Monday, June 30, 2008

Another Ethical Conundrum: Little Hailey

When is someone too sick to be helped?
Little Hailey (and her baby brother) suffers from Late Infantile Batten Disease, which causes loss of muscle co-ordination and seizures that do not respond to anticonvulsant drugs. It is (apparently) always fatal. Other than this new, experimental treatment, there is no cure; a patient's life expectancy is about age 12.
Once Hailey (and her mother) had reached Vancouver, Air Canada insisted on making their own determination as to whether or not she was fit to fly. Unfortunately, during the wait for the Air China flight, Hailey's health went from bad to worse, and she was admitted to Vancouver's Children's Hospital. When it was apparent that her health hadn't improved enough to make the flight to China, she was flown home, by air ambulance, to Kentucky.
It now appears that she will be unable to take advantage of the stem-cell treatment that may have extended her life expectancy.
This is just sad, on so many levels.
As a parent, I can certainly respect and empathize with her folks' desire to exhaust every single avenue, no matter the cost or the effort. But I can also see the airlines' perspective: if her health had deteriorated that fast just waiting for the next flight, how well would things have gone once they were in the air and over the Pacific*? And what liability would the airline face in the event that she suffered even more? And finally, what about the safety of the other passengers?
There's also the question of "what now?" Hailey's family is exploring the possibility of a direct commercial flight to China, or even ponying up the $125,000 cost of an air ambulance there. Since this is an experimental treatment, it's unlikely any insurance carrier would agree to foot that bill.
I'm curious about our readers' take on this.
UPDATE: Thanks and a Tip o' the Hat to commenter Foilwoman for catching my geographical faux pas.
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