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June 16, 2005

Charlotte Wyatt and the debate about infant intervention

Topics: Medical Issues

Earlier today on the Purple Puzzle Place, I discussed about an article by Melanie Reid, regarding the ethical dilemma of saving very premature babies. The article mentions the case of Charlotte Wyatt at some length.

Melanie Reid supports her arguments with a number of errors and distortions of fact regarding Charlotte's case. One of Charlotte's loved ones has written a response to that article.

Following is an excerpt from Reid's article published in the UK newspaper The Herald and the response from Hannah Maxson of savecharlotte.com.

[cross-posted at Purple Puzzle Place]

Here is what Reid says about Charlotte in her article:

The legal case of Charlotte Wyatt has highlighted---one cannot say illuminated---the whole debate. Stark contrasts of black and white, of right and wrong, of sentiment and logic, of conflicting parents', child's and doctors' rights, have made the case of this terminally-ill baby a heart-rending one. In such extremes, those who debate are labelled either heartless or compassionate.

Charlotte was born at 26 weeks weighing 1 lb. Her body was the length of a ballpoint pen. Her organs were undeveloped and she had to be resuscitated three times. Now 19 months old, she has serious brain, lung and kidney damage, is fed through a tube, needs a constant supply of oxygen and is incapable of voluntary movement or response. She will never be able to leave hospital.

Doctors argue that she has no feeling other than continuing pain. They keep her sedated to counteract her distress. They went to court to seek permission not to put her on a ventilator next time she develops breathing difficulties.

Charlotte's parents, from Portsmouth, want to keep her alive at all costs. Five weeks ago, a judge renewed a court order allowing doctors to let Charlotte die in peace if she stopped breathing. He said "futile aggressive treatment" would not be in Charlotte's best interests. The Wyatts, who are Christians, are now going to the Court of Appeal. It is a tragic case, but perhaps an essential one, in that it may offer guidelines to both sides caught up in similar circumstances in the future. . . .

I am posting, with permission, a response written by Hannah Maxson of www.savecharlotte.com

It is easy to make your point beautifully if you are willing to twist the facts to fit your agenda. Perhaps Melanie Reid was honestly misinformed about little Charlotte's story; but the blatant misrepresentations in her prime example of a life that she considered should perhaps not have been saved, raise severe doubts.

The facts of Charlotte's case, are, indeed, an illustration of the opposite; an example of how the doctors can be very, very wrong when they prejudge someone's life as not worth saving.

Born premature at 26 weeks, Charlotte was given very little chance to live, and she has been dependent on the hospital for all the twenty months of her life. As Ms. Reid pointed out, last fall the court decided she should not be resuscitated, based on findings from the doctors that her quality of life was too poor. She was utterly unresponsive, apparently blind and deaf, and the doctors held no hope for her to improve. She was expected to die over the winter of a respiratory infection.

But she didn't. Defying all their predictions, she outlived the winter---and in the past months has taken huge steps forward. Her oxygen levels have gone down from 100 % to below fifty. She can see the things around her and track her pretty toys, and when her parents speak to her she tries to reply. She is responsive to kisses, hugs, and a gentle voice, and has gained a great deal of weight since the autumn.

No doctor says now that she is in constant pain, and she is not on any sedatives. The decision of the court to keep the DNR order in place was based not on her current condition, but on the hypothetical deterioration that would have taken place if she would need reventilation. But it is not likely that will ever take place. Her parents have started actively making preparations to bring her home---her first time out of the hospital. Her oxygen needs to come down just a small amount for that to take place.

Even now, from her little cot in the hospital, Charlotte Wyatt has done all that should be needed to win her right to life. Her fragile life---deliberated about in philosophical debates and in the courts of law---has brought great joy to many hearts, and she has touched far more lives than they will ever know.

She would fight on, even when none but her parents believed in her, and now the torch---to fight for her and others like her---has come to us.

Ms. Reid quotes the figure that only 'one in 19' of babies born alive before twenty-three weeks have no disability, as support for the measure that would mandate they should all be allowed to die. But has she looked at this the other way? One in nineteen, then, of the babies in question will be perfectly normal... their only crime that they were born too early. And then of the others? Have they pre-judged their innate right-to-life by needing a bit of extra care, or maybe because they will always be in some way dependent? Are we going back to the ideals of Nazi Germany---away with the Handicapped, the Disabled, all who unfairly burden the Aryan Well among us.......?

Charlotte's parents have a website with pictures of their daughter, playing, sleeping, being held. Go visit it--- www.savecharlotte.com ---and decide for yourself. Is her life worth living? Where shall we draw the boundary line?

Posted by Angela at June 16, 2005 12:28 AM

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Indeed, Ms. Reid's research on Charlotte was incredibly sloppy. The court documents themselves verify that the doctors have *decisively abandoned* their claim that she lives in continuing pain. Moreover, she can now see and hear, and the doctors admit this, tho' Ms. Reid contrives to give the impression that she is unaware of her environment.

If this is the Left's idea of "research," they should be laughed out of court.

Posted by: Lydia at June 26, 2005 3:45 PM