Friday March 12, 2010

Baby Isaiah Dies with Family on Parents’ Terms

By Patrick B. Craine

EDMONTON, Alberta, March 12, 2010 ( – Baby Isaiah James May died yesterday afternoon in the arms of his parents. After enduring a legal fight to keep doctors from forcing death upon their child, the May family bade farewell to their son on their own terms after becoming convinced that there was no chance of his recovery.

According to Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the tragic case “has probably turned out the best it possibly could have turned out.”

Baby Isaiah suffered severe brain damage after his umbilical cord got wrapped around his throat during an arduous, 40-hour labor on October 24 in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. He and his parents, Isaac and Rebecka, were airlifted to Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, where Isaiah was kept alive by a ventilator.

The hospital informed Isaac and Rebecka in a letter on January 13th that there was “no hope of recovery for Isaiah” and thus that they would remove Isaiah’s ventilator on January 20th. Believing their son was improving, and wanting more time, the Mays took the doctors and the hospital to court, demanding a 90-day injunction against the hospital’s order. Judge Michelle Crighton gave the parents time to seek independent medical assessment of Isaiah, delaying her decision about the injunction several times.

A hearing scheduled to hear medical assessments was cancelled by the Mays yesterday morning.

Dr. Richard Taylor, a neonatologist from Victoria General Hospital, independently assessed Isaiah in February and agreed with the hospital that Isaiah would not recover. “I advised Rebecka and Isaac that I was certain that Isaiah would never recover and that his body movements were likely due to activity in his spinal cord,” he said in a statement. “He would remain ventilator-dependent for the duration of his life. As Isaiah would never recover, we agreed that this degree of life support was no longer appropriate.”

Isaiah died shortly after noon on Thursday, in the arms of his parents and surrounded by aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

“We held out hope that there would come a time when we might see [Isaiah’s] smile and hear his laugh,” the Mays related in a statement, read yesterday by their lawyer, Rosanna Saccomani. “Over these last four months, we have cherished every moment with our son. We have marvelled at the perfection of his hands and feet and face… at the color of his eyes and the shade of his hair. We have wondered who he most resembled.

“All along it was our hope that Isaiah’s condition would brighten and improve. It has not,” they continued. “The decision that has now been made may be incomprehensible. But it has been made knowing that we did everything possible to find meaningful answers to our questions and that all reasonable alternatives were fully explored and carefully considered.”

“We very much believe that life is a gift from God and that our son’s inherent value and worth as a human being is not diminished by the number of days recorded in this world,” they added. “Isaiah has reminded all of us once again that life is very precious and fragile.”

“We have set our tiny miracle free and he is now home in the arms of the angels.”

Pro-life and disability advocates have applauded the Mays’ courage, and called on the pro-life community to support them at this difficult time.

Mark Pickup, an Alberta-based disability advocate who has been involved in the case, said Isaac and Rebecka were “like tigers defending their baby.”

“If their baby was going to die, they were going to overturn every stone of possibility to give their baby a chance,” he told LifeSiteNews (LSN). “They were not going to be pushed around by an arbitrary deadline from the presiding neonatologist at the Stollery.”

“It was only when baby Isaiah’s dire situation became clearly evident to the Mays after independent input was kindly laid out to them on their terms and time, that they finally agreed to let their little one go,” he added.

Dr. Paul Byrne, who had been advising the Mays regularly on Isaiah’s situation until two months ago, told LSN that they “need to be commended for being strong under these adverse circumstances.”

Dr. Byrne, who is a neonatologist with nearly fifty years in the field, emphasized, as he has in the past, that it is “very clear” that the hospital did not provide Isaiah with appropriate care.

The Mays were told shortly after arriving at Stollery, he said, that Isaiah was “brain dead,” and that he would no longer be treated. Dr. Byrne pointed out, as one example, that despite the standard practice of performing a tracheostomy when a patient is intubated for more than a week or so, the hospital had refused the Mays’ request for the procedure.

Dr. Byrne also observed that the diagnosis of “brain death” often “is made, first of all, to get organs.” “The diagnosis of brain death is made to stop treatment, and the parents continued to say that they wanted their baby treated,” he said. “I think that the culture is such that the parents had to be strong, and they have to be loving parents to be strong in the culture of death in which we live.”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, emphasized that there is “nothing morally wrong” with the parents’ decision to remove the child’s respirator.

“Our concerns from the beginning were that a hospital was telling a family that they were not going to provide treatment for their baby,” he said, “despite the fact that the family was wanting that to continue.”

“We believe that you have to truly truly be careful when you do these things,” he continued. “We cannot go ahead and simply make these decisions without fully considering the outcome.” He noted that it was initially unclear whether Isaiah was benefitting from his treatment or not.

“When this child did die, [he] died a natural death,” Schadenberg stressed. “There was nothing done to this child to cause its death. It died a natural death, and that’s exactly what we look for.”

Schadenberg praised the Mays’ courage, and called on the pro-life community to “be supportive of them in any way that we can, because they’re going through a very difficult time.”

Supportive comments may be left for the May family at the Facebook page “Prayers for Baby Isaiah James”.

See related coverage:

Young Canadian Parents Fighting Hospital to Save Their Baby’s Life

Baby Isaiah’s Case Part of a National Trend Say Advocates for the Disabled

Canadian Doctor: ‘Baby Isaiah’s Status as Human is on Trial in Canada’