes on:
This is a warning. Doctors don’t know everything. Hospitals are not always right.
Well, yeah. But that doesn’t mean that they oughtn’t to have made the decision that they made. Isn’t it obvious that medics don’t have perfect foresight? Isn’t it obvious that there’s always going to be the odd (very odd) recoveries from miserable situations? That doesn’t mean that it’s illegitimate to make decisions about futility, or that it’s illegitimate to act on them. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to make decisions based on medical judgement. Couldn’t we equally well say that recovery was evidence that the life-support machine wasn’t necessary anyway, and ought to have been withdrawn a lot sooner (and perhaps not used at all)? After all, if you’re going to play on medical fallibility, you can’t pick and choose between mistakes.
Is Smith saying that it’s always impermissible to remove treatment based on judgement short of godlike omniscience? Strange.