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Case Study 1: Charlotte Wyatt

1898 words - 8 pages

According to the BBC, Charlotte Wyatt was an infant born three months premature in October 2003. This premature birth has caused complications including severe brain damage. The medical professionals caring for Charlotte acknowledged this, predicting that she would live no more than a few months, regardless of medical care. Charlotte remained living under hospital care as she received medical treatment, including things like constant oxygen supply, and at this point, she did not respond to stimulation but appeared to be suffering significant pain. She continued to outlive doctor’s predictions as these conditions continued for months.
Charlotte’s existence continued, but medical prognosis was bleak and doctors decided it was most humane not to prolong her pain. According to the Journal of Medical Ethics, they felt that there was no way to improve her quality of life, which would always be intensely painful. The decision was made to continue current treatment, but not to resuscitate if she stopped breathing. Her parents, however, dissented. They drew upon their strong Christian beliefs, hoping for a miracle and saying that Charlotte deserved every chance to live. They relied on evidence of her development, saying that she was now able to see and respond to stimuli. Her doctors, however, felt that her quality of life would not improve; she would always be in pain and could not live beyond infancy.
This case was taken into the British court system where, after a long trial, a judge upheld the doctor’s decision not to resuscitate. The reasoning was that the judge felt he could not order the doctors to perform actions that would cause increased suffering for the child. After considering the doctrines of the sanctity of life and the human will to survive, he still felt that the child’s life would be intolerable if continued.
In determining whether or not to prolong the life of Charlotte Wyatt, there are three main philosophical questions that must be answered in order to set the foundation on how to proceed in this case. The primary question that must be asked is whether or not young Charlotte Wyatt is, in fact, living. In his consideration of existence, philosopher René Descartes questions the link between thinking and existing. We conclude, as he did, that the mind (or soul) and the body are distinctly different things. This leads us to question whether or not there is an innate physical threshold that must be met to determine if a human or object possesses life. Is it Charlotte’s corporeal nature that gives her life or does life go beyond physical existence? Whether or not she is actually living, or even existing, is central in determining the measures that should be taken in Charlotte’s case.
The second question that must be asked after determining whether Charlotte is indeed living, is what is the cost of her future existence? In other words, will the quality of life she experiences in the future outweigh the costs to those implicated in her...

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