March 27, 2012


Recently I read two commentaries in a magazine that, together, left me feeling as though I’d been dumped on by a load of bricks. The first, excerpted from the “Wall Street Journal,” was about an ailing doctor and why, like others in his profession, he declined aggressive treatment for his life-threatening disease.

          “Having seen so many people die, doctors know that ‘heroic’ measures to prolong life often succeed only in providing a few extra weeks or months of suffering and indignity.” (“Why Doctors Refuse Heroic Medical Care,” Ken Murray, “The Wall Street Journal” as quoted in “The Week,” 3/9/2012)


The second excerpted article was about Rick Santorum. Written by Joe Klein, the article didn’t discuss the politician’s campaign to be President of the United States.  He wrote about him as the father of a 3 year-old child, a man who had decided to allow his daughter to be born, knowing she had a fatal affliction.

I am Ignorant of Joe Klein’s politics, whether he is a conservative or a liberal, pro life or pro choice, but I was touched by what he wrote about the toddler, Isabella:

          “No doubt she struggles through many of her days…but she has also been granted three years of unconditional love and the ability to smile and bring joy.” (“Viewpoint” by Joe Klein, “The Week”)

Seeing these two articles side by side, who could avoid the irony in their juxtaposition? A doctor, terminally ill, is given the right to chose his fate. A child, terminally ill, is not. What would the child have chosen, I wondered, if the decision had been hers. Would she, like the doctor, have opted for death? Or would she have decided to live out her brief span in the arms of adoring parents?

Anyone who thinks issue of life and choice can be formulated into laws for everyone to follow is deluding himself. The decision is too personal and, either way, the consequences too devastating.

What we owe the ailing doctor and the Santorums is not our judgment but our compassion. That, I believe, is the moral implication of Isabella’s smile.