There is a sad little drama playing itself out in the children’s hospital in London, Ontario. A 13th month old baby, with a fatal degenerative neurological condition, is dying. There is no way to prevent that. The doctors at the hospital want to remove his breathing tube, and an Ontario Superior Court judge has ruled in favour of this course of action. The baby would then die. The family, who, we are told, are praying for a miracle, want the doctors to perform a tracheotomy so that he can be transferred home to die. This the doctors have refused to do. The hospital is now rejecting charges that the hosptial might “kill” Baby Joseph as “outrageous and defamatory.”
When I was growing up in India, school holidays were in the winter, when the mountains where the school was situated were covered with snow. In my teen years my father worked in a small city in Madhya Pradesh (Central India) named Ratlam, on the main railway line from Bombay to Delhi. Just over the fence from the “Mission Compound” was a tree under which the leather workers used to skin the cows that died of natural causes. Since they were sacred to the Hindus, they could not be simply killed, but once they were dead, their skin could be used for leather. On the tree the vultures used to gather, waiting for the carcass that would be left. It was a gory business, watching animals being skinned, and then watching the vultures devouring them, fighting with each other for tastier bits, yet fascinating too.
And now the religious vultures are gathering around the Baby Joseph, just like the vultures used to gather at that charnel house beneath the vulture tree. Christians, like vultures, scrap over the little bits of publicity they can gain for their fanatical drive to hold all life sacred, stirred up by their exorbitant claims about the value of human life, and how it should be honoured, no matter what its quality, no matter how much suffering. The Terry Schiavo Life and Hope Network and Priests for Life are at the centre of the media circus. Alex Schadenburg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, a Roman Catholic group in London Ontario that interferes with people’s decisions across Canada, and occasionally elsewhere in the world, has joined in the fracas, trumpeting his usual take on issues of life and death, that this concerns us all. There will even be protests and prayer vigils at the hospital this weekend.
I want to write more comprehensively about this in a later post, and this post is only to bring it to your attention. Perhaps what is most notable about this case is that (i) a jet is standing by waiting to take Baby Joseph to the US for treatment; (ii) there is a “Save Baby Joseph” campaign to raise money for … well, what, exactly?; and (iii) a prominent Christian lawyer from the US has taken over Baby Joseph’s case.
Baby Joseph is not going to survive. Prolonging his life will only cause more suffering to a sensitive being who is not able to understand what is happening to him, but who can, nevertheless, suffer. People like Alex Schadenburg, who are still fulminating about pulling the plug on Terry Schiavo, and consider it an act of murder, are playing up this story for all it is worth. Stories like this are like gold to them. They can bring their concerns to millions, while so many die in misery alone. “A warning to us all. Who will be next?” they cry in frenzied tones. Somewhere along the line someone has forgotten that this is supposed to be about compassion, not a bitter struggle for life regardless of the cost in human suffering. Every breath that Baby Joseph takes, we are told, is of infinite value. Is it really so important to keep this baby alive just so that he can suffer more? Hasn’t someone lost the thread of the human story? I’ll come back to this in a later post.