Monday, May 22, 2006

The Mrs. Vo's

Some time ago, I worked on writing about the case of Madame Vo in France. Now there is another Mrs. Vo with whom to be concerned, this one in the less-than-exotic Austin, Texas.

Mrs. Vo is another one of those people in Texas declared to be a futile care case under a peculiar state law that says a hospital's ethics committee can declare a case as futile and give the family 10 days to find another facility to which to transfer their loved one or find another doctor to provide care.

Methinks this law developed after a case here in Minnesota that I covered for the National Catholic Register back around 1990 (sorry, the story's not available online). Helga Wanglie was an 86-year-old Lutheran in Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis who was dying and her husband, Oliver, refused to admit it. She was on a respirator and some other life-support and Oliver did not want it disconnected. She had already had a respiratory arrest and been revived, and the hospital she was in didn't want her to remain there, so Oliver got her in at HCMC. However, Helga was on the county dole and the hospital wanted to cut expenses. So HCMC did the next logical thing -- they sued for custody.

Fortunately, they lost in probate court. But the implications of that case (which was covered by all the media big boys, including the BBC) went beyond the bounds of the Twin Cities. It wasn't long after that, I'm told by Texas Right-to-Life, that the Texas Medical Association started agitating for a futile-care bill.

So now Mrs. Vo is in some ways the next Mrs. Wanglie. She's Buddhist and her family don't want the life support removed and they got an extension of their 10-day deadline to some time next month. However, the only facility they've found so far that's willing to take her is one in Illinois. Shall we say that's a bit of a drive for her family to make?

Madame Vo and Mrs. Vo are both Vietnamese, both on the support of taxpayers. And both are somehow deemed less than human, not necessarily because of their ethnicity or financial situations, though in some people's minds that may be the case. No, Madame Vo could not find a court to declare that the child she lost because of a doctor's negligence was a human person, and therefore she was entitled to some compensation for her loss. What she carried in her womb, then, is a mystery -- chicken, fish, glob, monster? But since the courts in France and the EU were unable to say it was a human person, it must have been something else, so Madame Vo must be something else as well.

Mrs. Vo is now a futile-care case. Hey, an ethics committee said so. Or as the Chief Operating Officer of Seton Hospital in Austin (yes, it is supposed to be Catholic) told Mrs. Vo's attorney, Jerri Ward, "So be it. The medical committee has spoken." This means that Mrs. Vo and her family are now a case, not human persons in need of care and compassion.

In both instances, the whole human race is now less human as we declare these women, made in the image and likeness of God, who is love, to be less-than-human.

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