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Monday, March 10, 2008

Saving Baby Jacob

In yesterday's Boston Globe Magazine, Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist at UMass Medical School, tells the story of Maria and Jose Azevedo, Jehovah's Witnesses whose son was born with a heart problem called "transposition of the great arteries." More broadly, Sanghavi explores what happens when parents and doctors disagree on the course of treatment for a child, not because of a disagreement on quality of life issues but because of their different cultural, religious, or moral convictions. The Azevedos had "priorities that were rooted in their faith," he writes, and what Sanghavi saw as a no-brainer—put the baby on a heart-lung bypass machine soon after birth and then perform corrective surgery—was for them the choice of whether to "allow their baby to die a preventable death, or save their baby and forfeit a chance at eternal life in paradise." (According to Sanghavi, the bypass machine uses donated blood, and Jehovah's Witnesses refuse red-blood transfusions based on a literal reading of the New Testament's book of Acts, which calls on them to "abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood.") In the end, a judge authorized the treatment herself so that the Azevedos could honor their church's teaching yet still save their son, and "neither the Azevedos nor I shifted our beliefs much," writes Sanghavi. "We just agreed on a ritual that allowed us all to move on." —Heather Wax