In the Case of Baby K, Essay Example

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Essay

Because Baby K was born an anencephalic, she was unable to interact with the world around her, and was doomed to die an early death. Despite her condition, her mother insisted that the hospital do everything it could to keep Baby K alive. Although Baby K was eventually transferred to a nursing home, she was readmitted to the hospital several times for breathing difficulties, and each time the hospital provided medical care to stabilize her condition. After her second readmission, the hospital petitioned to have a guardian ad litem appointed to the case, and insisted that they were not obligated to provide any care beyond providing warmth and nourishment. According to the Emergency Medical treatment and Active Labor Act, however, it seemed the hospital was required to provide stabilizing treatment for Baby K’s respiratory distress, despite their misgivings. It does appear that the hospital was obligated to provide such treatment, and any attempt to avoid doing so would be rejected by the courts.

From an ethical perspective, this is a difficult case. Were Baby K my child, I would not favor the idea of prolonging her life with extraordinary measures; I believe it would be more appropriate to allow her to die a natural death, and simply to make her as comfortable as possible in the meantime. In this case, however, I feel that the rights of the parents to make such a decision are paramount. It may be a legal technicality, but the EMTALA does require that patients arriving at the ER in medical distress must be treated in an effort to stabilize their condition, and from a legal standpoint, the mother of baby K was simply insisting that the hospital follow the letter, if, perhaps, not the spirit, of the law.

There are several conflicting points of view in the case of Baby K. The baby’s mother wanted the hospital to treat Baby K’s respiratory distress, despite the fact that doing so would have no impact on the severity of her underlying condition. The hospital took the view that it was the underlying condition, and not the respiratory distress, that should have been the focus of treatment. Because there is no actual treatment for anencephaly, the hospital took the position that providing comfort and nourishment was enough to meet the legal standard of care. Further, argued the hospital, forcing a physician to treat Baby K’s respiratory distress was violation of VA state law, which allows physicians to refuse to provide care that violates their medical ethics.

In the end, the court sided with Baby K’s mother, declaring that the ethical considerations were outside the scope of their purview. The letter of the law, they found, indicated that the hospital was obligated to treat the respiratory distress as a medical emergency, and to offer treatment for that distress that was consistent with the way they would treat the same condition in any other patient.

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