Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hannah wins - but why was she forced to fight?

We are seeing a heartbreaking case unfold in front of us here in Great Britain. Hannah Jones, who suffers heart disease as a side-effect of treatment for her leukaemia, was offered a heart-transplant by Hereford Hospital, and refused. In an interview reported in today's Telegraph she said "I have been in hospital too often" and didn't want to have an operation which is at the best of times risky, and could risk a relapse of leukemia because of immunosuppressant drugs which would be necessary to stop her body rejecting a new heart.

The hospital disagreed, and decided she should be made a ward of court, so that she could have than be forced to have the operation. This is the point at which I start to wonder about aspects of the story.

The decision to have her taken to hospital is said to have been taken by a locum doctor; but for the court order to have any force it would have been necessary to prevent her parents - who are supportive of her decision - from being able to take her home. NSPCC research on Emergency Protection Orders states that police and social workers would have been involved - and indeed, locum doctor or not, it is unthinkable that Hereford Hospital's child protection team would not have swung into action, involving on-call senior nurses and hospital social workers who would contact the professionals involved with her treatment, for example staff at Birmingham Children's Hospital to whom she voiced her wish. Hannah's Mum, formerly a nursing sister in an intensive care ward, describes a proceedure more often used to separate a child from violent or negligent carers:

[The doctor] was saying, 'Bring her into hospital now or I shall send the police and an ambulance and a nurse to come and fetch her'. It was terribly frightening. It was in the evening and you can't get a solicitor and [Hannah's] social workers have disappeared for the weekend, and we have to tell the three young children they have to be good, and be quiet, and Hannah might cry, she might not want to go. But we have to let her go if they do come, because otherwise we wouldn't be allowed to visit her in hospital."
Hannah's maturity and understanding of a condition which would render many adults speechless ensured that a child protection officer sent to speak to her stopped the hospital's bid to mobilise the High Court dead. As her Dad states, "Hannah had been through enough already and to have the added stress of a possible court hearing or being forcibly taken into hospital is disgraceful".

Personally I'm not concerned that this case oils a slippery slope. Hannah has no obligation to undergo "heroic" lifesaving proceedures that may very well hasten her death. But my concerns about this case are those expressed by the Telegraph's George Pitcher - that the "assisted suicide" lobby will react like Pavlov's dogs to the phrase "right to die" and appropriate her heartbreaking case as a bolster for their own rickety structures.

But one thing seems to be getting overlooked. Chairman of the British Medical Association, Dr Tony Calland, states "I think obviously a child of 13 with these circumstances should be perfectly capable of making the decision and particularly when supported by the parents".

The operative words are "a child of 13". In England and Wales, this is the minimum age at which a child's consent to anything can be taken as meaningful, although this is not made public often. Despite the system of assessing a child's competence to consent to a proceedure, what in the end ensured Hannah's right to a natural death with some dignity is that she has turned 13.

In the age where 11-12 year-old girls are given vaccinations against sexually-transmitted diseases and sex education is planned for toddlers - with no indication that assessments of competency are planned for members of both these groups anyway - the government is trampling the law of the land underfoot and undermining its own obligation to look after children in the name of a warped sense of freedom, where freedom to choose what is not ideologically acceptable is not an option. This case, where a hospital was prepared to send in the troops to force a normal, loving traditional family to comply with its own way of thinking (but was foiled by a 13-year-old girl who loves Enid Blyton and Disney) is a perfect illustration.

Hannah clarifies her decision not to have the heart transplant that shows a wisdom through suffering that belies her age:
"I know there is a big waiting list for heart transplants...and I am happy to save someone else's life."

Hannah Jones and family - click to read her story in the Times


  1. It is frightening to be in a world where others are dictating our right to live, our right to die (naturally), and how. What have we become?

  2. Hear hear! To quote Cardinal Cormac Murphy O' Connor, the right to die is fast becoming the duty to die, overseen by people who believe that there's no such thing as objective truth, let alone moral obligation.

    How do you think the pro-life scene's going to fare ynder Barack Obama - are there any signs of hope?

  3. Hope? Ha!
    He is out to get every un-planned, un-'perfect' unborn baby in American with FOCA, the Freedom of Choice Act. It will undo every restriction that every state has ever placed on abortion, and make it unconstitutional to ever place any restriction again! This includes restrictions on minors needing parental notification before abortion and the partial birth abortion. sigh... he is an evil man. Every thing that comes out of his mouth now sounds like Hitler. Yes, I said that.


Please feel free to leave a comment - Frugal Dougal.