Wednesday, 25 May 2011

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Where the State does have a role

_McGRathLibertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath offers inoculation against the nonsense appearing in recent stories and headlines.

This week: Where the State does have a role .

  • DOMPOST: “Court rules to let child die in peaceAn urgent night court session upholds the decision by a seven year old boy’s mother and the hospital staff looking after him to allow him to die by not performing surgery…

THE PROBLEM: Should the state be able to force doctors and nurses to operate on a child dying of a hideously painful illness when the mother opposes such a decision?

THE DOCTOR SAYS: You can’t help but be deeply touched by the story of this poor child and his family. Both he and his brother were affected by a congenital terminal illness which caused increasing pain and stripped them of their dignity and all quality of life.
    A court was convened to decide whether a decision by hospital staff not to operate on the seven year old boy, whose brother had already died of the disease (about which details have been suppressed), was tantamount to homicide.
    I find it disturbing that a court should even be considering whether they can force a surgeon to operate on anyone, or charge him with homicide if he declines to operate and the patient then dies of natural causes. That makes the doctor a slave, with a gun to his head or whip to his back, his assets frozen and his liberty threatened by the State, if he doesn’t comply.
    I have always maintained that a person should not be prosecuted for a decision not to act - unless that person is looking after a dependent child, and the basic necessities of life (food, shelter, warmth and nurturing) are deliberately withheld, causing objective harm to the child; or that person has contractual obligations to care for a person and fails to discharge their part of the contract.
    In this case, the boy’s mother and hospital staff were all agreed that to operate on this boy would have prolonged an agonizing and inevitable death (not an easy decision to make), and the court eventually endorsed this decision.
    Bravo to the boy’s mother and to the hospital staff who would all have been deeply affected by their experience looking after this child. It’s very sad that this boy and his brother suffered without reason. But there is no justice in Nature; that is a human concept, involving ethics and a sense of morality. That is why we sit above the other animals as masters of this planet.

“I have often wondered at the smugness at which people assert their right to enslave me, to
control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind — yet what is
it they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands?”
- Dr Thomas Hendricks, in the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand


  1. We're all already slaves of the state with guns to our heads, it wouldn't 'make' the doctor one, it would just make him continue to be one, just like the rest of us.

  2. "That makes the doctor a slave, with a gun to his head or whip to his back, his assets frozen and his liberty threatened by the State, if he doesn’t comply."

    That sounds like all of us under the tax system.

  3. How awful for the family to be faced with that decision. And how much worse to then have to fight in a court to have it happen. Reliving the pain all over again. Yeah - I'm a Mum and grateful that my husband and I aren't faced with that.

  4. Doc, where exactly the Libertarianz stands on this issue of medical negligence (a minor)? Isn't this the proper role for the state to protect the rights of the minor?

    I remembered a case from a decade ago, when the parents of a child (Liam Holloway) refused to continue the chemo treatment of their son at the hospital. The hospital authorities got the police involved, but the parents and their sick child took a run. They ended up in a clinic in Mexico or somewhere in South America where the boy finally succumbed to cancer & died there during his treatment.

    Does the right of the child rest with the state or with the parents? Which one?

  5. Richard McGrath25 May 2011, 21:17:00


    There are varied opinions among libertarians on just when the state should intervene to protect a child.

    For instance, if the state seized a child who was severely anaemic and whose parents were Jehovah's Witnesses and refusing treatment; and transfused it in a state hospital with blood that a health minister, say Simon Upton, had refused to have screened for blood-borne viruses; and that child contracted hepatitis C and then later developed cirrhosis and liver cancer, would the ends justify the means?

    Should the state be able to seize a sick child just because its parents elect for a certain course of treatment that is unproven, despite other treatments being demonstrably effective?

    That's a really hard call. In general, parents want the best for their children and when their children are sick will possibly opt for therapies that are less unpleasant for the child while being of unproven efficacy. And let's face it, some treatments for leukemia and the like are pretty damn awful.

    In the Liam Holloway case, had he been forced to undergo chemotherapy in NZ, Liam might have succumbed after days or weeks to side effects of the treatment. ("I have some good news, Mr and Mrs Holloway; we cured the leukemia, however...").

    If parents are acting in good faith, I don't think the state should intervene.

    The Libertarianz Party believes the rights of a child are held in trust by its parents, not by the state.

    Medical negligence (i.e. by a doctor) should be judged by any professional group to whom the doctor is allied and who he therefore represents, and also according to any contractual agreements to which he would be bound.


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