Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Born to Save Her Sister's Life: The Morality of Saving Lives

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Last week, Marissa Ayala graduated college. She was conceived by her parents 20 years ago in the hopes that she could be a bone marrow donor for her 16-year-old sister who was dying of cancer.

Ethically and pastorally, this case would be a nightmare. You are dealing with a family who is looking at the very real possibility that they will be losing their daughter. They are watching her waste away. They have been unable to find a donor. In one last act of desperation, they try to make a donor themselves.

Of course, baby Marissa would not have been able to agree to the procedure. A bone marrow transplant can be a dangerous and painful procedure. I don't know exactly how they harvested the marrow, so I can't make any specific comments in that regard. There are about 3 or 4 ways that this procedure could have been done.

My third favorite book, after the Bible and the Catechism, is surprisingly unhelpful in this particular case.

The guidelines it gives for one person donating to another include: there needs to be a serious need on the part of the recipient that cannot be fulfilled any other way, the functional integrity of the donor cannot be compromised, the risk taken needs to be proportionate to the good result, and the donor and recipient needs to give free and informed consent. (pg. 106)

In this instance, the donor cannot give free and informed consent, the parents are given that responsibility. Arguably, their consent is not free at all, being weighed heavily by their concern for both the donor and the recipient. The need of the 16-year-old was clearly grave. While the donor must've gone through some pain, her functional integrity was only maybe temporarily compromised. The risk to the younger daughter was certainly proportionate to saving her older sister's life.

I don't know if this family went to any clergy in making their decision. If they did, God bless that clergy-member. If faced with a situation like this, I would only be able to help the family explore their options and help them to look at the situation thoroughly from multiple points of view. I would help them understand all of the implications of their actions and pray that the Holy Spirit guides them.

Yes, it is not right to use a person. But, a decision like this cannot be easy. The letter of the law is one thing. When the rubber hits the road, when Truth meets everyday human experience, that is when things get hard.

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