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Is It Ever Okay to Euthanize Your Own Child?
By Noah Evslin, Medical Researcher
If you watch our show closely, you realize it's not the medical treatments that make Private Practice different than other shows on television; rather, it's the ethical debates our doctors have over any of the myriad decisions they need to make each week.
In this week's season finale, "...To Change The Things I Can," Cooper and Pete are put in a heart-wrenching situation when a procedure performed to help alleviate eight-year-old MARISA WINDSOR's late-onset Krabbe disease instead makes things worse. After the failed procedure, Pete and Cooper are faced with one of the season's most heart-wrenching dilemmas:
Can a parent's decision to euthanize their child ever be justified?
Krabbe disease, a type of leukodystrophy, is a rare genetic disorder of the nervous system. A defect in the GALC gene causes Krabbe disease, and people with this gene don't make enough of a substance called galactocerebroside beta-galactosidae. Without this substance, brain cells slowly die, and victims (normally children) go blind, deaf, lose muscle tone, and eventually die. Worse, there are very few treatments that can help this disorder.
One treatment that's had limited success is a procedure where doctors infuse hematopoietic stem cells in the hope of slowing the progression of the disease. If done right, this procedure can add years to a patient's life, but it also comes with numerous deadly risks.
In Marisa's case, she had a severe allergic reaction to the chemotherapy. Although they were able to resuscitate her, she was deprived of oxygen for a significant time, and she sustained additional brain damage on top of the extensive brain damage already caused by the disorder.
Simply put, Marisa's near-hopeless case suddenly got a lot more hopeless. She has no hope of surviving the disorder and her last few weeks and months will now be filled with unquantifiable suffering for both her and her family.
The situation comes to a head when Marisa's father asks Cooper to help euthanize his sick daughter. She's not going to get better and he wants to end her suffering. Cooper's torn. What's his responsibility as a doctor when there's nothing else he can do to help his patient? Pete says that although he couldn't bear the thought of his own son being in pain, he could never help end his life.
In the end, Cooper refuses to help euthanize Marisa as he feels this will only increase the parents' suffering after Marisa finally passes.
Was Cooper right in refusing to help the grieving parents euthanize their very sick child?
What would YOU do?